Sunday, 3 June 2012

Asking for Feedback


I’m about to send my creative writing work to one of my old Sixth Form tutors.

I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but unless you’re one of those cocky types that believe they’ve written the next Da Vinci Code, or have so few social skills that you don’t recognise a crap response from your audience, no unprofessional creative writer likes to have their stories read. They don’t even like to read them aloud. Not even to family, and definitely not to an eagerly awaiting, readily judging Creative Writing seminar. Having completed my first year of uni at Northumbria, and the second and third at Teesside, I can tell you that all CW seminars are the same.

A Creative Writing seminar is a strange mixture of group therapy and a practice of tolerance and nerve. They’re made up of strange groups of individuals such as the two I mentioned above and your usual assortment of student types, mostly sitting in awkward silence, trying to ignore the fact that their voice is shaking, hands are sweating and they would rather claw their own face off than read out their own writing to the rest of the group. The silence that follows a reading is profound. You know what you thought about it, but even if the reception is good, no one wants to gush in case everyone else is silently thinking ‘wow, that was crap,’ and no one wants to say ‘wow, that was crap’ because we know how painful it would be to hear that about our own work. English students are often a pretentious bunch, and no one wants to admit to liking crap literature, I mean, God forbid that a lit student would like Twilight. Occasionally, a seminar will turn into a group therapy session when one of the more, let’s call them unusual members reveal a shocking, personal detail about themselves that leads to a silence even more awkward than when someone else’s story involves elves.

One to one meetings with my tutor (who was also my dissertation tutor) were even more awkward. This was the man who would be the first marker for not just one 40 credit module, but BOTH of them. I had to make a good impression. So I avoided the subject of Creative Writing and focused on my dissertation that he was a great help with. Then finally, a week before my CW portfolio was due and after a year of avoiding reading in class, I presented him with four chapters of the beginning of a fantasy fiction novel.

In hindsight, this wasn’t my wisest move. This was the man who had seen me cry with frustration, mutter  ‘s***, f***, oh s***!’ repeatedly when told that my referencing was a mess six weeks before deadline. One time, I got distracted during a conversation about the philosophy of space and after a year of trying to ignore it, grabbed the Angry Bird toy from his desk and hit it to make the Angry Bird noise. After displaying my innermost crazy to him for over a year, I don’t really know what I expected of him, but I didn’t expect the reaction I got:

‘I’ve never really been a huge fan of the fantasy genre.’

Great. So after being told my work was slightly phallic (apparently the fact the men carry swords is sexually implicit. I truly didn’t mean it like that, but now cringe whenever my character ‘raises his sword.’) And asked why I killed a character by having him shot with an arrow to which without thinking, I answered ‘I’ve been watching Game of Thrones… Have you?’ Then told that my writing was clichéd (what fantasy writing isn’t?) I have realised that the grade it will ultimately receive, won’t necessarily be reflective of how enjoyable it would be to fans of the genre or just general readers who aren’t paid to see implicit imagery of willies or question the notion of space.

While the idea of sending my writing to someone else terrifies me, I know that it’s the only way I will get any real feedback. While if it’s bad I will be a bit upset, by writing this I have remembered that over the past year, the worst has already been said and if anything, it’s just made me more aware of my writing style and how to adapt it. So I’m about to send that email. I only have to attach, send and wait for a response. How bad can it be?

Also, a quick and unrelated update on things in general. I may have a job working in a greetings card shop. My friend who works there says I do. While I refuse to get excited until I hear it from the boss herself, I am massively relieved that I don’t have to return to the direct.gov website just yet. 

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