How to Handle Bad Critiques

What happens if a teacher or a professor, or worse, yet, an editor, crosses out your lines or sentences, rewords them, reorders them, tells you “You shouldn’t have written this poem”? Metrophobia means the fear of poetry. It is horrifying to hear that it even exists. What has caused poetry to have a distinctive word for the terror that syllabic lines cause?

Teaching methods have started changing as a new movement that bans the red pen is taking hold, but there are a lot of teachers and editors that still require and force extensive revisions. I have had both an editor and a teacher in the last few months humiliate me and tear apart my work. 

The journal that I submitted a poem to, asked me to change it based on a terrible response of one of their journal’s readers. I completely rewrote the piece until it no longer felt like mine and they took out even more lines after I sent it back in. After a second terrible review, they rejected the piece. I wanted to pull the piece as soon as I read the feedback. Instead, I went against my gut and agonized for several months. It was a prestigious journal that I had been published in previously. I wanted back in, badly, but I should have taken my piece back or stood my ground. I did neither. My lesson for next time, and perhaps for you, is to ask if their selected readers are biased. Be respectful but ask questions before extensive revisions. Decide upfront what you are willing to do to get the poem published. I felt desperate at the time and acted according to that desperation. Take time to think about if you will consider it “your” poem or prose piece when it is published. I never would have shown anyone the published poem. I would have listed it on my CV and hoped the world forgot about it. No one, poet, prose writer, no one, deserves to feel like they have to shelve their accomplishment because they feel their piece is no longer theirs.

Classes are a bit different. There may or may not be grades involved and they may or may not be in person, but the same advice applies. Be respectful and ask questions. My teacher told me in front of my entire class in a virtual session, “you shouldn’t have written this. I believe you should write only what you have experienced.” After a hot verbal exchange the week before, I was ready and had used a well-liked poem I revised with another institution. I knew that the poem was valid, even if it could be revised further. I still found myself questioning—what should I have done? The poem was based on World War II. All I could do to stand up for myself was to say, “who will tell the story?” And maybe that was enough. My fear remains that most students, and even the me of last year, would not have written again. I would have not only self-deprecated myself, but I would have truly believed I should not be writing the narratives that I felt called to. I want to note that this was not cultural appropriation. I do, however, believe we can all write the stories we need to. They just may not and perhaps, should not be published.

If you find lines on your work, either by editors or professors, teachers or tutors, do not immediately think that you are a “bad” writer. Ask questions. Why do you think this line should be crossed out? Why should I end here? The burden should not reside on the writer, but sometimes it does. We all make different decisions in our lives. I may not revise a piece so extensively for THAT journal, but what about the next? I think asking questions and believing in the validity of our writing is the only safe way to navigate. 

There is no need for metrophobia, or any word for the fear of writing or speaking out. If your teacher/professor is cruel, go to them first or to their superior. Do not be abused. If an editor is cruel, pull your work or refuse to deal with them again without going over terms. And above all else, know yourself. You are a writer if you place a word down. Revision will make you a great writer, but that revision should be your choice to make and no one else’s.

Literature and the Holidays

When the holidays roll around, I’m always struck by how much literature plays a part in this festive season. Not only are books a common gift to exchange (my family members all usually have at least one book on their Christmas wishlist), but so many of the beloved stories and entertainment we consume each year are based on written stories–short or long.

I’m sure for many reading this Charles’ Dicken’s A Christmas Carol pops into the front of the mind. For those with children, or those who are partial to poetry, perhaps lines from A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore start dancing around in your head like visions of sugar plums in the famed poem.

But there’s even more when it comes to literature and the holidays. My favorite genre–romance–is famous for the copious amounts of Christmas books released every year around this time. In fact, many of the Hallmark Christmas movies that many of us binge religiously (me–I’m guilty of doing just that!) are based on books.

Then there are Netflix shows like Dash and Lily based on a book series featuring the same main characters by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Or the movie Let it Snow based on a short story anthology by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle.

And, of course, who can forget the oldest holiday story in the Bible–that of the first Christmas.

Literature is a big part of the holiday season, and not just for us writers! Even those who don’t write and may not even enjoy reading often find themselves curling up with a classic Christmas story this time of year, surrounded by twinkling Christmas lights, warm blankets, and a mug of hot chocolate. Literature is an intrinsic part of the holiday season, and I’m glad for it. The written word is a miraculous tool through which we can learn lessons, feel comforted, and explore new ideas. And what better time of year to do just those things than during the holiday season?