Thursday, May 16, 2013

Being Mean

One of the things I've ranted on before, in one place or another, is the prevailing sense entitlement that has reached epidemic proportions in our world. As a teacher and aspiring published novelist it permeates almost every aspect of my life on a semi-regular basis and it's a direct result of our generation forward...and it's only going to get worse.

When I started this blog, I vowed that I was going to keep anything beyond the scope of writing out of it, but as with a great many things, my writing life and my professional life intersect and I find a parallel that I want to discuss, this idea of entitlement that has become part of the fabric of our culture and what it's doing to publishing.

If you are new or just don't know, I am a high school English teacher at an inner city school in Syracuse, NY. Now I know we're not talking the Bronx or Chicago or LA or anything like that, but still. For the last two years I've taught Freshman, two sections of double block literacy program classes with students at least two grade levels behind in reading ability and one section of Advanced. I had a situation occur during my advanced class yesterday that inspired today's post.

About a week ago, I had assigned a creative writing assignment related to Romeo and Juliet to the students. (Common Core be damned!) They were quite good actually and I was very happy. Grades on the assignment (graded on a rubric) ranged from 75 to 100 with the average being 90. AS students read their comments and looked at their grades, I heard one girl say "HE hates me, he's so mean."

Now initially, I thought perhaps this girl was speaking of some boy. It turns out that boy was me and she was very upset at the 90 she received on the project. Now never mind the whole 90 is good argument, that point is moot.

The project was good. It was a creative angle, but about half way through her story, it got very confusing (Not in the good way that confusing can be in a story but in that, "What the f**k was the writer thinking?" kind of way) and I had to reread it several times to get back into the story. Her writing was good, not great. She earned 30 out of 40 points on the section about Ideas/Organization/Content and was perfect for the rest, earning her a 90. She came up to me, with red-rimmed, tear filled eyes and asked, "Why did you give me a 90?"

Let me pause for a moment (trust me, I'm going to get to the writing part in a minute) and tell you all something, there are few more infuriating things to say to a teacher than "Why did you give me ____?" I won't go into the particulars of why, but it does.

I looked up at the girl and very coolly responded, "You EARNED a 90."

To which she responded with, "Everyone else got a 100."

Entitlement at it's finest. "Everyone else did well, so should I."

I kept my cool and said, "No, they did not." She walked away in a huff, not happy with me at all.

While all this was going on, my phone was buzzing in my pocket. I'd received an email from my agent informing me of a rejection on WINTER'S DISCORD I'd received with some notes. It was a bummer and I was really disappointed. It was a publisher and editor I would have loved to work with.  The critique of my work hurt. I descended down the slippery spiral of self-doubt and anger over my own perceived lack of writing ability. But as much as it bothered me, I took it in and reflected, making me wonder if his assessment of my work were true and the first questions that came to my mind were ways to fix what he suggested was broken. Just because I think I'm good, doesn't mean I'm good enough. I've got to earn this, it's not handed to me

My agent did tell me he disagreed with what was said and was incredibly supportive of me, saying, as agents do, just the right thing at the moment I needed him to say something to make me feel better about me and my writing.

I see my student's attitude everywhere in writing today. Read the comments section over on Agent Query. Read some people's blogs. People think they are good and they aren't or they need some editorial help to make them better. But that's not what they really want.

And it's this attitude that ruins self-publishing. A board that I frequent has a "Writing" thread and one of the people that frequents the thread sent out a few queries for his book to agents. It got rejected. He threw up his hands and began a rant on the evils of the publishing industry then announced he was going to self publish his 300k word fantasy novel because of that rejection. I can't tell you how many things were wrong with that post, so much so I think a vein in my head may have ruptured.

Regretfully, there lack of editorial control in too many self-published books, mostly because someone doesn't want to hear that maybe there's a chance they aren't as good as they think they are. And what that does is color someone like me as being against self-published authors, which for a long time I was until I got schooled on it a bit in the last few years. My view has eased so much that my present WIP is going to be a self-published e-novella. However, I'm using a professional editor to help me get it ready for public consumption(my agent, but hey, that's what he's there for!) and I'm using professional artists to do any artwork.

In the end, we're human beings and it hurts to hear someone say that maybe we're not as good as we think we are , but you know what, I want someone to be mean to me if it means that I want to be a better at something I love.

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