More reasons to think the creative writing course I took was horrible

Posted by Shannon Haddock on October 15, 2016 in Rants |

Back in this post last year, I talked about the creative writing course I took in college and why I hated it so much.  Today while doing some cleaning I came across the copies of the fucking story the professor and everyone hated so much that they’d marked up.  And that sentence could probably be phrased better, but I don’t fucking care right now.

I discovered some interesting things:

  1.  Contrary to my memory, the professor had complimented two things in the story.  He liked the phrase “on his fair face” because it reminded the reader of what the elf dude looked like.  He also liked my pacing during one spot, even though he thought (correctly) I should flesh the scene out more because it read like a summary.  I’m not sure how you can like the pacing of a scene and simultaneously think it needs fleshed out, but apparently this made sense to him.
  2.  The professor was really fond of the phrase “Whose story?”  I recall now that this was written in the margins of a few other stories I did for that class too, and I still have no idea what he meant by it.  In this case he seemed to do it any time the woman in the story mentioned her baby, so I really have no clue why he said that.  Maybe I wasn’t supposed to mention the baby unless the story was about it?
  3.  The professor also questioned the need for “all this slight humor”.  As more the one of the reviews of my published work compliments my “skillful touches of humor”, this shows that my professor apparently didn’t recognize one of my strengths.
  4.  Also he thought I had too much dialogue and didn’t spend enough time “establishing a sense of place” (I think?  Something like that anyway; his handwriting is very hard to read.).  What’s weird about this is that even though I didn’t consciously remember this criticism, I must have internalized it because I’ve spent from then until I discovered Mike Resnick a few months ago — the only sf author I know of who uses as much dialogue as I do — thinking that my stories were too dialogue heavy without knowing where the fuck I’d gotten that idea from.  Resnick has won five Hugos.  I’m going to assume writing like him is okay.  (This is also very similar to a criticism I got from a lit fic writer, so maybe it’s a lit fic thing?)  Also, again, my reviews tend to praise my dialogue, so, really, it looks like this professor wasn’t good at recognizing what I do well.
  5.  Now, the most absolutely fascinating thing I discovered today:  With the exception of a couple of students who said that it wasn’t clear when or where the story was set and that they were therefore confused, the students wrote that it was a good story that just needed more fleshing out.  Remember what I said in that last post about how they tore the story apart during the workshopping of it?Now I’m wondering how much of that was an attempt at sucking up to the professor.  Or possibly just “Let’s all pick on the nerdy fantasy writing girl who barely talks in or out of class.”  (I know most creative writing courses are full of people who are nerds or geeks or otherwise different from the norm.  This one wasn’t.  This one was full of people who wrote barely fictionalized accounts of frat parties and getting so drunk you hook up with someone ugly and other such highly imaginative fare.)
  6.  Oh, my last sentence reminds me of one of my professor’s other criticisms:  Narrators aren’t supposed to be sarcastic.  My copies of Little Women beg to differ with him.  (Abridged print version, unabridged print version, ebook version of that same one (it was free), ebook version of the original printing . . . It’s possibly my favorite book, okay?  Pretty sure this line is in all of them.)  “Meg’s high-heeled slippers were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo’s nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant or die.”

So, that was interesting.  And, before anyone says it, I know I should just let it all go, but you see, here’s the problem:  I couldn’t write for a couple of years after taking that class!  It was over a decade later before I finished a fantasy story again, and that one was less than a thousand words.  I learned nothing from that course, either.  I went into that class sure I was a great writer, but knowing I needed some help with the more esoteric bits — plot structure, pacing –things I still struggle some with, in fact. I came out of that class no better a writer than I went in and with a bitchton of anxiety hanging over my head every time I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for ages. So, yeah, I’m still pissed.  And I’ll probably stay pissed.


(Also, sorry about the way the blog looks right now.  We’re not sure what’s wrong.  Something’s broken, obviously, but tracking down what is proving difficult.  And our thermostat died overnight, so we’ve been a bit distracted.  (It’s October. We’re in Massachusetts.  The heat coming on when it should is just a tiny bit more important than my blog looking like it’s supposed to.))

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