“There is a fundamental reason why we look at the sky with wonder and longing—for the same reason that we stand, hour after hour, gazing at the distant swell of the open ocean. There is something like an ancient wisdom, encoded and tucked away in our DNA, that knows its point of origin as surely as a salmon knows its creek. Intellectually, we may not want to return there, but the genes know, and long for their origins—their home in the salty depths. But if the seas are our immediate source, the penultimate source is certainly the heavens… The spectacular truth is—and this is something that your DNA has known all along—the very atoms of your body—the iron, calcium, phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and on and on—were initially forged in long-dead stars. This is why, when you stand outside under a moonless, country sky, you feel some ineffable tugging at your innards. We are star stuff. Keep looking up.”—Neil de Grasse Tyson (via christomsun)
Maureen?How do you deal with criticism? I'm fifteen and I had to write a creative story for honors english. My grammar is bad. Very bad, I wish I had better teachers or tried harder to learn grammar in middle school but anyway, the only good thing my teacher had to say about my story was that the dialog and writing was fine. Everything else was bad, like my story had no resolution or it wasn't a real story. I worked so hard and I'm crushed. Please reply Maureen. I love you, you're awesome.
There are a few things going on here—various levels of problems. I didn’t read your story, so I can’t comment on it. But I can talk to you about the learning curve and dealing with criticism.
FIRST, I need to say the thing I always say. When you first start writing, you will be bad at it. I have said this many times but it is true, and that is why I keep saying it. Everyone has to start somewhere. You don’t just sit down at the piano and play a concert. You practice for years and play VERY BADLY until you learn to play well. Sometimes we write poorly even when we have knocked ourselves out and worked very hard. Think of this as a WORKOUT. Just continue writing. If you give up, you won’t improve.
Again, I didn’t read your story! I’m not saying your story was bad. I know nothing about it. I can tell you that at fifteen I wrote amazingly bad things that bad NO POINT WHATSOEVER and were terrible in 500 different ways. So did pretty much everyone I know who is now a successful writer.
To your specific concern about grammar … you can learn that! There are loads and loads and loads of books, and tons of good sites (like Grammar Girl).
OKAY, but what do do with criticism itself. That’s the question. I know how it feels—it feels like 600 tons of bricks dumped on you while you’re sleeping. But with a few mental tweaks, you CAN come to see it for what it really is … YOUR FRIEND.
Criticism is your friend. Without it, YOU CAN’T IMPROVE. YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED IT, IN ALL AREAS OF LIFE. Because…we often don’t know how to do things until we do them kind of wrong and then people help us work on it. Other people taught us how to walk, and eat with a fork, and read, and speak … writing is no different!
There are lots of ways to visualize it. For example, it is like a BAD TASTING MEDICINE. But it is one that needs to be swallowed in order to get better.
It’s a friend that helps you by jumping on your back and riding around on you. Like a monkey! It picks at your hair and knocks over your stuff and pulls things out of your pockets and drives you crazy but it is your LITTLE MONKEY FRIEND, and you must always remember it is your little monkey friend when it is TRYING YOUR SOUL AND SAPPING YOUR PATIENCE.
Have another visual…A LIFE PRESERVER MADE OF SNAKES THAT SOMEHOW STILL WORKS AS A LIFE PRESERVER! You don’t WANT to touch it, but it will help you!*
But, just to complicate things**, it must be remembered that NOT ALL CRITICISM IS EQUAL. The world is full of voices. These can, I think, be divided into three general categories:
1. There are some people who want to help and CAN.
2. There are people who want to help, but have no idea what they are talking about.
3. There are people who just like to set fire to the work of others rather than actually accomplish anything themselves.
People in categories 2 and 3 are OFTEN ON THE INTERNET, but, luckily, so are people in category number one. I’m just saying that haters can roam freely and talk crap online with no one to curb them or vet their credentials. When online, choose your critics and editors with care, for the voices are many, and of WILDLY VARYING QUALITY.
Most people will actually FLIT between these three categories, depending on what’s being discussed, as we all have our areas of expertise and our touchy and/or irrational subjects.
SO HOW DO YOU KNOW WHO TO LISTEN TO.
This, my friend, is one of the major tricks of LIFE ITSELF. Knowing who to trust. Figuring out what’s true for yourself. Finding someone with the right ear. This is no small affair.
In terms of writing, I’ll tell you this. I went to an ivy league MFA program for three years. For two of those years, I sat in class and gave out my work and was treated to TEN WILDLY VARYING OPINIONS on that work. It usually went like this.
FIRST PERSON: I liked the mom in your story and wanted to see more of her.
SECOND PERSON: I hated the mom. Cut the mom.
THIRD PERSON: Could the mom be a dad?
FOURTH PERSON: I agree with the first person. You need to make this story all about the mom and cut every single word that does not involve the mom and call the story MOM. In fact, just write the word MOM 20,000 times.
FIVE: I didn’t even notice the mom in this story. I liked the toaster on page 4. I’d like to see a whole page on the toaster. I just really like toasters.
SIX: Toasters are a symbol of capitalism. Change the toaster to a tractor.
SEVEN: Why would the mom have a tractor in her kitchen? Agree there is too much mom. Make the mom a sister.
EIGHT: Why does the mom have to make the toast? What is this, 1950?
NINE: I think the mom just wanted some toast. But I do like the tractor idea.
TEN: What this story needs is a talking rabbit.
This was what I did for TWO YEARS. This was the clatter of voices in my mind. In my very last session with my thesis instructor, I talked about how much of my time was spent figuring out who to listen to. He smiled and said, “That’s the point of the program.”
It’s a goal you’ll reach for all your life, developing this EAR for helpful criticism. You make progress toward that goal by developing your own sense of what is good. And in writing, you do this by READING. You read, and you sit and work out what, for you, is good and bad about what you are looking at. Find something you like? TAKE THAT SUCKER APART. Take it apart chapter by chapter, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, and word by word.
This is a long game, my friend! But a FUN one.
Have another visual.
You are an ARCHEOLOGIST now, and you are standing in the desert. Beneath you, somewhere, is a WONDERFUL PIECE OF ANCIENT ART. Finding it will not be easy. You have a lot of sand to move. You must go methodically, and you must dig deep. There is a lot of sand, but it’s not your enemy. It’s just something you have to shift. It’s something that’s PROTECTING the treasure. It’s not there to personally bother you. It’s just sand.
Does that help? Maybe go back to the one with the snakes.
What I can say is this … never ever ever ever ever give up.
I hope this helps.
* visualizations will vary in quality, depending on how much coffee I’ve had and how much coffee you’ve had
“The decision to kiss for the first time is the most crucial in any love story. It changes the relationship of two people much more strongly than even the final surrender; because this kiss already has within it that surrender.”—Emil Ludwig (via melissa-grey)
“I would like everyone to know that the teachers in the English Dept at Alamogordo HS do not agree with the knee jerk reaction of pulling Neverwhere from the Dept. library. It has been successful as a supplemental novel and since our goal is to get students engaged and encourage their thinking, this novel is a keeper — the students love it. The passage the parent is referring to is not graphic, but it is an adult type situation…a very briefly visited one.
I am sorry our school administrators did not stand up and support the material the way we all would have expected them to do. Also, as much as we hate to expose anyone for not speaking the truth, this parent had publicly stated that the school was “forcing” her student to read the novel (not true), and she also stated that the school never offered her daughter an alternate selection when she objected to Neverwhere. This statement is one that we will vehemently deny. The mother is stating inaccurate comments publicly. I work with the teacher in question – a very capable and intelligent young woman that is an asset to the English Dept.- and she immediately provided an alternate novel to the student as soon as the mother made the first known objection to Gaiman’s novel.
We simply cannot stand for banning a book for hundreds of students this year and in the years to come because a single parent objected over one brief passage on ONE page. Making inaccurate comments about the teacher (whom the parent chose not to even meet, but publicly disrespected her and questioned her credentials in spite of that), saying we forced anyone to read a text she objected to, or stating that no alternative assignment was offered is absolutely false. Teachers are sensitive to the needs of their students.
Our students have enjoyed Gaiman’s novel for almost ten years, and it saddens us to think that our future students will not have the same opportunity.
The teachers in the English Dept are opposed to any form of censorship. This situation is being handled incorrectly, it makes our school and our town appear as if we are fine with suspending the use of a book that is used by middle and high schools across the country and around the globe. We are not fine with it, and we want people to know that.”—