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Writing: Lessons I've Learned and the Effects of Positive and Negative Criticism

Updated on January 17, 2009
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe

I’m the type of person who is much better at recognizing fine writing than being one who can actually write in a fine manner. I deeply admire good writing, and sometimes I feel conflicting emotions similar to the legend of Salieri (portrayed in the film Amadeus) who feels both hatred and love for Mozart's ability to produce masterful musical compositions with ease, while he/Salieri struggles with the realization that his skill may never match his desire.

While I've never felt hatred over the genius and skill of others, I do sometimes feel a small pang of despair over certain writing struggles, like trying to edit my own work. I’m great at proofreading someone else’s writing, but I’m paralyzed in trying to edit my own work. Issues of feeling inadequate have been stumbling blocks for me, but there have also been some simple yet profound lessons I’ve learned through subtle displays of positive reinforcement along with the negative criticism of others that I keep in the back of my mind. It’s those images, words, memories, and criticisms that propel me to click the “publish” button each time I write.

The Initial Spark

Most writers probably knew they wanted to write from a young age, and I can remember the very moment when that happened to me. It involved an incident when I was four years old and I wanted so badly to help my dad paint the living room wall. No matter how much I begged him to hand me the paint brush, he refused to allow me to paint. Exasperated, I finally grabbed a fistful of paper and a pencil, plopped down on my behind in the middle of the floor and yelled with all the fury a small toddler can muster, “I’m gonna write a book about YOU, and I’m gonna tell the whole world how you won’t let me paint!”

Drama was no stranger to me even at that age, and, of course, he laughed at me. His laughter, which is what I actually loved about him most, was the initial spark that fueled my desire to one day write.

Teachers and Positive Feedback

The development of a writer’s desire can take many different turns, and this desire can be nurtured or stifled depending on encouragment given by our teachers…especially our English teachers. Sometimes teachers can be overly critical and they get very hung up on the mechanics of writing which, while important, often crush the entire creative flow. That’s exactly what happened to me until my senior year of high school.

I was very fortunate to have an English teacher that year who gave me the small bits of positive reinforcement I needed. That was no easy task considering my favorite subject to write about was horror and always involved crazed, psycho killers. My villains were both women and men, and they went on bloody rampages that made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but that was my whole point…people experiencing a psychotic break who crave murderous revenge against innocent victims who suddenly appear in the story for the sole purpose of being a victim.

My writing was unsettling to my teacher, and this was evident in the way she looked at me after reading my masterpeices, like “Death Cab 57” which featured a psychotic taxi driver. On that particular day, she handed my "Death Cab" paper to me with a very worried and fearful look that caused me to feel rather concerned, yet she said, “Very interesting Pam, I give you a ‘B’ for creativeness.” These were the most wonderful words to my ears; however, from the look on her face, I was a little apprehensive that I might end up being escorted off school grounds by the police or guys in white jackets. And I did wonder for a split second if I got that ‘B’ because I really was creative or because she was afraid of my brain.

There’s little doubt that my creative writing in high school was stinky, but this particular teacher always seemed to find the smallest bits of positive feedback that nurtured my desire and attempts at writing. She affected me to such an extent that I decided I would go to college, major in English, and learn more about writing.

Desire vs. Ability

During my first few weeks as a freshman in college, I learned that the desire to write doesn’t make one a good writer. It takes work – hard work for some of us. My first experience with this involved having a peer proofread a fiction essay that I thought was a masterpiece. I was absolutely beside myself as I waited for him to finish reading my work. When he was done, he sat there for a few moments, then looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to major in English?” I was stunned by his sarcasm more than his honesty, and I could feel myself getting increasingly paralyzed by my writing weaknesses as he pointed out each of them.

We actually became very good friends after that because I appreciate honesty as much as I appreciate good writing. Honesty, whether presented harshly or tactfully, can sting like a sudden slap on the face, but sometimes it’s possible to turn that into positive energy towards achieving a goal, and my goal was to figure out how to overcome my weaknesses and learn how to write well.

#1 Weakness: Spelling

One of my weaknesses was (and still is) horrible spelling. It’s important to know that I was in college before the days of “spell check” and a real dictionary was something that nearly became an extra appendage glued to my body. It was laborious to make constant, frequent stops in the middle of writing to manually look up a word, and it took me forever to write research papers - and yes I wrote them by hand or typed them on a manual typewriter.

By the second semester of my freshman year, my American literature professor announced that he was more concerned about us writing and expressing our ideas in essays and research papers with clarity rather than worrying over silly spelling errors. He also admitted that he was the world’s worst speller since mankind began standing upright. I fell in love with him at that moment. He taught me my second big lesson: It’s perfectly alright to major in English and still not know how to spell every word in the dictionary, and it’s even more alright to not let it disrupt the flow of your writing.

Then and Now... the Best of The Monkees Album
Then and Now... the Best of The Monkees Album

#2 Weakness: Punctuation

Another temporary weakness for me was punctuation, and I was constantly struggling with where to put commas and semi-colons. I must have been dreaming about boys or Micky Dolenz from The Monkeys in my high school grammar class. No, I didn’t like Davey Jones who was lead singer for The Monkeys; I was attracted to more eccentric types of people, and this brings me to my next inspirational English professor and a profound lesson about using the comma.

My punctuation hero was a Poet Laureate and a genius with very long silver hair who wore sandals with socks year round - even in the snow. He was eccentric, and he had a firm reputation of being a very tough English teacher who never gave anyone an “A.” I was instantly captivated by him and his brain, and I spent an incredible amount of time thinking of excuses to knock on his office door so that I could approach him with questions or observations or anything that would give him cause to just talk to me.

During one visit, after running out of decent literary questions, I asked him a question about punctuation and the appropriate placement of a comma. His answer had such an impact that I have never forgotten it. He said that a great writer doesn’t always use punctuation, like a comma, in a strict grammatical fashion. Many times it’s appropriate to simply put a comma where you want the reader to take a pause or to leave out a comma when you don’t want the reader to pause. Sometimes a sentence simply flows better without the break of a comma even when the standard rules of grammar say you should use one. He was even eccentric with his comma usage, and I adored his artsy philosophy about punctuation.

Writing Fiction - My Crash and Burn

I’ve come to enjoy using a combination of his advice along with what I know is considered to be correct punctuation. It depends on what I’m writing, and my writing has taken many different directions since having that conversation about commas. In fact, my desire to write took a huge crash after taking a class called “Writing Fiction” which was taught to me one-on-one by a published author.

After my first session with this author, I was very excited to start my first project of writing a short story. She had me read some of her own writing which was some of the most flowing, entertaining, and engaging work I’d seen. One article in particular was written about an event that happened when her daughter was selling Girl Scout cookies. After reading it, I was in complete awe over not being able to put down an article about a kid selling cookies.

Stephen King
Stephen King

The second session didn’t go very well. Immediate conflict was reflected in the fact that my writing was very dark and brooding where my teacher’s was very light-hearted and inspirational. She was very bubbly and cheerful while I was more, well, dark and brooding. I think this difference made her uneasy, and I wondered if she was even capable of being fair with me.

My first short story was slashed to bits with red colored remarks like, “This isn’t believable!” “Why is this character doing this?” “Who is this person and how does she feel?” and the list went on. Instead of trying to understand her reasoning, I was consumed with feeling misunderstood and I wondered if she would ever be so brazen to ask the same silly questions of Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King.

One thing became clear, she hated my writing, and I was instantly deflated over the whole idea of even trying to write. While she encouraged me to take my writing in a different direction, which I did, and I was able to produce writings that satisfied her, I still felt like the desire to move forward with any notion of writing creatively was completely sucked out of my heart.

I graduated college with no desire to engage in any form of creative writing or teaching, so I entered the field of editing and technical writing. It seemed safer, and I truly enjoyed it. I didn’t have to bring anything to life, all I had to do was write instructions about how to perform various computer hardware installations, write reviews on software, and proofread the writings of others. That was in the computer dinosaur days when Windows didn't exist and everything began and ended with the DOS prompt. From there I entered the field of developing websites and writing content for those sites, and now I am here, full circle, working to develop my skills with different types of writing.

Finally Understanding 4 Writing Basics

The words and advice of the author who tried to teach me how to write fiction are still with me over twenty years later, but there’s a difference…I finally get it. I understand. At our last meeting she said:

  1. Read everything you can get your hands on. Reading fine writing helps you understand how to write well and reading bad writing helps you understand what not to do.
  2. Write about what you know.
  3. Always incorporate real feelings and experiences into your writing especially when you’re writing fiction.
  4. Don’t use clichés.

I only wish I could have understood this better then. I now see that it wasn’t the subject matter of my writing that was failing so miserably, it was my inability to draw from real experiences and real feelings and incorporate those things into my words. I’ve learned that no matter what I write about, there is always a real event, memory or feeling that can be used to bring life into words. Her four tidbits of advice are the basics of learning to write well, and her lessons are ones that I now value most.


I was inspired to write this after reading a hub written by Robert Sloan about positive criticism, which I enjoyed and identified with very much. Positive criticism can come in the smallest of forms, but the impact can often last forever. Finding the tiniest positive comment to give someone can make a tremendous difference. Negative criticism often creates an opposite reaction, and it can take a long time to understand the real value of what is intended behind harsh words. I appreciate the positive reinforcement of the community here, and I’m thankful to all of you who have nurtured my baby steps towards writing again.


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    • jdw7979 profile image

      John David 4 years ago from Middle America

      Great hub and I can relate! Writing is an outlet for all, but only used by few.. I for one love it and respect you all. Opinions can be great, the good with the bad.

    • mvillecat profile image

      Catherine Dean 5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      I have been horrible at spelling all my life. I even got a paddling (when they did such things in school) when I failed a spelling test. It is a plague I understand.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      You are a very good writer. I enjoyed your hub and I think it is wonderful that you can remember your teachers and professors so well.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      I enjoyed your hub. I can't spell and never sure if I'm putting commas in the right place. My grammar is awful. I have a terrible time coming up with 500 words for a hub. I like your English teacher's remarks about commas. My kind of guy. Voted up on your hub and shared.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

      Stars, I appreciate your time and kindness. Thank you.

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 7 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful Hub, and you are a fine writer. God Bless You.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you very much WillStarr. I appreciate you coming in to read and for the kind comment.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Great Hub Pam and great advice!

      As a writer, I 'll bookmark this one and refer to it often.

      Voted up and very useful.

    • profile image

      Website Examiner 7 years ago

      Thanks Pam, almost anyone can benefit from text-to-speech, which is very easy to use and versatile. I use TextAloud, their website has lots of sound samples (I use Daniel, a British-English voice from ScanSoft/Nuance as my default voice, but also some AT&T voices).

      Please don't change the hub for my sake, anyone who is truly interested will probably read all the comments as well.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

      Website Examiner, the software you mention sounds very interesting, but it's also very difficult for me to imagine because my brain isn't wired well for multi-tasking! But perhaps this is something I can use for myself. Thanks!

      You sound like a very good editor who has found a good balanced approach to helping writers improve their work without being too soft or too harsh.

      Gosh, if I could go back and write this again, and maybe I should, I would add that bad punctuation or misused punctuation can ruin the whole reading experience. One really has to know the rules to break them effectively and throwing punctuation around haphazardly is frustrating for the reader. I've seen it in published fiction, and it makes me want to throw the book across the room.

      Thanks for coming in to read! :)

    • profile image

      Website Examiner 7 years ago

      I have been proofreading 3 novels, especially checking for punctuation errors; and while the punctuation was pretty horrible, I agree with what was said in your hub about the need to sometimes deviate from standard rules to create a better flow and rhythm.

      I use text-to-speech software, which has a unique ability to interact with the editor's mind in such a way that errors are quickly detected - also making multi-tasking easier. So you can read one part of the text while listening to another, even take a break away from the screen, yet still be reviewing. Fun and efficient at the same time.

      As for giving critique, I believe neither in being gentle nor in being harsh; although honesty must be a given. Instead, I'd rather focus on the quality of the manuscript - no teacher here, but an editor eager to improve upon any manuscripts. Writers who do not appreciate the difference would probably want to find someone a little more smooth around the edges. Thanks.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Aww, Pam. You give me too much credit. You have surely influenced me more than the other way around. You are an extremely skilled and talented writer, and it is you who have been an inspiration to me, not just in your writing, but in your life as well.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia

      Chris, when I wrote this way back when, you were a primary person I had in mind when I wrote about my Salieri complex in the opening paragraph. You still are. Then and now, I find so much pleasure and enjoyment in your writing...the flow, the masterful choice of wording, the humor, and the way you construct a story like a movie that captures the readers attention and never lets them go even for a second. You are a true inspirational force and you are the best pal a person could have. :)

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      I happened to read this again (because Elena plugged it), and it still rings true. Your pal, Chris

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      teeray, it's so good to see you! Thank you so much for the kind comment, and YES that rat's nest remark was brutal. I felt so bad for Bruce when I read that.

      I hope you got my email I sent you a while back...just want to make sure you got my apology. ;)

      Take care, and thanks again teeray. :)

    • teeray profile image

      teeray 9 years ago from Canada

      This is a great hub, Pam. I am enjoying the comments as much as this hub, too! *ouch* over the "Rat's Nest" wow!

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Hey CC! I'm determined to shit a rainbow if it kills me. ;) Honestly, I believe that any writing that comes from the heart is a rainbow whether it's dark or fluffy. ;) Rainbow pee? :( I truly admire your ability to joke about that. Just thinking about needles and everything you went through sends quivers through me. But maybe that's why you're the wonderful rainbow writer you are. :)

      Sufidreamer, thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming in to read and for leaving such a nice, thoughtful comment. It's always great to meet others who feel the same about proofreading their own work. :) It's such a bear to try and edit what comes out of your own brain. Thanks again! :)

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Great Hub, Pam.

      Creative writing always escaped me, so I respect writers like you and PGrundy, who can use words as things of beauty rather than mere tools. Agree with you about the editing - I love writing, but always seem to find better things to do when it comes to proof-reading time!

    • profile image

      C. C. Riter 9 years ago

      Well written my dear. Shit any rainbows yet. Me either, but I used to piss 'em. Oh yeah, some of that chemo makes you piss blue, red or yellow and I had rainbows in my tighty whities.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks Mellas. :) Isn't it funny how we can retain one little moment in time from when we were very young? Now, you couldn't pay me to paint a room! lol!

    • MellasViews profile image

      MellasViews 9 years ago from Earth

      I think you write really well as well! : ) I love, love, loved the story about the day your dad wouldn't let you paint. adorable.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Lifebydesign, thank you so much for reading this and for your kind words. I truly appreciate it! :)

    • Lifebydesign profile image

      Lifebydesign 9 years ago from Australia

      Pam, you're a great writer, and even better, a great teacher. thanks for publishing this little gem.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you Ayer! :) I'm having internet and computer problems, so I'll come back to comment properly once those are fixed. ;) Thanks again!

    • profile image

      Ayer 9 years ago

      Hi Pam! I found this through a friend of mine who links to you, Elena! Actually, she's not much of my friend anymore because she publishes things here instead of telling me all her secrets!! LOL

      Anyway, I wanted to tell you I enjoyed reading this article and I think your 4 writing basics are spot on, especially number 1! Thank you!

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Oh Bruce! What a brutal experience that was. She sounds like she was a real pompous ass. Perhaps it was a good thing she left for a few months. I know that everybody has to make a living, but there are some professions where you have such an impact on the people you deal with that you shouldn't do it if you can't treat others in a respectful manner, like teachers, doctors, and so on.

      I've heard a few people pronounce 'issues' that way, and it can be pulled off well if you're not an ego bloated ass like your teacher. ;) LOL!

      I love that short poem line! Don't think I've heard it before, but it's so true for many of us.

      Thank you so much for your kind words Bruce, I truly appreciate it. You are quite an inspirational person with writing skills far above and beyond being anything close to a rat's nest! :)

      P.S. Thank goodness for spell check! ;)

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Exellent hub, Pam. Good self-reporting, universal stories, and excellent spelling! ;-)

      I had similar fiction-writing experiences. One of my teachers told me, "well, you might as well send this out and see if anyone will publish it. I don't know know what to do with the rat's nest you've created." Rat's nest! Hardly encouraging. Then she disappeared for 3 months (of a 9 month, $1500 course) and didn't even apologize. Just said she had "personal issues." And the way she said the last word, there was no "sh" sound in it, just "s's". Issues, my fat ass!

      One of my favorite short poems is from one of the San Francisco beats. It goes, "My teachers could have ridden with Billy the Kid for all the time they stole from me."

      (For non-Americano types, B the K was a notorious US outlaw).

      Great hub, Pam. Great writing. Keep it kickin'!

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you! New directions in life are always exciting and scary all that the same time, and this is a similarity we are sharing now as well. I wish you all the best with your steps towards a new direction in your writing and in your life. I'm excited for you!

      Sally, if the future holds something special that connects us, then I would be honored. :)

      Peace and love to you too. :)

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      What I didn't say in my comment was that your Hub inspired me to take a new direction in my writing, which is also a new direction in my life. I think that you and I will engage in a special way in the future.

      For now, peace, love, and oh, those wonderful thumbs that I just can't find enough of.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      {{{{{{Sally}}}}}} A huge cyber hug to you! Your incredibly kind words have humbled me to such an extent that I'm not even sure how to even begin thanking you.

      First, because I deeply admire your writing, everything you've said means more to me than I can even express in words. You are the type of person who can write about anything and make it completely engaging. Your hub Obama, McCain, Dogs, and Tomato Soup is a perfect example of that. After reading it, I was left with a very similar feeling that I described about my writing teacher and the cookie article. It was like...was I just held captive by a hub about tomato soup? ;) THAT is a gift. It's a gift that I envy and aspire to develop or at least come close to.

      For you to take the time to give me such kind words of encouragement means everything to me, and you gave me this gift at the perfect time. I've been feeling a little stuck lately with writing. I needed a nudge, and you delivered a huge one! Thank you! :)

      I can't even imagine you feeling some of the things I've felt over the years because your writing reflects a feeling of such ease and skill. However, I can tell that you truly understand what I was trying to say in this hub, and I'd love to hear about your experiences if you ever want to share them. It's wonderful enough to just know that you have. :)

      I could go on and on but we're having a bad storm. :(

      Thank you again Sally! You're an angel. :)

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I read your Hub weeks ago and have been thinking about it ever since. Your words brought back memories, pleasant and not so pleasant, about learning to write. They also prompted me to reflect anew on why I am where I am as a writer.

      While reading your Hub, I felt as though I were reading my own words. It wasn't only what your words said that felt so familiar, but also how they were put together. I felt as if you were writing about me, in my hand. Our writing styles and voices are not the same, but I think there is much shared history between us in the struggles we've gone through to get this far.

      Let me just say that this is an outstanding piece in terms of both content, and yes, mechanics. In it I can see clearly your technical writing and editing background as well as your sincere desire to do everything you can to encourage the blossoming of the writer within, and I can hear your exceptional voice ringing with the clarity of a precious bell.

      I believe this Hub should be mandatory reading for anyone who aspires to teaching or editing, professions which require probing into the beautiful minds of those who believe their hopes and dreams can come true.

      I don't know where to find the number of thumbs this Hub deserves.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Hi Sheena, thank you so much. :) I think you're being modest, which is a great quality! Your hub, Somebody Hates Me, is testimony to how well you write. There is true emotion in that hub that reaches out and grabs the reader from the very first sentence.

      Still, I know what you're saying, because I feel the same way. Striving to improve is always a good thing. :)

      Thank you so much for dropping in to read and comment! I really appreciate it. :)

    • sheenarobins profile image

      sheenarobins 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines


      this is a very good article. I only wish I can write as you have described but we have all the time in the world to learn it here. Still wish, i know how. L.O.L

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Robyn, thank you for the very kind comment and for sharing. I always appreciate it when people take the time to share a little bit of themselves. There's no doubt in my mind that you're a fine writer. Your comment gives me a big clue. :)

      If you're able to find your voice in the midst of troubles, then you are indeed a strong person. Life effects all of us differently, and perhaps how we process and handle the bumps depends on our age and willingness to keep a positive frame of mind. For you to find strength from the problems you're facing and channel that into writing speaks volumes of your character.

      I wish I could find a certain comment that I read a while back about someone's twist on that saying, "God only gives us what we can handle." I'll send it to you if I find it. ;) I always wonder why major problems have to come in multiples. It's like I mentioned to ConstantWalker, one big issue is quite enough without having to deal with several more on top of it all.

      I'm very anxious to check out your hubs! :) Thank you again for brightening my morning. :)

    • Robyn S. profile image

      Robyn S. 9 years ago from So. Cal

      Pam - A big THANK YOU for sharing your life experience in the wonderful world of writing with us and for the amazing knowledge you passed along!

      I unlike you and probably most others who write, have only recently developed the urge and love to write.  I'm still finding my voice along with myself despite my age of 39 years.  I remember speaking to my cousin some years back and referring to the comment "God only gives us what we can handle."  Back then, I felt God didn't think I could handle much because my life was good and simply.  Since then I have experienced many bumps in the road.  They are making me stronger and giving me the angst necessary to write from the heart instead of trying to struggle to make things up in my head that lead to dead ends.

      Hope I can apply your knowledge to my writing.

      Thanks again - Robyn :)

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Elena, what a beam of sunlight you are today! :) Thank you so much for your observations and especially for your kind words. I truly appreciate your comment. It does seem like some people are born with gifts that allow them to advance at a much faster pace, then there is the majority who have to work to improve and perfect their abilities. Thanks for getting my point there. :)

      Here's hoping you have a wonderful new year. :)

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 9 years ago from Madrid

      Hi Pam!

      I think there's some truth to "Quality grows from quantity", which is pretty much the same as "practice makes perfect" :-), you broach it under "Desire vs Ability", and it's not only with writing, most enterprises take hard work, the big majority of us need to work at improving our skills, in any area.  I don’t think there are many people (over history!) for whom stuff just happens –Mozart may be one of them, since you mentioned him :-)  So, GOOD for you to keep at it, especially as it's something you love to do and, hey, because there seem to be "a few" of us who think you do it pretty well! :-)

      Best to you!

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Hi Shashigai and thank you. I agree with you, and now I also understand that how we process criticism whether negative or positive is totally within ourselves. And I agree that hours and hours of writing means a great deal. Quality grows from quantity. Someone else said that, I just can't remember who. ;)

      Thank you again, and I do plan on continuing to write.

    • shashigai profile image

      shashigai 9 years ago from New England

      I like your article. I wish there was a middle ground where people could make constructive criticism in positive ways, and not avoid it in the service of empowerment. However, I understand this perspective and I hope you continue to wirte. I fully suspect my own writing skills comes more from hours and hours of writing and less from my IQ or my training.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Marlene, I really appreciate your kind comment. I read your hub, and it's obvious you enjoy writing because you do it so well. You make it seem effortless to talk about medical/scientific things...that is a gift. :)

      Thank you again. :)

    • Marlene F. profile image

      Marlene F. 9 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

      I love this hub! I guess because I can relate to it. I love to write, and hubpages is one of my outlets. But I am also very critical of myself because I didn't go into writing as a field. I figure over time and with advice like this, I will become better. Thank you for your inspiration.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Bruce, thank you for your comment, and I'll be checking out your mood hub today! I'm sure it will be very enlightening, and I'm always open for some tips. :) That line from the poem sounds familiar, but it's not coming to me at the moment. :(

      Christoph, thank you for sharing and commenting. I hear you totally about those old college papers! lol! I kept my "A" papers too - until the last time I looked at them and said, "UGH!" I don't know what I could have been thinking, but thank goodness for teachers/professors who give you credit for creative thought. ;)

      And a big ole yes to killing babies/favorite sentences...I have to do that now with a one of my first hubs. It's so hard, and it's always nice to know that others feel the same way. Thanks. ;)

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 9 years ago from St. Louis

      This brings so many memories for me. Struggles to become a "writer" and one day I'll make it. Some years ago, I went back and read some old college papers which I had received A's on, and they were just horrible! I couldn't believe I got A's with that cr**.

      You're right about editing your own work. I find it very difficult. I know something should be taken out, but I don't want to. As Stephen King wrote in his book on writing, referring to cutting sentences which you liked but were unneccessary, "You have to be willing to kill your babies." How true!

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Hi Rmr, Thanks for a great hub. You hit upon just about all the different kinds of adversity I've encountered in my circuitous path to become a writer, especially the school based negative stuff.

      One of my favourite poem, by one of the San Franscisco Beats (name, anyone?) goes;

      "My teachers could have ridden with Jesse James/For all the time they stole from me."

      YOu might find my hub "This Matter of Mood" interesting. It's about how I got around the barrier of "not feeling like writing", and did so with grace and effectiveness. It's at I hope you like it, and find it useful.

      THanks again for your thoughtful, well written piece. Much appreciated.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you so much Paraglider. I've been admiring your writing and your skill at making thoughts flow into words, and I often find myself in admiration of simple comments that you make on different hubs. I appreciate you adding this additional point because it's a very good one! :)

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Good hub, Pam. I remember feeling very encouraged when reading one of RL Stevenson's essays on how he taught himself to be a writer. Mostly it came down to reading and practising. He didn't pretend to be a natural. Rather, he locked himself away in his study until he considered he was good enough to try for a carreer in writing.

      I'd add one point to your four, or maybe it's an expansion of point four - write in words, not in phrases. There's no original thought in a phrase. In fact, phrases do your thinking for you. That's why they're so beloved of hacks, but not of masters.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      ROFL about Mary Kay and Hallmark! :D

      Pam, I'd love to read some of your dark short stories and poems. I think that having the nerve to write about things like that is brave because it's unsettling to many people...but oh well, if they can't handle it, then they don't have to read it. As you mentioned, I too am now enjoying writing about humorous things and lighter subjects. For me, I think it just took some living, experience, and aging to process some life experiences.

      Mighty Mom, thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts about this. LOL about your Poe and Stephen King comment. I got so much inspiration from reading Poe. He was the man. ;) And yes, yes, yes about angst creating substantial depth (whether light or dark) to draw upon. Well said.

      Have fun with your writer's group, show em what you're made of MM, and let me know how it goes. Please. :)

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Boy am I glad I followed PGrundy over to this hub this morning! Pam, I absolutely LOVE your writing! I love your self-reflection, your honest reporting of the ups and downs of your life as a writer. Especially love your indignant reaction -- doubtful that the teacher would have DARED make those comments to Edgar Allen Poe or Stephen King! Damn straight!

      I've always felt that good artists of any kind -- no matter what their medium -- should have a substantial pool of angst to draw from. It's like a job requirement or something. Even if, as PGrundy says, you choose to write with humor or levity, that depth of character provides the anchor and validity, you know?

      Your experience makes me realize how very lucky I have been in my teacher interactions and inspirations. Also, having recently attended my first writers's group, I totally see how writers can be ridiculously pedantic with each other. Luckily for all of us -- not here in the wonderful world of HP.

      P.S. If your former teacher didn't find her way to Mary Kay, I think there may still be openings over at Hallmark...

    • profile image

      pgrundy 9 years ago

      "A huge issue was that she crapped rainbows and wanted me crapping them too."

      LOL! That's a great line!

      I spent several years writing very dark poetry and short stories. I got some of them published, which was nice, but often people would be shocked by the stuff I wrote, like eeeuuwwww, that's so upsetting!

      These days I'm as likely to write humor as doom and gloom, but I think that what is important is to write honestly, write what you are actually feeling, not what you think people want to hear.

      Your teacher sounds like she might have been a bit better as a Mary Kay rep. Maybe she found her way to that profession. Let's hope so!

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      rmr/BT...I forgot for a split second! You're an awesome writer! I love reading your stuff. You're one of my Mozart's! ;)

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      rmr, thank you, and I appreciate your comment a great deal. You do know about academic struggles from high school, middle school, and grade school. And I'm sure you could write a very good book. Of course, being a writer doesn't mean you have to write a book. What you're doing right now makes you a writer, and you seem to be doing great. :)

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      Pam, I forgot to mention something about your great myopic comment...

      Can I add deaf? lol! A huge issue was that she crapped rainbows and wanted me crapping them too. She kept assuming, perhaps because I was young, that I didn't have any battle scars, but I had many, and I simply couldn't relate to her bubbly, rainbow world. I felt there was a struggle with her expecting me to write about fluffy, nice things that shine and sparkle, but I simply didn't have that type of life experience to draw from. I tried to tell her that, and I never did crap a rainbow, but at least I passed. ;)

      Her advice was solid, I just couldn't hear it over the negativity. I think sometimes teachers don't even realize that their point gets lost when they can't find something positive and encouraging to say.

    • rmr profile image

      rmr 9 years ago from Livonia, MI

      I enjoy your writing, Pam. I'm glad you didn't give it up. I never went to college, so I don't know about the academic struggle. I can identify with the desperation that you talked about, though. There have been so many times that I have read a poorly written book, and thought, "I can do better than this." Then I went ahead and found out that I couldn't.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      akeejaho, Thank you so much for the comment, and I agree with you about pushing the envelope from time to time. I think I must have pushed it way too hard for some of my teachers though. lol! Perhaps I was a mavericky writer. :) Thanks for that chuckle.

      Goldentoad, you are golden. :) I appreciate your humor and enjoyed your comment. I'm glad to hear that you had an opposite reaction to your teacher and did what you wanted...even if it was to drive her crazy. ;) lol!

      Shalini, it is the soul! You're right. Thank you for reading this and for your kind comment. :)

      Pam, thank you so much. I really regret ever letting that experience get the best of me. I lost a number of years with writing, but I turned into a word-aholic. I gobbled up books faster than I could check them out of the library. lol! That is when I realized that maybe I would give it another try...after reading tons of the horrible stuff. lol!

      You make so many good points Pam...writers aren't necessarily good teachers, good teachers aren't necessarily good writers, and the ones you mentioned wouldn't like each others work at all. LOL! Great point. :) Thank you Pam.

      My motivation is to offer encouragement to anyone who is experiencing or has experienced the same thing, and to show how it's not a great thing to be hampered by feeling inadequate or to give in to the effects of negative criticism. Thank you all...and thank God for teachers who have an open mind, and shame on those who teach because they can't write or do anything better themselves. ;)

    • profile image

      pgrundy 9 years ago

      Great hub! I think you write really well, and your style is friendly and natural. I'm sorry your had that lousy experience with the writing teacher. What a downer.

      I related to your experience with the writing class though. My own experience is that good writers are not necessarily good teachers. In fact, good writers aren't even necessarily functional human beings! lol! Seriously, I've known a lot of writers, and as a group we tend to be introverted and myopic--a lot of us can't see past the ends of our own noses. So if a writer rips your writing apart it may have nothing to do with your writing--it may have everything to do with the writer.

      Also, there's room for everyone. I firmly believe this. Danielle Steele, Kurt Vonnegut, and Tolstoy all got published and read but would they like each other's writing? Doubtful!

      Don't let the bastards get you down, I say! You go girl!

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 9 years ago from India

      Loved reading that, thank you. Isn't it strange that so many get so bogged down by the form that the content escapes them? Finally, writing is expression - and it's the soul that counts! Trying to keep within a framework is fine but forcing it, maybe not :)

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 9 years ago from Free and running....

      I really enjoyed the article as I have had troubles in my student days with teachers who were more interested in mechanic rather than thought. And as far the comma thing goes, sometimes I wanted to break longer, so I... because I thought it added a dramatic effect to use all those.....which I was told by a teacher not to do. I continued to do it once I figured drove her up the freakin' the wall. I have no advice on writing except that if it feels good and you don't wake up with a hangover.......

    • akeejaho profile image

      akeejaho 9 years ago from Some where in this beautiful world!

      So, what's wrong with your writing.  I enjoyed your article very much and I must say I agree with RG in saying it is a very good piece. 

      I have been writing for a long time.  Since I was old enough to put together paragraphs and such.  I love to write, and I suppose I have written enough that I have adopted my own style.  I do try to adhere to the basic rules, but I do push the envelope from time to time.

      Write in the style and voice that makes you happy.  That is the secret.  There is nothing wrong with being a Maverick!  (Just ask John McCain!)  Anyway, thanks for the article!

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      RG, I can't thank you enough for your kind words and for sharing the experience your daughter is facing. Thank God for the good teachers she has in her life right now, and I don't know how you manage to bite your tongue with those who can't seem to see how far she's come so that she can continue to bloom like the flower she is.

      Thank you again so much for your kind comment. :)

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 9 years ago from Wisconsin

      I give this 5 thumbs up!!!! I remember all those days when the criticism wasn't positive and I wonder what areas I have suppressed because of that. My daughter is facing that now. She has so much talent and imagination but a couple of grandmothers keep only pointing out how far she has to go to become good that they can't point at how far she has come and to let her be herself. She is blessed with some teachers now that are developing that creative side of her. I'm so glad. Creativity was pushed out of me in school and I struggle so hard to bring it back.

      This is probably the best piece I've read yet.


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