Take the Criticism and Learn

I stride briskly through the crisp autumn air, the coolness stinging my face, making my hands curl tighter around the crumpled paper in my hands. My eyes water, and I sense tears coming though I do my best to hold them at bay. I let out a foul curse and continue on trying to ignore the blue and black markings all over the paper, all over my work.

It’s only nine in the morning, and I’m already about to cry. But then again, I’ve never really experienced this feeling before. And it’s awful. I’ve taken heartbreak and rejection. I’ve lived through being ignored and being used. But I’m not sure I can live through this. Through utter and complete criticism to a work of writing.

This? This is Journalism class. This is my discovery that not all forms of writing are created equal and though I can succeed on many playing fields, the world of news is a whole different world where my enemies feel a heck of a lot stronger than most.

All my life I’ve been told what a spectacular writer I am. I remember back to elementary school when I was one of two people in my class selected to go to a writing conference because I showed obvious talent. I remember to junior high when I came out with the highest grade in my regular English class and was transferred to accelerated the next year. I remember friends begging me for the next chapter in high school. I remember pulling off A’s on my hardest literature class essays. But for once in my life no one is looking at my work and applauding.

The paper is a mess, words scrawled everywhere, things crossed out, commas added. And if that wasn’t enough my peer editing group had to critique my work aloud, voicing to the whole world what was wrong with my article. I felt my face heat up, felt defensiveness take over. I tried my best to nod through the criticism even as tears started to try to escape. As the professor announced the end of class, I grabbed the article and ran for the door.

Perhaps I needed to finally know what it felt like to not be the one with the best work. Perhaps this worthy lesson has shown me something. I have always advocated for trying new things, and I did. I branched into journalism, and in doing so learned that I cannot be talented at everything.

I don’t want to sit here and sound like I’m whining about how I can’t write journalism. Certainly it is an admirable talent, and I would be delighted if I had natural abilities to produce news stories, but as I don’t I must be satisfied with what I do have. I have written four novels in my lifetime, keep a blog, have tried my hand at a variety of types of fiction, have even branched into nonfiction on occasion. I rarely get a bad grade on an essay. I have been blessed whether I like it or not, and to simply know this is the wrong form for me is in some ways a pleasant surprise. I think it would be exhausting to be good at every form of writing.

As I stand looking out at the trees of campus, feeling the tears slowly disappear and resolve take over, I know I learned a few simple truths. Every writer encounters criticism. To be honest I’m bad at taking it in general. But the main thing I learned today is that we all face it at some point in our writing lives. No matter how talented we may seem on the surface, every writer has an Achilles’ heal. And mine is journalism. And so, I’ve learned what not to pursue in my career. And I gladly leave this craft to writers far more talented than I.


Filed under Writing

2 responses to “Take the Criticism and Learn

  1. Gerry

    ah my beautiful Emily ~ why else are you a student but to learn? You must challenge yourself as a person and as a wordsmith: prose, poetry, and yes, journalism.
    I have experienced the savage slash of many an editor — writing is not for the weak of spirit — Please let yourself grow from this experience — sharpen your pencil and try again!

    • Thanks Gerry. I think I indicated I let myself grow from the experience. However, I really don’t aspire to be a journalist in the first place so the rejection wasn’t as hard as it might have been if I was having a novel criticized.

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