I just came to the conclusion that I have a BIG crush on the Mark Program.
As I'm moving deeper into the revision process, I've realized how invaluable the workshop experience has been in terms of guiding my novel to its fullest potential. This statement may seem trite or obvious, but there are some variables in this particular workshop with the Mark that warrant some praise and thought.
Having been through many different workshop experiences, I can honestly say that this one is helping me in ways that no other workshop has. One reason is that there are only three people consistently reading my work. Three is a great number because if two people disagree on a certain point, the third party can weigh in, thereby swaying the pendulum to one definitive side and allowing the author to come to a conclusion on that point. Other workshops with eight to twelve people usually produce a chorus of divergent opinions that leave the writer confused about her own work. I have also had experiences in larger workshops where half the participants feel this way and half of them feel the opposite way, so that the feedback negates itself. With three participants, the workshop is intimate enough to foster a discussion, rather than an opportunity for everyone to simply sound off on the work. Otherwise, it's much more difficult for the writer to explore different possibilities in a thoughtful conversational atmosphere.
Also, this workshop meets every two weeks, and with each session the same people are reading your editorial decisions based on last week's feedback. So they get to see the rewrites, the darlings you’ve killed, the tiny tweaks you've made to propel the story forward. We’ve all seen our first thirty pages three times and each time we give each other feedback, from the micro to the macro, before going back to make the next draft as strong as possible. Then, when we all feel that the section is where it needs to be, we give the go-ahead for the writer to move on to the next part of their manuscript. In essence, we are all active in the evolution of each other's work.
Even in many M.F.A. programs, a full-length work doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Rather, it is parsed out in twenty-five-page chunks from semester to semester, with different readers and different teachers adding their opinions about only that chunk, but not about the work as a whole. This is not a negative comment on M.F.A. programs, but simply an example of why the Mark Program is so special. How many fellow writers in an M.F.A. program read your entire manuscript before beginning the revision process? This is a privilege, because it means that my fellow Markers and I are much more informed when we read each other's rewrites.
Factor in two great readers/writers, along with our leader Al Watt, and I blush a bit at my good fortune. This week, I went through each of their comments on my sixty-page submission and was astonished at how closely they had read, how observant they'd been about the changes I'd made from the previous draft, and how thoughtful their observations and questions were. From line edits to overarching thematic issues, nothing went unnoticed. The opportunity to submit that many pages is wonderful in itself, but having three people give you in-depth feedback is indispensable. As I began rewriting, inspired by their suggestions and comments, I felt energized and hopeful that my novel was changing, improving, and becoming a living, breathing thing.
Basically, this post is a love letter to the Mark, but more specifically, to my fellow writers at heart – Al, Shanna, and Carl. Happy Valentine’s Day, and let the power of three guide each of us to loving and realizing the full potential of our work.