Today I workshopped the first chapter of a novel I started a long time ago, wrote a draft of, then stashed away for a few years. Honestly, I was excited about it; I thought it was reasonably good, certainly entertaining, and I was looking forward to using the group's encouragement to bolster my resolve to revise the damn thing and send it to an agent.
My writing group hated it.
For those of you who have never participated in a writing workshop, it goes something like this:
- You send something you've written to everyone in your group.
- They print it out and read it, marking on it as they go.
- They each write a letter to you about your work (but don't send it).
- A week later, you all show up to workshop.
- You are asked to read a paragraph or two of the work out loud.
- You do this, cringing at the wretched inadequacy of your own voice to bring your characters to life.
- Everyone talks about the piece--usually, but not always, beginning with the things they liked best. If they are silent at the start, it's a bad sign.
- You, the writer, can't say anything while they discuss your piece.
- After 30-45 minutes of discussion, you may ask the group any remaining questions you have.
- Everyone gives you back their marked-up copies of your draft, along with the letter they wrote to you.
Earlier this evening, when the members of my writing group were talking about how much they loathe my protagonist and how bad the writing is (I'm exaggerating, but not by much), I sat there in my plain black T-shirt and grey jeans and felt very, very small. I even started to write small. The words on my notepad grew tinier and tinier, until I was reduced to making thin horizontal lines in place of words.
Why am I bringing up my creative writing foibles in a blog about butchness? Here's the connection: Somehow, sitting silently in the group, I felt extra pathetic for my butchiness. I felt smaller, like more of an outcast. (I'm not the only queer person in the group, either; it's really not the group's fault.)
This made me realize that when things are going well and I'm happy and proud, my butchness has an additive effect; I feel more complete, more "me," somehow. But when things are going poorly and I'm sad or embarrassed or ashamed or dejected, my butchness has the opposite effect--it makes me feel extra lousy about who I am. It erodes my confidence and underscores any feelings of difference and alienation. I don't know quite why that is, and I wonder whether other butches have ever experienced something similar.