50. destabilizing the idea of "craft"

thinking about writing workshops & how they can better serve us

Hi there! 👋 I’m Ida, and this is tiny driver, a newsletter about research, pedagogy, culture and their intersections. Thank you for being here. Reach out anytime by just hitting reply, I love hearing from you.

Hello, and happy Monday.

I come to you in the midst of putting my life in boxes. It's a little chaotic around these parts, as I get ready for my journey back to the East Coast. As always for me in times of transition, I'm a bit anxious, but I've been trying to journal to cope with those feelings of uncertainty and overwhelm. I've also continued to draw and paint.

A couple months back, I wrote about watercoloring my way through spring quarter. This practice has since bloomed into a love of drawing (badly). After looking through a few of my storage boxes, I found the eclectic set of colored pencils that I used when I was a child. It feels like a homecoming whenever I use them. Their lead has been stiffened with age, only to be brought back to life with a little sharpening. Using them now feels like I'm taking my inner child on a playdate where the time to "get picked up" never comes. I am transported to a place with no sense of time—only the hands in front of me. And I draw whatever I want for the hell of it.

What I write.

Because of the practical madness that is currently my life in transition, I haven't had much time to read. One book, though, that I've obviously made time for is the work we're reading for this month's tiny driver book club: Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses, lovingly recommended by friend Devin Kate P.

While the work is about destabilizing common assumptions made of writing and workshopping fiction, so much of it resonated with me in my academic and non-fiction writing. (To those participating in the book club, I'd suggest skipping this part of the newsletter until after we meet tomorrow, as I don't want to lay all my cards out just yet! 😁 )

So much of the book, for me, speaks to the ways in which "good writing" is centered around a set of givens that are not universal but culturally and historically specific. Salesses writes:

What we call craft is in fact nothing more or less than a set of expectations. Those expectations are shaped by workshops, by reading, by awards and gatekeepers, by biases about whose stories matter and how they should be told. How we engage with craft expectations is what we can control as writers. The more we know about the context of those expectations, the more consciously we can engage with them.

In thinking about "craft" or "the process of writing," in other words, we must recognize that there is no such thing as "pure craft." Rather, craft is shaped by the community that reads and evaluates its finished product. This notion is even more critical when we think about the function of the writing workshop for drafted work. Indeed, a significant portion of Salesses' work takes on the writing workshop. We learn that the practice emerged out of the Cold War era's need to export US democracy to the rest of the world, and with that, a particular idea of the US's image. And its main elements—the "gag rule" of the author, as one example—hasn't really been overtly critiqued at a large scale.

This, Salesses demonstrates, has perpetuated "craft" and workshopping to cater to what has long been considered the neutral/universal audience: white, cis, straight, able-bodied, middle-class men. Writers coming from minoritized backgrounds—who have different audiences in mind, who come from different cultural backgrounds, who write to different literary traditions—are likely to not have productive conversations in spaces that center other stories and writers. More than that, they become actively discouraged or revise to satisfy an audience entirely separate from the one they were originally writing to. One of the greatest contributions that Salesses gives us in his book are concrete ideas & methods that intentionally move us away from the traditional workshopping model to consider how a community engaging with a writers' work can more intentionally be productive and helpful for them.

While my experiences in academia have led me to believe that there isn't as formal of a "workshopping" culture as there is in MFA programs, I've definitely participated in these kinds of conversations, both formally and informally, both as the writer and a commenter. Given my interdisciplinary field (American Studies and Ethnic Studies), the central & underlying assumption of a white audience is not as prevalent, as my work actively critiques white supremacy. However, I've not really thought about the way that the workshop model itself may center the identities that I decenter in my writing, or even that we more intentionally can work to have the container in which we talk about writing reflect the goals of the writing itself. This was my main takeaway. That the "givens" of our own processes and community collaborations can be revised to better inform our goals for our writing and ourselves.

What I consume.

In the Bookshop:
Currently Reading: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
On Deck: The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler


For June's book club (it’s TOMORROW!), we will be discussing Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses! Thank you to everyone who voted, and feel free to purchase a copy of the book here! Details are below.

Event info:
Date & Time: Tuesday, June 29 @ 5PM PST/8PM EST
Registration Link!
Suggested donation (for those able to donate): $3-20 through Paypal or Venmo (@idyalz)

Item(s) of note.

A pup-date.

Girlie says, "Paint me like one of your French girl(ie)s."

As always, thanks so much for reading through, and I'll see you in the next one!

Warmly,
Ida


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