Monday, November 12, 2018

It's Not Personal: Constructive Criticism Will Make You a Better Writer by Ashley Flach

I’m writing you now as a reformed closet writer. For years I would scribble in my notebook and shove it under my bed always convinced it was the biggest piece of trash that ever came into existence. This worked fine for me until I began an undergraduate degree in English. Once I walked through the doors of academia, everything I wrote came back to me with a multitude of suggestions on how I could improve. Instead of taking this positively by understanding that someone was taking the time to critique my work out of belief in my ability, I took it to heart and felt personally attacked. In some sense, everything we write is an extension of ourselves, and when we feel that is being rejected it hurts, bad.

           My second semester as an undergraduate, I enrolled in an English research class, and the professor was a known stickler. She spoke her mind, never coddled anyone, and ruthlessly ripped papers apart. She was all about scholarly writing, and, in her mind, all of us were scholarly writers in training. She sent my first major research paper back to me riddled with, what felt to me, borderline hostile comments. As a whole, I summed them up in my brain as, “How stupid can you be, dummy? You’ll never make it in this field.” I cried. I wallowed. I decided good writing was like an elusive unicorn that I would never be able to catch. I figured English just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do it. 

I remained in this state for quite some time. Then during our weekly Tuesday night Skype sessions, she said something that changed my perspective. She told us, “Listen, my colleagues and I rip each other’s writing apart and then we go have drinks afterwards. It’s not personal. It’s about challenging each other to be better writers.” Wait, it wasn’t personal? She wasn’t attacking or questioning my reasons for existing or telling me I didn’t have a place within the English discourse community? That night, I literally felt my spine stiffen. I decided from that moment whatever she threw at me I would gladly take. I wouldn’t back down or allow my insecurities to consume me. I would take the criticism and use it to make myself a better writer. I would believe that if she took the time to rip my paper apart it’s because she cared and believed in my ability to grow. 

When you receive a paper from a professor and it’s littered with comments, don’t panic. First of all, that professor is probably busy as all get out, but he/she still took the time to give your paper individualized attention. That’s because you have something to work with. You have good and strong ideas that can become even better and stronger. Basically, you do belong in your discourse community, and the important thing is not to lose sight of your goals. You’re here for a reason, and it’s not always going to be rainbows and sunshine. It’s a hard fact, but it’s the truth. We all take some knocks, but it makes us stronger and motivates growth. 

So, the main point to take away here is, don’t be afraid to share your writing and never fear constructive criticism. At EIU’s Writing Center, we all have stories like the one I laid out. We’ve all been crushed with hopelessness that our writing just isn’t good enough. But, that’s not true. It’s the insecurity taking over. Stiffen your spine. Bring your marked up paper in and a tutor will go through the comments with you and help give you perspective. Or, even better, bring your paper in before you turn it in and whatever tutor’s available will take the time to look it over with you and help you address any concerns you have. Even better yet, bring in a rubric for a writing assignment, and we will help you brainstorm.  

EIU’s Writing Center is dedicated to supporting and helping create better writers. We will give you honest and caring feedback at whatever stage of the writing process you are in, and we will encourage you to stay positive and keep moving forward. At the end of the day, what else is there to do but continue to move forward? Don’t allow yourself to be beaten down. Be confident in your ability as a writer, know you have something worthy to say, and, most importantly, find a way to be okay with understanding you have room to grow.  

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