Saturday, May 7, 2011

Compliments and Criticisms

Can you think of the best compliment you ever received for your writing? I'm not talking about your best friend, your significant other or your mom telling you that you're going to be a best seller... I'm talking about something that spurned you on to want to write or gave you the sense that you could actually write.

I have a very distinct memory of mine. Well, I have three actually, this was really the second.

I was in high school and it was two days after I had turned in a (required) short story. I was wandering the empty halls when my English teacher stopped me and, for a moment, I thought I was going to get in trouble since I was, so very obviously, skipping one of my classes... just not his.

He had this really weird expression on his face... he didn't say "Hi" or "What class should you be in?" He just looked at me, then out of nowhere, he said, "I don't understand that story you turned in."

...and, being the smart-mouth I was, (and primarily concerned with avoiding trouble for skipping class) I answered back, "Well then you should read it again." And I trounced off as fast as I could without looking like I was running away. After all, I didn't want him cluing in that I probably wasn't supposed to be roaming the empty halls in the middle of the school day.

Doesn't sound much like a compliment, does it? Well, I did get an A+ on that story and until I graduated all my English teachers were overly interested in what I was writing to the point where two of them *borrowed* my Grade 12 Provincial English Exam from the officiating examiner so they could read the essay portion of my exam. I suspect they could have gotten into a LOT of trouble for that... since the Provincial exams are taken very seriously...

(okay, that particular incident was the third compliment. The first I'm still not going to talk about 'cause it's bitterly embarrassing)

The reason I found it to be a compliment is because the professor wasn't a stupid guy. Sure, I may have been a bratty immature teenager, but I respected some of my teachers and this guy was one of them. His comments on the story... I'm not going to share them, but that is one of the few things I have kept from my high school years. Because of his reaction in the hallway and because of what he wrote.

So that's my idea of a compliment. Does that seem a little warped? Strange? Incomprehensible? Sure, I wouldn't disagree on that point. The story was pretty weird, I might add. Enough to get the school councillor calling me into her office at random times for a *friendly chat about anything that was bothering me*, of which I usually spent it sitting silently in full-on sullen-teenage-glory until I was eventually released.

As a general rule, I hate compliments. Especially when it's to do with writing.

So what do I like? I like criticism. My usual tag-line when I e-mail sections to my writing group is, "Shred it!" (figuratively, not literally as that would be counterproductive). I want to know what's wrong. I want everything torn apart into tiny ragged pieces, with nothing spared or left intact. I want ruthlessness. I want the masochistic pleasure in being taken down a peg (or several), of having pointy objects shoved into the softest parts of my writing until it bleeds. I will eternally ask, "but what's wrong with it?" until they're ready to throw me out.

I'm in a dilema, at the moment, where I'm looking for that next level of pain. I want a limb hacked off, an organ removed, a good, old-fashioned scalping.

Today I had a very frustrating afternoon where I *tried out* a writing group in a city I don't live in, but visit at least once a month. Don't get me wrong, I love my local group, but none of them write YA and I want good, hard criticism from people who live, eat and breathe the genre. I want my weaknesses pointed out. I want to improve, I want to grow. I am not content with the level I currently write at and my own self-instruction has reached the limits of what is feasible. I need that critical second-eye.

But right now I need a hot bath. To ease the frustration of my afternoon adventure, I walked my dog (who is clearly a trooper) in the pouring rain for an hour until the both of us were soaked clean through.

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Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)