Criticism and Writing


I read all day, every day, and I see a lot of different styles. Some writers big words and long sentences. Others seem to prefer simple language. I don't think many people would argue that it's easier to spot inconsistencies, incorrect word choices, and awkward phrasing in someone else's work than your own, and I (if I do say so myself) am pretty good at spotting those places that need work. I love having the chance to offer my fair share of constructive criticism.

Often, however, I forget that constructive criticism is easier to give than take, and when given my own batch, I must be gracious enough to practice what I preach.

I love words and stories, and I love how the underlying tone of a book can be subtle or beautiful or sad, romantic, angry, or any other of a seemingly endless list of emotions. And all of this from twenty-six simple letters.

Every so often I feel the urge to write a story. With characters and a plot, climax, resolution...the works. But every time I pick up my pen or open Microsoft Word, nothing happens. I can't write a single word that isn't horribly cheesy and/or cliche. Most likely both, because cheesiness usually is so because it came from a cliche.

So instead I surf the Internet awhile longer before picking up my current outside-of-work read, wondering just how on earth an author ever put so many words on paper at once to create an intelligible, interesting story.

Last week at work, a few of us participated in a creative writing exercise, where we had to create a character and put him/her in a situation and introduce the beginnings of story. I sat quietly, stupidly staring at the blank sheet of paper in my hand while everyone around me scribbled away. Why couldn't I think of a single thing to write? Just pick a name, I told myself. Any name will do. Okay, fine. Moving on. How old is your character? 80, I wrote. No, scratch that. 17. No, 56. 5. Wow. I wouldn't make it five minutes alone in a cabin with only a typewriter and a pencil. I'd be out of paper and out of my mind by the end of the day.

Male or female? Male. No, female. Male. Female. Yes, female.
A thirteen-year-old girl.
Name: Carmen.
She's skinny and tomboyish. Pale face.
Good job. You're describing every other thirteen-year-old. Boooring.
I don't care, I told my rude self. I courageously poised my pen and slowly began writing. I find it exciting and yet horribly terrifying to know that when armed with a pen and paper, I can make anything happen. 

Below is the result of the creative writing exercise, not because I think I'm super awesome, and not because I think I've written something brilliant, but more because I just wanted to share. Constructive criticism not encouraged. (I'm joking, I think.)

"Wait!" Carmen lifted her head from the pavement and saw the yellow bus pulling away from the corner. She angrily swiped at the lone tear sneaking toward her chin and spit into her palm, using the moisture to rub blood from the cut on her knee.

She quickly gathered the spilled contents of her backpack--two wide-ruled notebooks, one black pen, two #2 pencils, an eight-grade geometry textbook, a pair of gym shoes, and a paper bag lunch--and jumped to her feet, wincing as she straightened her leg.

Hugged her open backpack to her chest with one arm, Carmen waved her other and took off in pursuit of her only mode of transportation. If she missed the bus, she'd be late to school for the third day in a row. One more tardy to first period, and she would be docked a full letter grade. And then she'd have to tell her mother.
Hannah said...

I like it! You've included great details, like the paper bag and the #2 pencils. I sat for a long time in that exercise trying to think of a name. That's so hard!