Encouragement to Keep the Mistakes

Robin Romm discussing writing programs Michael Silverblatt of KCRW’s Bookworm (3.26.09). She has written a collection of short stories (The Mother Garden) and a memoir (The Mercy Papers), both fueled by the experience of her mother’s death from cancer.

Robin Romm: I didn’t have a lot of expectations. I didn’t know what would be The Mother Storiesup for the taking. And what I found at San Francisco State were a lot of faculty members who were interested in new ways of approaching the creative life, who had sort of gotten away from workshop. And I didn’t take too many workshops actually. I spent more of my time in classes generating work and finding ways to look at the world—to learn to stare and to go deeper.

And for me, graduate school was this very interesting pause in my life where I could scrapple with what was going on for me emotionally, intellectually and try to get that down on paper somehow. And it was less about nit picking a sentence and making it conform to something.

The Mercy PapersAnd interestingly when I first met my editor on the phone, she said, “Did you take workshops?” And I said, “Not very many.” And she said, “I can tell. These have the quality that they’re different from a lot of the stories that I see. They’re rawer. They have edges and sharp places.” And she meant that as a compliment not a criticism.

I do think that the writing workshop is a great place to generate work and to get feedback on your work, but it has its limits, too.

Michael Silverblatt: It interests me because I have said and I think it’s true that what a young writer needs is encouragement to keep the mistakes. That what people are calling the mistakes are probably the sounds and insights that make the writing strange and individual. And that making sure that the writing is all mistake is the process of finding your own voice.