Wednesday, September 12, 2007

So now I feel like a jerk.

Why do I feel like a jerk? Let me tell you.

My comp students wrote first-person essays this week--narratives about significant events from their own lives. Creative-non-fiction-type things.They submitted the drafts today, and I'm giving them some comments and suggestions for revision.

I am, on the whole, very happy with what I've seen so far. While the writing could use work in some cases, all of the essays I've read have clearly been written with sincerity and integrity. Reading them is helping me to get a much stronger sense of my students as people, which can only mean good things for our relationships through the rest of the semester.

One of the things that we've been talking about a lot is the importance of concrete detail and description in effective writing. In my comments, I've been locating places where they should "show" instead of "tell" and suggesting what kinds of details might work to enhance their narratives.

So why do I feel like a jerk?

Here's why.

Some of these students have been through a lot of bad stuff. And they're writing about it in their essays. So here I am, reading about quite horrific personal experiences, and writing little notes like, "Can you show us how he/she was abusive?" and "How do you know that your mom is unhappy with her life?" and the like. (These are not real examples, but close enough.)

Yeah. I feel like a jerk.

(In my defense, I do try to make up for it in the general comments at the end of each paper, about the difficulty of writing about X or the power of the essay as a whole. But still. Maybe creative writing teachers have a clearer sense of how to go about critiquing this kind of writing; I just feel like I'm poking a stick into a wound. You know?)

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