They told me, when I entered graduate school, that as much as anything else, as much as learning about or practicing my writing, graduate school was for building my life-long network of writers. That it was in graduate school that I would meet the people who would read and critique my work for the rest of my life.
If this is the prime measure of success of graduate school, then I failed miserably.
I hate asking people to read my work, not least because, despite how much I offer the same favor, it always feels like I’m imposing. And hey, we all know that not everyone is the right type of reader for our work and, conversely, we are not the right reader for everyone else’s work—but when I give feedback that I feel can be better, I really hesitate asking for that exchange again.
That said, there are some people that I both trust and that I’m comfortable asking for the favor of a critique. There aren’t, however, as many as I think there should be. Maybe I had a strange set of circumstances in my two years in school, or maybe I’m just way too shy (I think I spoke twice during my first trimester of workshop, and one of those times I was forced into it). Maybe I just didn’t take the advice all that seriously, thought there’d be time for it later, but here I am, three-and-a-half years out of school with a very small and sad-looking writers network.About two years ago I realized how big of a problem this was going to be. I had just started writing again after a lengthy-hiatus, and was getting serious about putting together a short story collection—not the novel I’d thought I’d write. I signed up for a community workshop day and spent an hour working one-on-one with a professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan. The feedback she gave me was excellent, and exactly what I’d been missing since graduating. Six months later I submitted the revised piece to PANK and had the pleasure of working with Roxanne Gay, who helped me push it through that final edit before publishing it. This, I thought, is what I need. Only, instead of twice per year, I need it all the time.
Since then, I’ve been working on building my network. I still don’t have any new readers, but I do now have writers I know and admire, writers who recognize me when we run into each other at AWP, and who are familiar, in an oblique sort of way, with the work I’m doing. I’ve done some book reviews through Dzanc Books here, and I help out with the Lit Pub. I spent half a year on the staff of Hayden’s Ferry Review. I don’t exactly have the time for all of this, but I’ve found I need to make time if I’m ever going to have a shot at breaking into these writing and critique circles that exist out in the world.