[Thoughts from the conference where I'll be this week: Writing and the Pastoral Life. I'm in rural Minnesota, at St. John's University and Abbey]
On Tuesday, I had my piece "workshopped" (which more or less that the author sits there completely silent while his/her colleagues deconstruct every choice she has made.) My major in college was creative writing, so certainly this format was not new. But what was new was the ethos of the group. Before, I was with competitive college kids who cared about little more than their own project. Before, the professors allowed anyone to say anything they wished, under the guise of "making the writing stronger." But this time was completely different. This time, my colleagues and I are all invested in each other's work. This time, the comments actually felt constructive. This time, I didn't leave in tears, and might actually be brave enough to believe that I will write more.
The thing that amazes me about this process though--in all the times I've been through it-- is the ways the group will pick up on exactly the things that the writer struggled with. Somehow, the same questions the writer had become glaring. What the group picked up on from my work is that I wasn't really sure what project I wanted. In some ways, it seemed to them (and me) like I was torn between memoior of my first pastorate and a survival guide for new ministers. Once I was finally allowed to talk again, I acknowledged the fact that I was somewhat ambivalent about the project. Some great stories have come out of this time, but maybe I need to vomit forth these stories, and then move on to something else.
But here is some of the written and oral feedback I received:
"The narrators voice is such a strength. You're funny, and genuine."
"It was an interesting choice to talk directly to the audience." (This got mixed reviews...some thought it was too unconventional, jarring maybe.)
"The author's fantasy world of what she imagined the ministry to be collided with what turned out to be a very different reality, and the ways this happened were hilarious."
"The tone was both gracefully not academic, but at the same time too colloquial." (As I looked back on it the afternoon before it was workshopped, I cringed at how many times I said "heck" and other things like that. I wouldn't want to read it, and I'm not sure why I thought I should've put those things in... but by then it was too late. But the group nailed that one on the head."
"Great Project with potential appeal to many a stressed out new pastor."
"I love your ability to tell a good story and your appreciation for the humor--and the absurdity of the pastoral life."
I'm not sure where, or if, the project is going. It might really morph into something less pedestrian, or ... well, I just don't know yet. But at any rate, I have a lot to think about.