Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Today I experienced a particularly cold, hard fact about the getting of wisdom within the screenwriting industry. In my previous literary studies I never, ever received constructive criticism about "primary creative matter". What I mean by this, I think, is that I was always writing essays ABOUT other writers' creative works, using their texts as the starting point for my logically crafted analyses.

I'm sounding strangely formal, I know, I think it's because I'm trying to remain very calm and objective here.


Today I had to defend my own creative "stuff" while sitting across the table from my teacher who clearly didn't think it had much potential. I tell you, dear friends, it reminded me EXACTLY of the time (years ago) when Master CB's kindie teacher told me that she thought he had violent tendencies because he had taken a soccer ball and purposely popped it with a sharp stick and then jumped on it until all the air came out. I tried to explain that he was obsessed with the properties of air, was constantly asking questions about the invisible "thing" that was always around us. As I continued to defend my son ( a gentler boy you'd be hard-pressed to find) it was clear that the teacher thought I was one of those know the one...who can't stand to hear the truth about her son and insists he's an angel. I wasn't that sort of mother, I knew I really wasn't, but just the way she looked at me made me doubt myself, and my son, and my success as a parent, and entire reason for living.

I now realise how terribly (and wonderfully) sheltered I have been within our wonderful blogging community. Generally, our comments to each other are so powerfully positive, encouraging and inspiring. In the big bad world, however, commentboxes are filled to the brim with misunderstandings, subjective reactions, superficial generalisations...but, most difficult of all, they are not GENTLE. I am used to gentle, I love gentle. I've spent decades of my life teaching my children GENTLE and striving for gentleness in my life. Today I banged my head against a harsh, impenetrable commentbox until a tiny crack was made. Through that crack I managed, with great difficulty, to post a tiny little scrap of paper and it said on it:
"Please be gentle, I'm a learner." I think the commenter may have already logged off, but you never know, do you?


Janet said...

hmmm, there is constructive criticism and well, criticism that feels anything but. When I studied professional writing and editing it could get a bit full on - but there were expectations about how one gave and received criticism. It's meant to be a two way process and it's meant to be specific and useful! Still it did take a bit of getting used to - I expect that being in a situation where you had to give and receive it (as in session with other students) made it easier. There's not that sort of power balance with a teacher, I guess.

I hope they are still being nice to you!

Jodie said...

My dearest eleanor, YOU are a MOTHER ! NOTHING is harder. I have seen you dance in a restaurant....
You can do anything , anything , anything... Not because this is blogland and it is expected...BUT because I have met you .. and you amaze me..... and in my heart of hearts I want want want this for you !

Jodie said...

I'm back - it is the defending of our creative "stuff" that we find s hard....

Susan L (lily40au) said...

you're right ... the real world is an arse! i swore to myself years ago that i would surround myself with the positive and years later i'm starting to feel what that's meant. i'm starting to feel disempowered and lose a little faith in myself and now i'm pushing myself back out there ... negativity and all. give it a go ... you have talent and you will learn ... and who knows you may teach them something, including how to be better people.

Badger said...

Oh, dude. I want to give you a big hug right now.

I have two disjointed points for you, speaking as someone who has been paid to write (you know, in the past).

The first: there is a type of editor/mentor/whathaveyou who tends to deliver criticism in a harsher way than is completely necessary because s/he is trying to "toughen up" the one whose work is being criticized. I kind of hate this type of person because there is this whole, long, tiresome "dance" you have to go through with them to get to the actual constructive comments they might have. If this is what you're dealing with, then I'm heartily sorry, but know that the issues at work are THEIRS and not YOURS.

Also, it is very very VERY hard to divorce yourself emotionally from something you've created and to accept that the criticism you're receiving is directed at the work/creation itself and not at you, personally. This is something I am still learning. Your example of the kindy teacher was apt -- when someone criticizes your child, they are criticizing a piece of your heart, something that means more to you than anything. And of course as mothers, we read into that a criticism of our parenting/mothering skills. Likewise, you pour your heart and soul into a bit of writing and when someone tells you it's not good, it's easy to take that to mean that you, yourself are not good. Don't you believe it! Divorce yourself from the work, look at it objectively, accept the criticism as being about THE WORK, not you, and ask your mentor how SPECIFICALLY you can make it better (hard to get to if your mentor is of the type described above). Think of your writing not so much as a child, but as a dress you've constructed, or a table you've built. You love it, you've worked hard on it, you think it's the most beautiful thing ever, but perhaps there are flaws that need fixing. So, rip out a seam, pull out a nail, strip off the varnish and get it right!

As lovely as your writing is, and IT IS, you are GREATER than your writing. You, as a person, are above and beyond what you create. Your creations are not the sum total of you, because you are bigger and more complex than that.


Carry on.

Stomper Girl said...

I think Badger just wrote some excellent stuff here so I would like to second her opinions wholeheartedly, as well as those of the other girls. Maybe I will just add that I am pro-gentleness too, and I think it is a good thing to aim for.

Chin up Eleanor. You are fabulous.

Paola said...

I am here merely to support. I don't think there is anything else I could add to what Badger said so eloquently.

The Coffee Lady said...

There's no way I can top Badger. So listen to her. She makes sense.

blackbird said...

Badger is right.
And I will add - though this has little to do with YOU, that the blog world has been so comforting that many bloggers believe they are publishable in the Real World and, sadly, they are not. (NOT YOU. I have not read your non-blog work, your "real" writing, if you will...)
In the publishing world this has become a problem.
Badger is completely spot on.
Listen to HER.

sophanne said...

re- the commentbox of life-

Is it kind- is it true- is it useful. If any of these things were not the case then perhaps the commenter of ideas had his own life-story playing out at the expense of you. That's what I think.

trash said...

Oh when the real world bites it bites hard. Eleanor I hope you excavate your way to the constructive input that surely must have been hidden in there somewhere.

Or is my positive outlook from all these years in blogland showing??

Frogdancer said...

What Badger said.

(Personally... not a big fan of the 'gentle' when it comes to creative writing. Over the years I've read hundreds of shocking stories written by kids. I now tell my students not to even attempt writing a creative response in their exams unless they're a REALLY good writer... and I go over the stories submitted to me with a fine toothed comb to tighten them up and make them waterproof. (If you know what I mean.) If a story is good, I'll work on it with the kid. If it's crap, I give it a bad mark and move on with my life. Maybe the teacher actually thinks you have potential....?)

Duyvken said...

Badger is wise.
You are a great mother, a WONDERFUL mother, a mother who LISTENS to her children, who HEARS their needs, who SUPPOPRTS their decisions, who ACTS on their wishes and who has FUN with the beautiful people she and Mr Commmentbox and the Universe created.
Creating something (children or writing!) engenders a level of ownership which makes it impossible to be objective about it. The very thought of trying to do so is RIDICULOUS. Strive to be reasonable in your subjectiveness while looking at the motives of your critic and you will find the best balance that you can.
Easy for me to say, right?
Anyway, hugs from me, A.

Mary said...

Suck up the criticism I guess, definitely listen to Badger and most of all - be true to thine self, Gentle One.

Jeanette said...

....and the prize for best written comment EVER goes to BADGER!

Dear Eleanor you are one of a kind!

Sending you a gentle but HUGE hug
/ Jeanette

Anna of Helylle said...

I'm printing out Badger's comment right now and will put it so I can look at it every day.
There really isn't anything I can add except that your writing touch me. So many texts don't.
That's worth a lot and I don't think it would've without GENTLE.

Christine said...

Hi Eleanor,
Just wanted to add that at least you get an A+ for comment box writing. Comforting, I know. But seriously, I can't even get myself across in these little snippets very well and if you were teaching a class on Comment Box Writing ("gentle" would be the first lesson I think) I would sign up:)

I love that you are taking on screenwriting! Sounds so fun and challenging.