I don't know if I mentioned it before (I'm fairly certain I didn't but I'm too lazy right now to go back through the archives), but I recently enrolled in a creative writing class. I thought it might help me to solidify some of my ideas for my writing, which are, to put it mildly, all over the fucking shop. It was a 6 week class, with tonight being the final class.
But I didn't go.
I went every other week (except for one, when I was in Adelaide attending a funeral). So ok, 4 out of the 6 weeks. Which is pretty good for me. I'm notorious for never finishing what I start. Quite frankly I'm amazed that I've kept up with this blog for so long.
But I digress.
The first week started promisingly, tutor was a playwright, so was theoretically right up the alley of the area of writing I wanted to explore. We hit the ground running, with some good tips on getting started. We even did mind maps. Totes ace. I have loved mind maps since I was first introduced to them whilst doing my faux business degree*.
From the word go (pardon the pun) we were encouraged to read our work aloud to the rest of the class and give and receive constructive feedback. Some people baulked at this, but eventually everyone gave it a go. I must add here that I had not realised that reading aloud was such a difficult task for some people. And I don't mean in courage. I mean in articulation and annunciation. The vast majority of people in this class were appalling at reading aloud. Too fast, too soft, too mumbled, too stumbling... I guess all those years being surrounded by performers has spoiled me. It took all my powers of listening to even begin to understand what some of these people were saying.
But again, I digress.
We were encouraged to read aloud and in the beginning everyone gave positive feedback and was nice and polite and encouraging and all was good.
Until last week, when we had to choose a memory of our own and then write about it from the perspective of a character who was the total opposite of us.
I should interrupt myself at this point to give you some perspective and explain that the most vocal feedback-givers in the group were:
1. A woman in her late 30s who was very articulate and positive and explained why she did or didn't like something very well. I liked her and thought she was very good at giving feedback.
2. A 19 year old girl who'd just finished her VCE, wrote very well but spoke in a baby voice with a lisp and couldn't articulate her thoughts coherently (well, on paper she could, but verbally she was a bit ordinary).
3. A 20 something girl who pretty much sneered at everybody's work and prefaced reading out her own work with "this is shit". Not the most positive person I've ever met.
The majority of the other participants rarely gave feedback or when they did would limit it to "that was funny" or "I liked the description of the room" or some other inane comments.
The teacher would give some useful advice occasionally, but really didn't contribute much, other than endless stories about plays she'd written or why she hated Jane Austen or how she was a huge fan of Buffy.
For the first few weeks all was ok. I wasn't shy in reading my work aloud and some of the feedback I received was genuinely useful. And I think the feedback I gave was encouraging and helpful. That's certainly what I intended.
And all was good.
Until last week. Last week I chose a memory and wrote my piece. It was a funny memory and one I hadn't thought about much since it happened, so I needed to do a little research and dig out some old diaries and do a little google-ing. It certainly wasn't perfect, and had lots of room for improvement, but I thought it was pretty good and I was quite happy with it. So I read it out and waited for the feedback.
First up, the 30-something lady. She was very articulate in her feedback and had some good suggestions for improvement.
Next up, the baby-voiced lisper. No positive feedback from her... just an abrubt comment about my use of the word "youth" to describe a group of teenagers, which she thought was "dumb cos like no one uses that word".
"Well, I do. And this character does"
"Yeah but it sounds retarded"
"Great. Thanks. Noted."
Then the teacher jumps in, I thought to perhaps admonish Miss Lispy for not being more constructive in her feedback. But no. Teacher's comment was "Yeah, that term is stupidly old fashioned - I don't like it either."
I really had no response to that so I sat there quietly.
At that point Miss Sneer jumped in.
"You know that ending? That was shit."
"What in particular didn't you like about it?"
"I dunno. But it was shit. I didn't like it."
"Well, that's not terribly constructive, do you think you could articulate what in particular you didn't like or offer some useful suggestion for improving it?"
Enter Miss Lispy again.
"Yeah I didn't like the ending either. And 'youth'. That's just dumb. Its all dumb. You should say 'kids' or 'thugs'."
At this point I looked over to the teacher to see if she was going to continue to allow this to continue, but she was laughing and nodding along with them. And then other people in the class started laughing and saying "youth... who says that?!"
To say I was outraged was an understatement. I sat there quietly steaming for the remainder of the class and left without saying a word.
And I decided on the train home that I wouldn't be going back and I certainly wouldn't be allowing those girls to pass judgment on my work again.
That may be a little overly sensitive of me, but I think I'm a little bit justified, don't you? No one deserves to have their creative work derided like that.
Anyway, I'm feeling just a little down about my writing ability now. But it has helped me make the decision that I don't really need a class or a teacher to tell me how or what to write. I should just write for myself, not to please anyone else. And the only person who should judge my work is me. And if I'm happy with it then that's enough.
* A degree in Human Resource Development which included subjects in how to do mind maps cannot really be argued to have been a business degree