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Do you really want an honest opinion?

the truth hurtsOver the years, I’ve sensed with a few of my students that I might have hurt their feelings and/or disappointed them if I’ve been less than totally enthusiastic about what they’ve submitted to the class. I’ve always been sorry when that happens. Publishing is a tough enough business to try to break into without having to endure hurtful criticism. That said, I really try very hard to be honest in a way that won’t crush a student. Yes, I’d like to be able to rave about every student’s work, but I can’t. If their work was that wonderful, they wouldn’t be taking classes. They’d be writing and selling their work and wouldn’t need me. If they are taking the class, they probably need help. Some of them need more help than others. That’s normal. Not everyone has the same strengths . . . or weaknesses. Some do a great job with point of view, others don’t. Some have innate storytelling ability and seem to sense when and how to do something, others need help in that direction. Some have been writing for years, others are relatively new in terms of time put in. Some have great voices, others are still working on developing a voice.

I always try to point out a student’s strengths, but it’s the weaknesses in their writing that I feel I have to concentrate on. How else will they ever know the weaknesses are there? The truth is, most critique partners of unpubs either don’t recognize a weakness (because they might have it themselves) or they like you, so they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They might decide it’s not worth saying anything, especially if they’ve tried and you haven’t been receptive. And certainly you’re not going to get the kind of feedback and suggestions you need from agents and editors, not unless you are so close to publication skill and have such a fabulous book that they feel it won’t be a total waste of their time to spend it giving you detailed help. That doesn’t happen very often. Editors and agents are too swamped. They have very little time or energy to spare. So, as a teacher, I’ve tried to supply that.

Bottom line: If you take one of my classes, I hope you feel you’ve gotten what you needed from it when it’s over. However, always remember that I am just one person. I am certainly not an expert on everything. I’ve been known to be wrong once or twice in my life. ☻

What I always want for my students is for them to find the joy in writing. If publication comes along with that, so much the better. But the joy in the process is the best part. Let’s not ever forget that.



  • Cheryl Reavis

    Posted January 15, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Pat, years ago, I took a creative writing class at one of the local colleges. The last day of the class the professor told me how he could tell real writers, i.e., people who actually wanted to write, from people who only wanted to “be a writer,” i.e., people who want to be a hit at cocktail parties without having to participate in the blood, sweat and tears it takes real writers to get there. He said, in his experience, the big difference between the two is that the real writers listen. They don’t necessarily agree with his critiques and may or may not implement anything he’s told them, but they LISTEN. People who are only interested in the trappings, don’t. They are defensive, insulted, and very “how dare you?” if you suggest that some part of their written word isn’t working. I’ve never been in the position to know if this was a viable observation on his part, but I’ve always wondered.

  • Patricia Kay

    Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Cheryl, I think your professor was right. I know it’s hard to accept criticism, even well-meant criticism, but it’s part of the process of learning and improving.

  • Laura

    Posted January 29, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I’m about to complete the second class I’ve taken from you and I’m soooo grateful for all your instruction. It is of great help to read what other people write online, too, as you instruct them. I know “Writers” who have never taken writing classes. Ever. They also can’t tell a joke or a campfire/bar story. Writing is also a process, a roadway of story-telling and you can’t maneuver it without instruction. When I took art classes, I was constantly defending myself from critics who thought they should avoid instruction in art because the teach would “mess” with their great style. Writing and art “assignments” give your style an amplification you won’t get by “creating” in your basement by yourself. You also don’t know what you don’t know. It takes guts to take a class. Pull up your pants, get out of the basement, and take a class. I’m gonna write this on a bathroom wall someplace.


  • Patricia Kay

    Posted January 29, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Laura, you’ve hit the nail on the head. You do have to put yourself out there, but in the end, it’s so worth it. I’m proud of you and know you’re going to achieve your goals.

    • Laura

      Posted January 30, 2014 at 11:36 am

      I was just notified that I’ve won a scholarship to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in a couple weeks! I had to submit a writing sample and an essay on why I write, so it’s a lovely compliment to have been chosen to attend this! I wouldn’t have won this without putting myself out there, ’cause, I’ve noticed, no one comes knocking on your basement door to ask you about your writing. Taking classes helps your writing and gives you more courage to get it out (of the basement)!

      Thank you for helping us, Pat!


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