Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?"

In honor of Holy Week, picture of Via Dolorosa.

These past few months I have been teaching a Creative Writing course to a small group of nine and ten year olds. 

I spent hours grading the students' portfolios and I felt the Lord leading me to write a note to each student upon the conclusion of the class, sharing their strengths.

I don't think I will approach my writing life in the same way after working with a group of preteens.

What can we learn about writing from critiquing (or in this case correcting) other's work? 

Persistence.  One ten-year-old girl wrote three versions of her fairy tale.  She was encouraged when I shared that award-winning writer Hannah Tinti wrote 15 drafts of her story.  She wasn't pleased with her results, so she started from the top to change the story around.  Then she decided to try writing the story from the antagonist's perspective. I was surprised by her efforts since the students only had to hand in a rough draft and final copy.

Can you look at your story from a different perspective?  Would it benefit you to literally write a scene in first person or from a different character's perspective? Is there something you sense you need to change in your draft to improve?

Galatians 6:9 Let us not grow weary of well doing for in due season, we shall reap if we faint not.

Hard work often takes us much further than talent.  I was surprised to see which student had turned out the most outstanding project.  At the beginning of the class, I was given a heads-up that he might struggle because he has a learning disability.  I had a great big grin on my face when I completed his paper. He had consistently worked hard all semester and it paid off for him.

How often have we heard the story about an author who was persistent through many rejections? If God is taking us on the scenic route to publication (or maybe not that route at all)...let's remember He can use our writing for His glory in whatever way He chooses.  Are we so focused on wanting to be published that we may be ignoring the word of correction he may be giving us along the way to teach us about walking closer with Him?

Proverbs 12:24 He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.

Ask questions to help others with their writing (and to help yourself).  The girl who wrote several drafts was spurred on by circle time where we asked "what if" questions to help her find a new vision for her story.

Likewise, the best critiques I have received ask questions in order to show me areas I can improve. Do we take the time to help others by asking the key questions about their work? When I ask questions about my own work, I have seen the quality of my work improve.

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?" As one student proclaimed with a proud grin as I handed the papers back, do we need the reminder?

We need to build humility, but we can still praise God for our victories and save up those great comments for the days when we have the writing blues.

Job 1:21 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

What have you learned from critiquing others' work? Or what have you learned about craft from reading other writers?


Sandra Stiles said...

Thank you for a wonderful post. I am preparing to self-publish my first book. When I had a friend read it through the very first time a couple of years ago it had one small line in it where my MC mentioned she'd not thought about her relationship with God until her accident. He said since I was writing it for teens I might want to take it out. Over the last two years of editing and refining it I found it important that the questioning of faith and relying on God's strength grow in my story. It was more difficult but yet more satisifying. Thank you for the affirmation I needed.

Julia M. Reffner said...


I'm so glad God was able to give you encouragement today. I'm sure your story will be more powerful because you followed your leading. Congratulations on getting ready to self-publish your first book, I'm sure that is quite a lengthy process.


Joanne Sher said...

What a fabulous post. I learn almost as much from critiquing others as I do from getting critiques. It has made me a stronger writer in so many ways.

Angie Dicken said...

When I critique someone else's work, I feel obligated to dig deep and evaluate exactly what is being said, how it's being said, and why...I learn to open my mind and choose my own words wisely, so I can give a well-thought out critique, and I am not quick to be negative. It helps me then, in my own work, by taking the time to really explore what I am trying to convey. Your points are great Julia! I especially relate to the first one...I have several drafts of my first novel...even though it's going to sit in a virtual drawer,because it probably needs another draft and I've moved on!! :)

Casey said...

What a great post and questions that really stir the mind. I'm so glad this class you taught turned out to be something really helpful. It's like the story Jesus told that we must humble ourselves like a small child. Very true in this case as well!

Julia M. Reffner said...


I agree. Sometimes God uses it as a gentle way to correct our own writing (and character)...doesn't he?

Julia M. Reffner said...


I will be interested to hear what direction you decide to move your first novel in...I agree, there's so much about the power of tongue in Proverbs (we've been talking about soft answers with the kids...but so valid for our writing as well).

Julia M. Reffner said...


I'm sure you find this with younger brothers and sisters...and I know I do with my own kids. Sometimes they have such a way of convicting us with their actions, don't they??

Sarah Forgrave said...

Julia, Bless your heart teaching nine and ten-year-olds! You must be one patient woman. :) Loved your thoughts here. And I love the stories of persistence in their young hearts.

Pepper said...

Oh Julia,
What a great post! And such a timely reminder for US to look from a different perspective sometimes too - like from the eyes of a child.
What a wonderful opportunity for those kids...and for you!