Thursday, September 30


I remember the first time I allowed my dad to critique a story of mine. It ended with me in tears, but it was better for his suggestions. It may have taken me a few months to get over that particular savaging, but then I regularly asked him to look at my homework and articles and whatnot to find sentences in need of improvement and underdeveloped themes. I was a perfectionist. I didn't just want to hand in 'A' papers. I wanted them to be the best my teachers had read. His suggestions made me a better writer. By the last years of high school he had pointed my mistakes weaknesses out often enough that I could find them myself. At Gonzaga, I never asked anyone to read my essays. I was confident in them, and that confidence was more or less rewarded. My grades at university were not significantly lower than those in high school.

I managed little writing outside of this blog while abroad, but I began work on a number of half-finished and half-started stories from my time at Gonzaga. Now, with a great deal more time, I put more effort into them. I send them off to a few friends for comment. Their comments are helpful. They point out weak characters and thematic problems. I do my best to meet these criticisms and submit the stories to contests. I don't win the contests. I begin to wonder whether my best is good enough, whether writing is even worth my time if no one else likes it very much.

This past week I spent near three hours on the phone with a Gonzaga professor discussing the thousand words of my personal statement for a scholarship. He called my first draft, and I quote, underwhelming. There was a lack of passion in the final paragraph. There were split infinitives. There were ambiguous antecedents and awkward phrases. It was, quite possibly, the best thing anyone has said about my writing in a year or two. When he pointed out that I was denigrating a former recipient of the scholarship, I laughed.

I had thought the essay was pretty decent. I was wrong. I didn't have any idea what 'pretty decent' was, much less 'good.' This wasn't my best work, and I doubt my writing before was much better. I haven't peaked. I don't even know where the summit is, but I know I can do a lot better. I can win some contests and be published. I just need a little savaging every once and a while.

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