Monday, August 3, 2009

The dreaded red pen...

A while ago I went to lunch with a author friend of mine and we needed a pen. When the waitress handed over a red pen, my friend asked for a different color, "Red is very unlucky," she said.

I think we all remember the first time we were critiqued. I remember mine. It was in grade 9. I had joined the journalism class and wrote a story for the school newspaper. When I asked the upitty blonde (no offense) editor if she liked it. She stuck up her nose and said you printed half of it and used handwriting for the rest.

The second time came much later. After my second son was born (I said much later - the first one did me in for awhile), I took a creative writing class. I submitted part of a chapter that I had been working on for months. It got totally torn apart. It was all I could do not to sob in front of everyone.

A few years ago I took the first chapter of my current project and submitted it to my local library's writer-in-residence program. I was totally intimidated. He was an author. He'd written two books that were literary fiction, not just fiction but literary, and here I was asking him to read a chapter of my YA fantasy novel.

I drove to our first meeting not knowing what to expect, but I vowed that I would not get upset. I would not show discouragement or get emotional. When I got to the door of the conference room, which had a window on it, I saw my chapter. It was covered in red pen. I stopped for a second and regrouped. "This is good," I said. "This is how I'll learn."

Yes there was a lot of red but I learned so much. I continued going back to that writer and the following year I had another writer-in-residence read it, he had a color code. There was lots of red ink and a few other colors but in the end I learned so much from the red pen, but I still don't like to use them.


Lazy Writer said...

Oh, yuck! Not the dreade red pen! You are right, though. It's the only way we can learn and grow as writers, regardless of how much it tears us apart inside!

JKB said...

Red pens are good, you're absolutely right. And they help you learn.

Although I always mourn a little when the pretty white page gets messed up. :-))

Jenn Johansson said...

Yeah... it's funny how it induces a death grip on the hearts of writers. Most of my critiques have been via e-mail... so it is Word's review/comment program that gives me the willies. :P

Amber Lynae said...

I know it would be hard to see my once black and white pages covered in red. But the learning part isa blessing. I will just have to remind myself of that like a mantra.

Dara said...

I don't mind red pens; lately it's been anywhere from black to purple to green. Why? Because one of our critique group members edits the heck out of our chapters and she alternates which pens she uses. I dread critiques from her the most because if there's something wrong, she'll find it--twice :P

It can get discouraging after a particularly rough meeting, and I may be down in the dumps for a day but then I realize it's for my improvement. It's still never any easier.

Patti said...

LW:What doesn't kill me makes me stronger. Isn't that the saying.

JKB: I like looking at my book all printed out and neat with no pen or pencil marks for that matter.

Jenn: Getting a chapter on email is beginning to send chills up my spine. How much red will I see or sometimes in my case blue.

Amber: It's a good mantra. I really have learned a lot from other peoples critiques and I don't think I'm making nearly as many mistakes as I did a year ago.

Dara: It's hard when someone changes so much.

strugglingwriter said...

I don't even let my daughter use red crayons. Just kidding.

I almost prefer a lot of "red", though, because at least you aren't getting "this is good" or "this is nice".

Patti said...

SW: Oh yes, the dreaded "this is great or I really liked it"