Not Even My Professor

So, one of the roommates has a truly, absolutely, undeniably awful professor.  I should just back away.  I should breathe deeply and let it go.  I’ve never met this woman in my life, but  I just. can’t. take it.  Thus a post is born of my impotent rage and seething, emulsing empathy.

Nora’s in a creative writing class, and one day hopes to publish books.  Like most of us who end up trying to writing something, Nora has a voice and things to say.  I enjoy hearing her stories, and we’re at the point where each week after class we meet to chat over dinner.

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Bad writing alert.

There have been many hysterical updates about a guy who uses the same three character names in every story (this has led to an excellent game, where we call each other these names unexpectedly in public, and the first one to laugh loses).  He also likes spelling things backward to make unique place names, and we did discuss how it makes the names a little less unique when you do it every time.  Liaf.  I also like the updates on Nora’s stories.  She writes, if I recall correctly, science fiction, and likes to try all kinds of new and interesting things as she learns about them.  It’s interesting to watch someone else search for ideas, and go through the editing and revision process.  It leads to insights about my own projects, and we sometimes problem solve about how to get around things like how very whiny 1st person narratives can be.

Unfortunately, not everything about Nora’s writing class is great, and the number one thing I can think of is her charming professor’s feedback.

Worst Feedback of the Semester: in descending order

#3: You need to hold the reader’s hand

You might agree with this, and even think it’s obvious.  Writing can’t just wander anywhere and anytime, you need some sense of order and continuity for readers to follow. Some might argue this isn’t needed, that real art allows no compromise, but we’re talking about the rest of us.

What we’re talking about is a teacher who advises young writers to stick with commonly used names, keep the story line simple, and never make the reader guess.  Nora has some thoughts on that.  “It’s great if you’re writing pop-fiction, but what about the rest of us?”  We sit here wondering about the mystery writers, the biographers, and anyone who wants to use their own voice in writing.  I made a list of my top 10 favorite books, and only one of them fits this advice.  If you’re wondering, it’s Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock and the Secret Staircase, and although I love it, it’s not because it’s good literature.

#2: People don’t like writing that’s trying to sound smart

Nora got some feedback on her own writing and, like most of the professor’s written feedback, it was rude.  I’ve certainly had to read books that were cringe worthy.  In general, I’ve had a couple of textbooks a year where I wondered why someone would print such a stuck up, snooty stooge.  Experts in a field can be the worst.  I’ve also had a couple of fiction books I couldn’t get into for the same reason.  Every moment was life changing, dramatic, heartrending, and the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to anyone.  It’s particularly obvious when every possible word has been replaced with a ‘better’ one.

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SEE, everything looks better when it’s Fancy!

Car Vehicle

Drug Narcotic

House Residence

“Why gracious Sir, you unfailingly deliver the most extemporaneous poetry readings from which we attempt to contrive your express denotation.”

See, I know big words.

In Nora’s case, she isn’t “trying to sound smart”, she’s writing about the technology involved in science fiction.  It’s highly specific, and so not my thing, but if you can’t write about anything but the simplified norm: boring.  I like poetry, fantasy series, children’s books, classic literature, and a little bit of everything else.  I don’t want to read the same thing over and over, and I feel like many books (such as Life of Pi, Me Talk Pretty one Day, and A series of Unfortunate Events) break the rules, yet they’ve sure managed to be good literature.

#1: Don’t give positive feedback

Hands down, this gets the number one spot.  A professor who doesn’t give positive feedback is a terrible teacher.  No one is saying you should only compliment students, or that you should accept poor work, but this is ridiculous.

Here are 5 excellent reasons why I am right:

  • Positive feedback makes you more receptive to negative feedback.  If you feel like the person offering critique has understood what you were trying to do (or actually read it in the first place) you are more likely to seriously consider their feedback.
  • It’s a misuse of authority.  Teachers have an innate position of power over students, and telling someone who looks up to you, or sees you as an expert, that everything they do is wrong, is wrong.
  • Writing can be very personal.  Nora’s class is creative writing, and everything in the story  from the plot to each word chosen has been a choice.  That doesn’t mean they were all good choices, but telling someone everything they do is wrong, isn’t helpful.

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    Don’t be mean, no one likes it.
  • Being hyper critical doesn’t make anyone better at anything.  Oddly enough, I don’t want to try harder if you’re just going to grind me down into the dirt.  That is the very definition of a wasted effort.
  • You need to be objective.  Just because it isn’t the way you would have done it, doesn’t mean yours is better.  Everyone has a voice, and belittling people for not upholding your own standards will leave you constantly disappointed.  And in the wrong.

I hate this teacher I never had in class, and when I asked Nora what her takeaway from the class was, she said:

“Nothing.  I feel like I didn’t learn anything.  This is a class for people who’ve learned how to hold a pen, and have always wanted to write.”

Great, so glad 35 aspiring and hobby writers spent 3 months in this class.

Sincerely,

Bettina

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