Every semester, the question I am most likely to hear at least 237 times is "Can you just tell me what to write so that I can get an A?"
I'm always tempted to respond, "Do you want me to cut up your meat for you too?" or "Did you not hear me say no the first five times you asked me that? Be gone!"
Questions like that irritate me as much as statements like "You made a mistake with my grade. I know I stopped showing up to class for a month, but I deserve AT LEAST a B" and "Why should we care about this? When will we EVER use this?" and "I need to leave forty minutes early, but I won't be counted as absent, right?" (I am not making these statements up.)
Meanwhile, I'm thinking that maybe I should leave the classroom right now, because otherwise my evil alter ego will take over and I'll turn into Professor Screams-A-Lot.
On the one hand, I can understand why students are so focused on getting A's. Undergrads are under an incredible amount of pressure. If they don't maintain good GPAs, they could lose scholarships or financial aid. They need those A's to get internships and to get into grad school.
I could tell them exactly what to write. I could also pull a rabbit out of my textbook so that they'll stop falling asleep in my classes.
When students pressure me to "fix" their drafts, they're missing the point of writing. It's one thing for me to guide them through the process and show them how to write thesis statements, do research, and present both sides of the argument. But if they expect me to line-edit their papers and fix all their mistakes, then all that's left for them to do is fill in the blanks. It's like Mad Libs. The story is already written; all people have to do is put in a few words or phrases.
No writer would say to an agent or an editor, "Can you just tell me exactly what to write so that I can get published?" The agent and the editor would just throw the book at them. Literally.
It's fine and often necessary to get feedback from other people. They can help you see your writing from different perspectives. They can provide encouragement and constructive criticism. But they can't write the story for you, because ultimately, it's your story.
It's not just about getting an A or getting published. Writing is about freeing all those ideas and secrets you've kept locked up in your head and your heart. It's about rewriting, so that you can learn from your mistakes. It's about telling the world how you feel. But if you try to get other people to write the story for you, then it's not your story anymore.
That's why it bothers me so much when some of my students seem to care more about the grade then the writing. They end up not learning anything from the writing process. They don't get to tell their stories.
When you share your writing with other people, what kinds of questions do you ask them? What kind of feedback do you hope to get?
By the way, Guinevere is hosting a cool contest on her blog, This is Not My Day Job; all you have to do to enter is be a follower and leave a comment on her blog. You could win a great art print with a writing theme! For more info check out her blog. The deadline to enter is November 19.
Interview with… Adam Byatt - Today it’s the turn of Adam Byatt to sit down and share his writing with us. This is my 13th interview, and there are still some wonderful authors to come!...
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