Thursday, July 20, 2006
Here's Some Encouragement: Stop Whining.
According to Stengel, the primary role of a coach is to applaud success.
When I was a creative writing teacher, my role was similar. Grading a student's poetry or short stories was always a challenge. What measure should I use? Should I mark all of the grammatical errors? Should I encourage them just for writing creatively (after all they had taken an academic elective when they could have just taken a study hall.)
Here's what I did: I had a list of about five to ten "quality writing" tips that I looked for. Specificity, figurative language, pacing/sentence construction, etc.
If a poem was exceptional, I wrote a long response pointing out the specific things it did well—using all of the fancy literary analysis terms from college. Students seemed to act like professionals when I talked about their work as if it were professional.
I always compared their style to other writers and potential models. If a student wrote terrible terrible schmaltzy vampire poetry, I might applaud the most effective metaphor or sound device—then suggest some unusual authors/poets who had written successful gothic poetry (not Poe, since they already knew him).
When I applauded their success in a very specific way, it often implied areas of mediocrity (and even failure). It seems to me the key to successful applause is to be specific. Vague compliments encourage false pride. Misdirected applause can lead to a false sense of grandeur. I have seen too many people excuse their failures based on their own unquestioned and unrealistic sense of worth.
The only response to failure is unflinching determination. Stop whining. Fix the problem.
(If I only I could take my own advice about submitting manuscripts.)
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