Criticism in the classroom


flying dragon

I have too many stories of people reading their newly minted darlings in a writing class. A darling where the best praise could only be, ‘Gosh, you put a lot of words down.

 The class, after a stunned silence, manages to spit out encouraging words of praise. Some brave soul will, after dutifully saying how much they love the story, make a stab at an actual criticism.

 The writer will either:

  1.  say nothing (best choice)
  2.  feel the need to defend their writing (noooooo!)
  3.  dismiss the comments with the ‘They don’t get it’ strategy (sigh)
  4.  point out that ‘it actually happened’ (see previous blog post)
  5.  look so stricken that the group rushes to defend.  (ouch)

 If you ever read for a writing class here is the only option that you should take.

 Nod thoughtfully and say thank you.

 No other response is appropriate, useful or necessary.

 Once you are far, far away, you can scream, hiss, and pronounce them all illiterate cretins. But there is a next step. After an appropriate amount of time, you need to sit down and seriously consider each of the stupid criticisms you received.

 Some of them are valid.

 You know that. It just takes time to stop defending your darlings.

Of course some of the criticisms are just wrong. 

Don’t rewrite your piece taking in ALL of the criticism you receive. You know your piece and what you are trying to achieve.

Look at what was said and carefully evaluate the responses. Is there a pattern? Who said what? Do you admire their writing?

Don’t lose your own voice in an attempt to be all things to all people. You can’t. Please yourself first.

One of the favorite criticisms I received from a well-meaning person was “You have your dragons flying. Everyone knows that dragons don’t fly, they crawl.”

 This person obviously had more personal experience then I  with dragons.

 I nodded, said ‘Thank you’ and scribbled a note on my manuscript as if to correct my writing. It said ‘Looney Tune.’

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~ by Gwen Dandridge on January 17, 2010.

4 Responses to “Criticism in the classroom”

  1. I totally agree that you always have to please yourself first! I think you have to have a certain amount of confidence in your writing and the piece itself when you enter a writing workshop, so that you can seperate the good criticism from the bad without freaking out.

  2. Separating out criticism is not an easy process. What can be right for one writer can be totally wrong for another.

  3. This is an excellent post, Gwen! I love the ending: “Looney Tunes” But, you are right, a class or workshop is not the place to defend your darlings. Say thanks and give yourself time to think . . . Thanks for this.

  4. Thanks Lori. I appreciate your feedback.

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