Today I received an note from a student on her assignment that she turned in. I paraphrase: I just got your feedback on the first draft today ( notes which I gave them Friday, by the way; today is Monday). I was studying for a sociology test today, which took up a lot of my day. I hope you like this draft. I hope I get an ‘A’.”
She not only did not get an “A”; she happened to fail the assignment. It was clear she did some work between the first and the second draft, but it still did not follow the assignment well. I’m pretty sure this happened because of a few specific things:
1. She is likely overwhelmed with all of her classes, and this assignment, while a major one, is still a smaller major one than others in the class. She had to do triage, and my assignment was not the first priority. That’s okay, but there are natural consequences that follow.
2. She did not follow the directions very well; she took a tangent that she liked instead.
3. She did not heed the feedback from me or her peer review group (I do not have proof of the latter, but usually these groups are good at spotting major deviations from the assignment, so I think this is a safe assumption).
4. She decided that her work is worth an “A”, no matter what she does or does not do. Some students are like this. They do not equate what they actually do with the grade. They decide they have to get an “A” (I get told that surprisingly often). In some cases, they want an “A” for effort- they may work very, very hard, but if it doesn’t follow the assignment or it doesn’t make sense, I can’t just give them an “A” anyway. Sometimes they do not work hard at all, but they’ve decided they want an “A” bad enough to talk themselves into believing they deserve it no matter what.
I realize that for any writing project, we really have to be wary of 3 and 4. At least I know I do.
I’m pretty good about listening to feedback now, but I wasn’t when I younger, even through most of my undergraduate career. I would get emotional about how I perceived my own writing and wouldn’t always listen objectively, as I really thought I was an innately awesome writer. I was not. Now I say, “Lay it on me! I need to know how this really comes across.” There’s no sense in me staying delusional if I ever actually want to get my work published, because my peer group will see many of the things a potential publisher or actual reader will.
But I’ve been pondering the “I hope I get an A!” comment all day. I want to be a novelist. I have good ideas sometimes (not just my delusional good ideas… I’ve been told they’re good). But, 1. If I’m not always willing to put in the effort, I can’t just rely on my assessment that I’m an “A” writer in my heart. It doesn’t work that way.
And 2. An even scarier proposition is that it is possible that I could put in an enormous amount of effort and still won’t have “A” work. I can’t get published on effort alone. I knew that, but today it hit me pretty hard.
Just like some students will have to work harder than others to get the same result, so do we as creative writers (or academic writers, etc.).
Just like some students who may have great ideas but may execute them poorly, our (my) ideas can’t just be brilliant without an equally brilliant execution for them to be received well.
I also realize it doesn’t matter who I know or who likes me in the end. It’s about my work. I have students who think if I like them, I will give them an “A”, and I have some who think if they do not get an “A” that I hate them. It just isn’t true. I have a rubric (grading standards) that I follow. Publishers will do the same thing with my writing, no matter how cute or witty I am (and we all know I am).
The analogy can go on and on. This is, of course, sobering, but it doesn’t need to be discouraging. I can decide if I like the terms or not, but I just can’t change those terms. For me, that means I need to work more and realize that if I keep working, I can eventually make my work “A” work, even if it takes longer than I think it should.