A few months ago I was honoured to have received an invitation from Alex Kosoris of the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW) to participate on a panel discussing the writing of reviews at one of their workshops. The workshop, entitled “Critical Conversations”, happened on Friday, April 21st and was moderated by Kosoris, and featured Melissa Gaudette, Michael Sobota and myself.
Let me tell you that the experience was a ton of fun, but more importantly it was equal parts humbling and enlightening.
Melissa writes about and reviews music for The Walleye, as well as The Tribune 242 out of Nassau, Bahamas. Michael writes about books, the symphony and film for the Chronicle Journal and The Walleye. As some of you may already know, I write about movies for the Chronicle Journal.
It was amazing how similarly the three of us approach our review writing, yet it was equally surprising how each of us brought a unique voice and approach to art of writing reviews. The two hour block of time we were allotted at CommuniTea and Coffee was nowhere near enough time to have the discussion that I know the three of us were on our way to having.
Along with Alex’s questions, there were a few great questions from the audience as well. It is very clear to me that there is a real appetite for arts and culture in this city, and to paraphrase Michael, it is our duty as reviewers to help identify creative gems and lead the discussion about art and culture.
I was floored when Michael spoke some very nice things about me and my work as a writer, and I am extremely grateful for those words of support. Michael is a good man and an incredible talent and receiving any sort of praise or recognition from him was humbling and an honour. Thank you Michael.
Melissa was super cool. During the short break, we talked music, specifically metal, and I feel as though that discussion could have lasted a few hours on its own!
There are a few things that I will take away from this workshop that will help me further refine my writing. Melissa really opened my eyes to having a defined structure and process with which to follow when approaching the writing of a review. She also stressed the importance of proper spelling and grammar, as well as the expansion of one’s vocabulary. This is something I strive for and will continue to try and accomplish in all of my work.
Michael spoke about writing reviews as a primarily subjective exercise; I have always struggled with trying to balance objectivity and subjectivity in my writing. After hearing Michael speak, however, I have realized that I should “trust my gut” a bit more and own my personal subjective opinion a bit more in my writing.
What I tried to leave with the workshop participants boils down to essentially these points:
- Know you’re audience. Know who you are writing for and why you are writing for them.
- Know your subject. Try to understand the cultural importance or purpose for existence of a work before writing about it.
- Balance subjectivity with objectivity. Not to contradict my prior comment about what Michael was saying, but what I mean here is that you must ALWAYS have an INFORMED opinion.
- Know the difference between “Best” and “Favourite”. These are two very different things, and semantics matter when discussion a FAVOURITE film, for example, versus what one may consider the BEST film.
I would like to once again thank my fellow panelists for enlightening me and entertaining this fantastic discussion. I would also like to thank Alex and NOWW for hosting the event and for including me.