Saturday 4 February 2012

Critiquing and Employability

Contemplating the future?
In the post before last I wrote about critiquing and the importance of it. Candy Gourlay quite rightly pointed out the importance of finding the right critiquing group that you can trust. As we also mentioned SCBWIs is great at facilitating the setting up of such groups. But there are some situations where you are not given the choice who critiques your work. Some of you may be aware that I am a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Winchester and therefore on a daily basis I am giving feedback to students on work they may well have just written, if it was a task set in class. They also have to listen to their peers pass comment on their work as well as pass comment on others' work. This is not necessarily written it is often oral feedback given in front of the whole class and they are expected to take it on board and act upon it. It always makes me think of these lines from W B Yeats' poem 'He wishes for the cloths of Heaven'

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. 

Students are spreading their dreams under our feet from the moment they walk in through the doors of the university. They (nearly) all have dreams of being writers of some sort and it is up to us to provide them with the opportunities to hone their craft, providing them with the tools to write in the best possible way they can.When giving feedback our aim is also to 'feed-forward' by giving them a critique that they can apply to future works. I have to say I enjoy watching the development of our undergrads. They tentatively give vague feedback in those first few weeks of the first year and then by the third year they have become confident and are capable of giving robust, constructive and detailed feedback.

This is an important skill to learn in today's world. This was highlighted when I contacted several of my previous clients (I was a businesswoman before I entered the academic world) to discuss the employability of graduates. I asked them about the graduates they employed (in the main not CW graduates). Most of them came back saying graduates won't listen to criticism and they certainly won't act on it. Well our students have to do both on a daily basis. It seems to me  a perfect transferable skill we are providing them with. The ability to critique effectively seems to enter so many elements of our world. We do like to prepare our students for the 'real world' and not just for a 'writerly' one!

I do have a confession though, am feeling slightly melancholy. It is my birthday next week, not a big one, but the one before a big one. Age doesn't normally worry me but I have been thinking a lot about what I haven't done with my life recently. This week has been a great week as I have been surrounded by some wonderful and very close friends. All 3 of whom are very important to me and a lot of talking and laughing went on but I became so conscious of how 2 dimensional my life has been. If I am truly honest I haven't lived. The question is, is it too late? I look in the mirror and what stares back is a face that has been beaten into submission by age and ravaged by long term illness. It is not who I think I am or who I want to be. One of these close friends mentioned they were at a cross-roads, I think I am too. Let's hope we both take the right route next and the journey is a good one so that next time I hit the year before a big one I am not regretting what I haven't done.

I wanted to play you a song I heard yesterday by Clint Black called 'Breathing Air' unfortunately I can't find a clip for it so instead you can have this, which is just as applicable:


  1. What an interesting post! The process of critiquing and of learning to receive criticism is quite a hard one and a humbling one too, and I can see that it would be useful in a business environment. I'd just never considered that before now!
    As for you and your crossroads - I'm sure you'll chose the right path! It's never too late, and, anyway, all life is living! x

  2. Giving & receiving criticism are difficult but fruitful pursuits. Thank you for the post.

    "It's never too late to be who you might have been." George Eliot.

  3. Good luck with whatever path you choose to take. I agree with Sue and with George Eliot - it is never too late.

    Your life doesn't sound two dimensional but perhaps you feel this because you already know what you want or need to do next?

  4. Many thanks to you all for your positive thoughts which have been taken on board. I am definitely going to follow George Eliot's and Sue's idea of it never being too late. And maybe Amanda you are right, it is because I haven't achieved, yet, what I want to. Well here off to achieve it!

  5. Half the process of criticism is learning to listen and hear what you need to hear. The other half is about learning to see. Weirdly, the process is not about the advice itself ...

    As for not living - it's the process! And the day you see your life in the mirror (I fear) is the day it's over! Advance happy birthday - celebrate EVERYTHING!

  6. That's an interesting idea Candy, I hadn't thought about it being about the process and not the advice itself. But I think you are so right. It is also about listening to what is not said!

    At your command Candy, I will celebrate EVERYTHING this week - thank you