Proudly yet nervously, I read the piece I had slaved over for days, removing paragraphs, adding words, tweaking here and there until I was happy with it. I got the expected giggles in all the right places which put me at ease and by the end of it I was smiling on the inside and out.
It was one of my homework assignments for my writing course that I recently started and I’d struggled with it. I procrastinated because I found it harder to write with a prompt, started over countless times and agonised over every single word. It was supposed to be short, less than a page. If you’ve read my blog you’ll know that keeping it short is something I struggle with. I’d managed to hack the piece down from four pages to one, while still keeping it relevant and I was satisfied.
I wasn’t prepared for the responses.
“It didn’t grab me until the third paragraph, you should have started there.”
“Too many descriptions and flowery words.”
“It’s too long.”
“The last paragraph while wrapping it all up, is it really necessary?”
“Make it more concise.”
“You need less adjectives.”
“Why are you even on this course, you clearly can’t write.”
Okay, so the last comment wasn’t made, but all anxiety would allow me to hear was, “you are not a good enough writer. You should be ashamed.” I felt judged, looked down on and utterly useless.
It was hard not to cry. I’d already been feeling inadequate against these other writers, who are very talented with their writing and in my mind, far better at it than me. Obviously I’d known there would be suggestions for improvement, I was just shocked at how brutal the feedback seemed. While there were positive comments, they paled next to the negative and it stung.
I didn’t understand. All through school I was told to use lots of adjectives, be descriptive, not to use the same language repeatedly, explain things clearly. The brief had been straightforward: Be specific. I’d found it difficult to keep it short while including every element I felt needed to be there to keep the story relevant and yet here they were asking me to cut out the most specific parts.
The course is designed to advance our writing skills. Open our world to new styles of writing, teach us skills and help us reach whatever writing goals we have. I always knew that there was room for improvement in my writing, but I wasn’t emotionally ready to hear what I took at the time as just how bad my writing is. No one said my writing was terrible, anxiety just takes the smallest piece of bait to upset a person like me.
I took notes on everything that was said but struggled for the rest of the class to keep my emotions in check. Other people read out their work and I felt like they got a more positive response but the thing I failed to pick up on was that every single person got some negative feedback. I should stop calling it that, it’s actually constructive criticism and it’s incredibly important to the advancement of skills but it felt like a beating. I never knew how hard it is to receive, as far as I can remember I don’t think I’ve ever had any on my writing before, not that I shared much before my blog, I didn’t have the guts.
The most interesting part of all this is the second piece of homework I read out, the piece I hadn’t worked as hard on and wasn’t as confident with, got much higher praise. There were still comments about too many adjectives (something that had opened for discussion earlier, where it was discovered that I wasn’t the only one who’d had it hounded into them from a young age to over describe things) and keeping it relevant, which I understood better after the discussions. I was still reeling a little from comments on my first piece though and felt even more confusion.
Afterwards, one of my classmates approached me and said that she was feeling crestfallen, that reading out pieces and having comments on them is soul destroying. I was surprised, in my opinion the only thing wrong with her piece was that she had used vertical centering, which wasn’t a writing related issue. I also felt she’d had mostly positive feedback, but as she described her experience to me I realised that we had both focused on the ‘negative’ and taken it personally. I thought about this some more on the way home and remembered that most of us had defensively jumped to explain ourselves after any comments were made. Maybe I wasn’t the only person who’d taken it personally.
It’s only natural to be upset by peoples critiques on our work, whether it’s writing, art, music, whatever we create. We work hard on these, they’re our babies. Ideally, we should take criticisms objectively, learn from them and some of us do. It’s something I’m going to have to learn to do though and quickly if I want this course to help me. Anxiety will be a stumbling block, I just have to keep reminding myself that my writing development is far more important than feeding my anxiety.
Smiles and Sunshine