Saturday, 12 June 2010

Sticking My Neck Out

I've just done a whole load of tutorials and I'm exhausted. I've read 29 pieces of work and given one-to-one feedback on each and every one. It's hard work but can be so rewarding. There's the student who sent me some revised work and, oh, it's just lovely writing and now she's sorted out the story line it glows. There's another student, and we talked about a problem she had in her writing and I could see it suddenly clicked, she got why it didn't work, and what she could do about it.

Actually, most students are receptive. They want to get better and, while I don't for a million miles think I'm the final arbiter on what is "good" or "not so good", I have read a lot of student work over the past ten years and have a fair idea of how common problems can be solved.

But occasionally there comes someone who is defensive. It doesn't matter if their writing is good or bad, they're so busy defending it they can't listen to anything any one else says. The worst example I had came some years ago when a student told me that as far as he was concerned his work was perfect and he wasn't changing a word. How wonderful to have such confidence. And how crippling, because he wouldn't listen to even the mildest comments suggesting a bit more clarity. He understood his writing and that was enough for him, despite at the same time, his desire to be published.

I always back right off with a defensive student; there's no point in wasting my energy. But I do wonder how they think they're ever going to get better if they don't, won't, listen? I like to think that the defensive students will never get published, but of course I have no idea if that's true or not - the future hasn't happened. And I know that life is unfair and some of the students I've had who have worked their socks off have yet to succeed.

But being a writer is about listening as well as writing. Listening to the rhythms of language, listening to the way people speak and what they say, listening for the things they don't say, listening for the difference between a clunky sentence and one that sings. How can you ever expect to write if you don't listen?

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