Friday, September 24, 2010

Critiquing Writers

I belong to a writer's group (and have in the past belonged to
another). We critique two pieces of work (almost always fiction) a
month and submit a piece of work for criticism 2-4 times a year.

A useful criticism talks about such things as: Did the first line grab
your attention? The first paragraph? The first page? Was the voice
compelling? Were the characters believeable and interesting? Did the
plot move at a good pace? Was it unique in some way? Was the sentence
structure varied and smooth? Was the vocabulary level appropriate? Did
you feel you "got something out of" reading this? Were there spelling
or grammar errors? etc.

A criticism should leave the writer energized and inspired, not
devastated. The critic should not try to turn the writer into a mirror
of herself. (I once wrote a fantasy adventure that had a bit of
vampirish style. A renowned writer in our community said it was a
tragedy that I would waste my talent writing such things and that I
was better than that. It derailed me for many years.)

I love the group I am with now. Often, what they say seems obvious,
yet I was unable to see it in my own writing. Sometimes I know a part
of the story isn't working but I don't know why. They will help me see
it clearly. They may give a few suggestions but usually question me
into figuring out where to go myself. I return home and revise my work
into a much better piece than I would have been able to alone.

Family is not my best critic. If my husband criticizes my work (he's a
stickler for details and a bit of a perfectionist), I seem more
defensive than with someone else. My niece LOVES everything I write
and doesn't see the problems. So, my writers' group is essential for
me. I've tried to find groups on line but it hasn't worked out.

The critic should be very close in skills to the writer. If they are
too far behind, they have little to offer. If they are too far ahead,
they may become bored or frustrated with your work.

I wrote a weekly column for three and a half years for a newspaper. I
learned there not to become attached to my words as they were ruthless
in cutting. I don't insist that something has to stay in a story if
more than one person has had a problem with it. I rewrite it in a
different way or drop it. Sometimes it can be used in another story
more effectively.

I have to admit I am not a very confident critic of other people's
work. I often hold back saying things until someone else in our group
says it first. I need to work on that.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Postcard Winner

I won the postcard competition submitted in August. It had to be a 250-500 word story relevant to a picture of a bicycle leaning against a shed. Mine is entitled "Inhale, and God Approaches." It will be printed in the September issue of NOWW Newsletter.

Higher Education

I'll be very interested to see this movie:
"The Lottery is a 2010 documentary film about the controversy surrounding public and charter schools in the United States, directed by Madeleine Sackler. The film was produced by Blake Ashman-Kipervaser, James Lawler, and Madeleine Sackler. The cinematographer was Wolfgang Held (BrĂ¼no, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Children Underground)." Wikipedia

If you look at the PISA scores, Canada is usually in the top five, definitely in the top ten. Yet, we constantly devalue our teachers and our education system by paying huge sums of money to import speakers, books,and techniques from the United States. Their scores are below the top ten, sometimes in the twenties.

The last time I attended a speech by an American education guru, hundreds of teachers were in attendance. The speaker talked about how we need to avoid cut and paste and paper and pencil activities with children as though they were the backbone of our teaching styles. I was offended and disappointed. Perhaps twenty or thirty years ago his speech would have been relevant for the majority of Canadian teachers.

Canadians need to get over this inferiority complex. Why we assume the United States are the leaders in education and feel driven to follow them down whatever path they choose, whether it has turned out well for them or not, is a mystery to me.

I truly hope we are doing much better for our poor students than offering them a chance for higher education through a lottery. I know students here get horrendously in debt in university and, with the job market as it is, may face difficulties paying it off. I wish we had free secondary education for everyone with the ability to succeed.

Unfortunately, we are still having difficulty getting some students to finish high school although the dropout rates have decreased steadily from 1990. Oddly, looking at statistics on the net, the Americans are quite similar, around 85 percent completing highschool, yet they are calling it a crises and we aren't.

All I know is, many, many teachers are working beyond their capactity to fill unreasonable demands, an overburdened curriculum, tremendously increased paperwork, and downloaded workload. I have always believed that class size and teacher support make the biggest difference in grade school and everything else is built on that.