Demanding More

“Demanding more” is usually applauded as a good thing. “You go, girl. You go on and demand more out of life! You deserve it!” The person who demands more is seen as engaged with life, holding herself to high standards. Good things indeed.

But today I’ve been thinking about how we respond to writing in AWA writing groups, and why the AWA guidelines for feedback don’t include asking the writer for more. (The feedback we give is focused on what we like, what stands out, what we remember. That’s it. That’s enough.)

But isn’t it a compliment to the writer to say that we want more? Isn’t it flattering to say, “Oh, I loved this, and I just wanted you to keep going.” That warm response is certainly meant, in most cases, to be encouraging. When people say it, I think they mean to open a space for the writer, to welcome more from her, to give her voice room to flourish. What could be wrong with that?

The problem with asking for more from a writer in that particular moment becomes a little more apparent if we think of the newly drafted piece of writing (which is the majority of the writing we do in AWA groups) as a newborn baby (a favorite metaphor in AWA circles).

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

The writer who has just written and read aloud a piece of writing is just as new to what he birthed as his audience is. He may be just as surprised, perhaps more so, than anyone else at what has showed up on the page. The writing comes from him, but, like a newborn baby, it may feel, in those first few seconds of life, as a somewhat alien being. These are tender moments, vulnerable moments. And they are powerful moments. As the writer wonders, What is this that I have just created and shared? the responses of the listeners may influence how the writer receives and loves his baby.

To the writer who has just given birth, a request for more can be interpreted as, what I wrote wasn’t enough. My tender newborn, still damp, is somehow lacking.

Just as it would be pointless to stand in the delivery room and speculate on whether that newborn will grow up to be a day trader or a truck driver, in those tender moments after writing and reading, we focus on what is there, not what career path this baby might follow — is it a poem? fiction? memoir? We don’t know and in those blissful moments after delivery, we don’t care. It is its own creation, new and never seen on this earth before.

When the written baby is new to all of us (including the writer), we celebrate its arrival, the mere fact of its presence among us. We gaze at the brown eyes, marvel at the fingers and toes. There we are, in the delivery room, all dewy and blissed out on endorphins, maybe splashed with tears or blood or shit, the goo necessary to creation (don’t worry…in the writing delivery room, the goo, when present, usually takes the form of tears). This is not the moment when we say, “Okay, but can you make his hair blonde instead?” We don’t say, “That’s it? Just one baby?” Or “Gee, I wish your baby had blue eyes instead. With blue eyes, or the full complement of fingers, toes, limbs, I could have loved your baby. Oh, well.”

No. We welcome the baby and bask in the miracle of creation. We reflect back to the writer what we see in his new baby, and help him love it into the world.

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