Giving, receiving and understanding criticism

Replicated from my SheWrites blog, 14 February 2011.

I loved fantasy as a child. My favourite books were by Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl (regardless of my mum’s disapproval), and my early stories were all centred on magic kingdoms and special abilities, mysteries to be discovered and ‘perfect’ heroines. I was writing to define myself, to escape from the negative of reality and to create a fantasy into which I would fit.  Now I think back, there was always a strong feminine element in my early writing, always a female central character, child or adult, and she was always tough, clever and strong.

I loved reading and writing in primary school (prior to age 12) and none of my creative efforts were ever critiqued or questioned. I learnt myths and legends of every culture throughout history as part of my early schooling, and this helped me feel confident in remaining in the fantasy world, however contrived. It was in high school that I was faced with a harsh truth; my writing couldn’t only be about me in isolation of reality. In other words, my little fantasy world was to be slowly eroded as my writing came into contact with others. The urge to write and have others ‘get’ me through my writing was stronger than the urge to write for myself alone. I sought understanding and connection through my writing without even being aware.

So it was a rude shock when at age 13 I submitted what I thought was the first chapter of an epic fantasy that would evolve into well-loved volumes akin to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings collection, and was told by a young, intelligent, challenging English teacher: ‘Your writing is full of cliches and needs a lot of work.” What? How dare you! Oh the injustice! How dare she dismiss such greatness in one sentence! I was utterly shattered, which turned into disillusionment. I didn’t know how to take the criticism, probably because it was the first time anyone had ever been so up front with me about my writing, about the truth of it. I’d had no idea how naive I was and I wasn’t used to challenges. I was an all-rounder – I put in minimal effort and was rewarded with maximum results, so why try to improve? I was angry at first, then upset, then began to doubt myself.

I did very badly in English after that, just scraped past, until a shining light of an English teacher at age 16 gave me a moment of pure inspiration to produce something ‘real’ and the encouragement to keep it going…

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Author: curiosikat

Writer, editor, linguist, social historian...

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