10:57 a.m. - 2013-02-06
I think that's really sad.
In the middle of her talking to me about her grandma, and me trying to comfort her, she insisted that I read her first English Comp. essay and critique it.
I mentioned in the last entry that she's got her own little spelling and grammar issues -- not a lot of them, but a few? But other than that, she's a pretty good writer?
Apparently she's good at e-mail, online journal and fiction writing, but essays are another story. It was a lot worse than I expected. I mean, a LOT worse.
"So, really, what kind of feedback do you want from me?" I said, casually, after I'd finished reading it.
"Everything," she said.
Oh great, I thought. Your grandma's dying, and you want your girlfriend to shred your writing on top of that? Seriously?
"How much time do you want to spend?" I said.
"That bad, huh?" she said.
Funny thing is, A and I have talked more than once about how criticism is a gift to a writer, and feedback like "It's great; I wouldn't change a thing" is a lot less valuable.
I told her she should look forward to getting her papers slashed up with red pen because that kind of dissection will make her a better writer -- which is the point of taking the class, right?
At the time, it never occurred to me that I might be the one doing the slashing.
Cornered by my grieving girlfriend and her wholesale butchering of the English language, I figured I had two options: Softpedal ("Well, there are some punctuation errors but otherwise it's good") or, well ... give her what she asked for, which was my honest opinion.
I didn't say it sucked, of course. I said there were a couple of different issues. I think I said her writing was convoluted. I didn't say it was incomprehensible.
I think she got the message, though, when I asked her, "Can you tell me, in one sentence, just talking to me, what this essay is ABOUT?"
That's a question -- substitute "article" for "essay" -- that I used to use on reporters eons ago, when I was a 23-year-old editor learning by trial and error.
That question, I discovered, is actually really effective in eliciting better writing. Chances are, what a writer SAYS in answer to that question is what he/she should have written in his/her lede.
In this case, A responded that the author of the essay (to which she was writing a response) was a narrow-minded, Bible-thumping elitist asshole.
"Good," I said. "That's how you should start your essay."
Of course we ended up toning it down, but she got the idea. I think.
Other than that, I discovered that my writing coaching skills have gotten very, very rusty. It's been a long time since I've tried to teach anyone how to write. I felt like I was confusing her and explaining things badly. I've spent the last couple of days thinking about that, and the techniques I used to use. Hopefully, next time I'll do better.
My awesome girlfriend didn't take it personally, even on one of the worst days she's had since I've known her. I adore that chick.