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Un-Constructive Criticism

Yesterday the world came really close to ending. Okay, fine, maybe that’s just my melodramatic adolescence speaking, but still, it was pretty awful.

The final assignment for my Writer’s Craft class at school is to write a short story and we’ve been working on these for the past month or so. It’s a really fun summative assignment, far ‘easier’ and more enjoyable to write than the essay I’ve been working on for Ethics, about the morality of torture. The one caveat is that we have to workshop these stories. As an entire class. Which is basically a half-hour of sheer agony. We go around the class, giving each student a  turn to point out any and all flaws in your work. As you may have guessed, my story was on the chopping block yesterday, and it didn’t go over well. Wondering why that line is crossed out? I think my Writer’s Craft teacher (we’ll call her Ms. A) would feel that I’m telling too much, instead of showing. She thinks I shouldn’t explain quite so much. I think I need to explain some more, because she didn’t even understand the point I was trying to make.

The whole experience was just so disconnected and impersonal. To borrow a metaphor that’s been used a million and a half times (and is by now probably a cliché — oops, another strike against my writing skills), the kids in my class just don’t seem to understand that we’re discussing my newborn. And they aren’t just ‘discussing’; they’re informing me that her shirt doesn’t fit right and she spits up just a little too much. Okay, fine, I can maybe see what they’re saying about her shirt, fine, no big deal, I’ll change it if it’s really bothering you all that much. But with regards to the spit-up, she’s a baby, that’s what babies are supposed to do!

Before you call me on my whining, and start thinking that maybe my story just wasn’t all that good,  and un-follow my blog because you think perhaps I really can’t write, I just want you to know that I had another English teacher (we’ll call her Ms. B) read my story too and she didn’t see any of the flaws mentioned by my teacher and peers during this confidence stealing session.

I also want to make it clear that I do see the merits of these sorts of critique sessions. It helps to have a pair of fresh eyes look at what you’ve done. If it’s the right person, or group of people, this can help you see what needs improvement as well as how well the message comes across. However, this sort of thing has to be done effectively and gently. It’s difficult for anyone to have her writing critiqued, even if that criticism is given constructively and with care, by someone concerned for her feelings and best interests. It’s hard to hear, but can lead to a lot of strong improvement. But to be critiqued (and by that I mean criticized) by a class full of kids who literally telling you that your ending (of which you are very proud) just isn’t very good? And that your character is unrelatable, because they’ve never been in that position? That’s unproductive and unhelpful. It gets very overwhelming, very fast and you stop thinking rationally enough to (effectively) hear and weigh out what anyone’s saying. Personally, I just completely shut down.

I don’t really deal with these things very effectively and after I got home from school yesterday I was a mess. But worse, because I wasn’t just a stormy mess of tears that quickly blew over, I was a repressive and, consequentially, hyper-sensitive mess. Ironic, seeing as how that was the major theme in the story that brought on this awful state.

This class was second to last period, so I spent an hour seething and stewing, quietly at my desk (okay, that’s a lie, I spent it seething and stewing while I wandered the halls with my friends) before I even got home. Then I tried going for a run; you know how physical activity is meant to alleviate stress? Didn’t work, it just left me even more drained than I had been. I stewed some more, then tried pouring out my heart and soul to my dear diary. I gave up in frustration, feeling completely broken, having lost all confidence in my ability to write, even a silly, little diary entry. Then I tried watching some TV, but even Friends couldn’t heal my wounds. (It just occurred to me that a woman in my story is watching Friends and it also leaves her completely unmoved from her depressive state — what a strange coincidence.) Finally, I tried reading Runaway, an amazing collection of short stories by Alice Munro, that I’m in the middle of reading. Again, this did nothing to ease my state of discontent and, being drained from my both real and slightly melodramatized emotional state, I gave up and went to sleep.

R.I.P. my former Data Management binder… Just another way of venting my emotions last night. Don’t worry, I finished the course already.

Then I woke up feeling awful this morning, almost like a hangover from my ‘grief-fest’. Regardless, I dragged my unsettled stomach to school, having had an essay to hand in and a dreadfully boring PowerPoint to present for my Data Management class. Still feeling less-than-serene, I went to speak to the teacher we called Ms. B. I’m so glad I did. She, a supportive critic, actual helped me figure out how to change my story ever-so-slightly, so that it’s how Ms. A wants it, without taking away from the message I want to portray. I felt so much better and more relaxed after that.

Then I gave my presentation and went home to watch Sense and Sensibility. I watched the Emma Thompson version, which is fine, but next time I’ll be watching the 2008 mini-series. It’s long (four hours) but worth it; it has so much more detail than the shorter one, and I’m the kind of person who really cares about the details. Only after that, did I really feel better. I should have tried reading or watching something by Jane last night. 

You can read my story here, on Figment.com and judge how perfect or flawed it is for yourself. It’s the original version that was ripped to shreds by my class. I may be posting the revised version on the same site at a later date. You can tell me what you honestly think, and I’ll try to avoid crying and brooding over what I perceive to be your opinion of me as a person.

What do you think of critiquing as a group? How do you deal with criticism? Do you curl up into fetal position and cry about it, like I do? Or do you throw a temper tantrum (like I am also apt to do)?

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About Elizabeth Anne

I’m obsessed with novels, short stories, poetical works &c., and my family has refused to put up with my ranting and raving about these things any longer, so I’ve decided to ramble to you, the internet.

2 responses »

  1. Sorry your story presentation of “Spilled Milk” didn’t go as well as planned. I liked the story, and you got my comment (figment) on it.

    Still waiting to see the unique-conforming prom dress photos?

    Reply
  2. Well, prom hasn’t happened yet, so there won’t be any photos in existence until June 11… Once there are pictures, I’ll let you know if I decide to post them, it depends on how flattering the pictures in question turn out 😉

    Reply

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