It was final semester senior year, and my poor planning had finally caught up with me. To claim my diploma, I need five classes in my concentration, four literature and one writing. As it happened, a creative writing class handily fit into my frantic schedule and became something of a shelter from a blizzard of reading assignments. Three times a week, I got to create rather than consume, got to study the ins and outs of narration and began to learn how to make language move according to my whims. What I didn’t enjoy, though, was the mandatory chore of having to critique others’ projects.
I wasn’t alone in my distaste. If you could’ve looked around the classroom while some poor soul read his work aloud, you’d have seen faces swaddled in boredom and apathy, faces that might have been a hundred miles away, they were so removed from the proceedings. No one wanted to correct clashing points of view when he could be dreaming up new worlds. No one wanted to delve into fractured diction or spotty grammar when he had nascent characters just waiting for him to breathe the breath of life into them. Sure, critiques helped the author, but we weren’t in the class for charity’s sake. We wanted to write.
The space of years and a little experience have taught me such an attitude is born as much of ignorance as arrogance. Proofing aids more than the proofee. Emotional distance allows you to accurately diagnose common errors, and repeated exposure to narratives penned at various skill levels teaches you what makes a story work. You stand a better chance of mashing the expository lump, sending the shaggy dog to the pound and stuffing the deus ex machina back into its box if you’ve encountered them in works other than your own. So if someone asks you to give his story the old once over, don’t internally groan. Lucky fellow, here lie writing riches for the taking! Instead, clap him on the back, proffer your heartfelt thanks and break out that red pen.
(Picture: CC 2006 by Esther_G)