I applied to a summer writing program yesterday. I feel relatively sure I won’t get in – especially after I read their FAQ page. The answer to the question”what writing level is accepted?” puzzled me. ALthough they say that they’ve taken outright beginners as well as published authors, the administrators said they do not usually work with “mass market work.”
What the hell does that mean? They want to work with authors that no one will ever read? Call me crazy but it sounds a bit…limiting. Are mere mortals like myself not to apply? Or did I misunderstand the answer? What kind of writing is good enough? It’s a question nearly impossible to answer.
There is nothing like exceptional prose – the writing flows, the story captivates, evoking emotional responses. As a writer, to hit those notes is a feeling unlike any other. I experienced something akin to a “runners high” once when a teacher described my prose as “lyrical.” But lesser praise is fine. “Very good” or nicely done” can assure a good night’s sleep. “It ain’t dreck” is reassuring too. But am I good enough? If I poll three different readers, I might get three different answers.
My answer? No. I will never be good enough. Or, I will never stop trying to be better.
What constitutes “good writing” and a “good read” is incredibly subjective, as different and diverse as the shades of gray. One man’s gun-metal is another man’s pewter. Some think gray an incredibly versatile colour, almost magical in its ability to change hue with changing light. Others find it dull and dreary. In a writer’s world, whether a manuscript is considered magical or dreary is for someone else to decide. Two editors might yield two different decisions.
It has always been so and yet sometimes it seems anything can get published. If my cat wrote something that was on trend, she might very well get published though she’d be hard pressed to use the word cat in a sentence correctly. Can I blame the workshop admission people for having high standards when standards might be falling?
A few years ago, following in Twilight‘s wake, if your story contained angst-ridden, sexually repressed and impossibly good looking vampires, you were in. After The Da Vinci Code, if you wrote about a)the Vatican b)Templars c)riddles hidden in the Holy Land that could only be solved by a boring Ivy League professor, you were in. Stay tuned for a glut of stories about uber-wealthy, sexually twisted men who deep down just want to be loved but who are, in the meantime, ok with having page after page of steamy sex.
All someone like me can do is strive to craft the best stories possible. Trust me, I labour over every word. I do not chase mediocrity as if it were the ice cream truck nor am I fond of thin, exclusive air.
To my craft I am: Careful. Passionate. Thoughtful. Devoted. I think workshops should want writers like me.