“Did you really write this?” my teacher said. He held my story in his hand, pinning it from the bottom with his finger and thumb.
I nod. “I swear.”
“I hope you’re not lying and someone else wrote it for you,” he says as he hands it to me.
I grab it and see the grade on the top of the paper, a 100% followed by a comment, literally the words he just said.
This is probably a weird story to bring up because it’s a back-handed compliment, but the comment meant a lot to me. Why? Because it wasn’t blind praise, which I think it’s extremely dangerous.
Throughout my life, some of the people close to me praised me a lot, especially when it came to my writing. They’d say things like, “you’re talented” or “your work is the best thing I’ve ever read.”
It makes sense to tell that to a developing artist, and I get it. Young people are to be protected and raised. But blind praise can also be sheltering and does not prepare the person for the world outside.
My experience going from that praise to the creative writing course in college was harsh. Maybe it’s because I took an upper division course with graduate students as a sophomore. Maybe it was because I really did suck back then. Regardless, I received low grades.
In my that first class, I received a D on both of the class’s main assignments. It meant I’d have to repeat the class. So, I went up to the teacher and begged to let me revise both papers. She must have taken pity on me because she agreed, but only if I did significant changes based on what she said. I did. I still remember not sleeping in three days in order to revise both papers in time.
I should add though, I omitted an important part to the story.
When I wrote those papers, I didn’t actually try my best. Remember the blind praise? It had elevated my confidence to a point where I thought, “I don’t have to revise these.” I should have. The stories were broken and rushed. That happens when you write a paper in an evening.
But, that’s just one reason I say blind praise is dangerous. Even in college, as time went, I received other types of blind praise. I grew confident again and even arrogant.
When I entered the graduate program for creative writing, I received harsh criticism again. I liken the experience to a huge building getting demolished. The feedback bulldozed my persona, and I nearly gave up writing. In fact, I shut down my previous blog which had been going for a whole year, updated daily with flash fiction.
That’s the real danger of blind praise. It can create arrogance and shelter people from actually producing quality material. Why do I bring this up though? Simple. Please remember. When a writer asks for feedback, even if they’re your loved ones, even if it pains you, be honest. Of course, have tact. But, make sure to be honest.
Funny enough, that is why the back-handed compliment has meant so much to me over the years. The teacher actually meant it. He set aside my feelings and told me the story was good, albeit in a crappy way, but the point is that he was honest. So, help writers. Don’t shelter them.