It won the 2012 Sidney W. Vernick Award in Nonfiction by fwriction: review, and now the literary journal has published my essay, “September 12th,” online. I’m delighted The Artist’s Road readers have a chance to read a bit more of my creative writing should they choose. But I’m moved by what I’ve learned from this process, namely that peer critique is a powerful tool.
“September 12th” examines my experience covering a chaotic evacuation of Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill as a reporter on September 11th, 2001, but focuses on what it meant to me as a newly divorced father who didn’t have his children to come home to that night. I wrote it last fall, shortly after the 10th anniversary of that infamous day. It was a story that was painful enough to me that I needed ten years of separation before I could put it on the page.
I then did something that, I believe, led directly to it becoming an award-winning essay. I gave it to my local writer’s group for critique, and submitted it for my winter workshop in my low-residency MFA program with the Vermont College of Fine Arts. As 2012 began, I found myself with 18 marked-up copies of my manuscript resulting from those two groups. Portions that drew repeated praise? I kept ’em. Sections that consistently drew questions? I addressed ’em. Dramatically different opinions on tone, structure, and pace? I followed my gut.
I’ll confess that the two most useful critiques came not from true peers, but from my VCFA workshop leaders, Connie May Fowler and Sascha Feinstein. I believe I took every piece of advice the two gave. Particularly helpful to me was their agreement that my ending paragraph, well, sucked. The solution? Eliminate it. (Sorry, you’ll never get to see that paragraph!)
By March I had incorporated my revisions, polished the revised version, and submitted it to the fwriction: review contest. And now it’s been published, and I can share a bit of myself with you through the power of creative writing. Should you read “September 12th,” feel free to provide more feedback in the comment field below. It may be published, but I can still learn.
Do you share your rough-draft creativity with others? Do you provide critiquing to other peers?