A strange thing happened to me recently. I was given an idea.
It was given into my care. I can't wait to use it.
It happened when I got chatting to a chap who was sitting beside me on a plane, returning from a school visit to Cairo a few weeks ago. It turned out that we had both been on the same plane leaving from London at the beginning of the week. In fact we had exchanged a few words of courtesy, as one sometimes does with fellow travellers, while waiting in a queue.
So when we ended up sitting next to each other on the way home, we struck up a conversation. The usual thing about the reasons we had been travelling, the kind of work we each did etc. During this conversation we got to talking about writing and he told me how he had written a story when he was at school, the only fiction he can recall writing. He told me a little about the story and I was intrigued.
I found the central idea fascinating and immediately I found myself exploring ideas, and different scenarios started bouncing about in my head.
He told me his English teacher had not been too impressed with his story because it was not the piece of writing his teacher had wanted. They had been doing research on a subject and the teacher had assumed the essay would be about this subject and not an imaginative piece of writing.
Now, while I can understand that a teacher would be irritated by the end result not being what he had expected, although from what I understood it had not been made clear that the work had to reflect the classwork, I cannot understand why that teacher was quite so destructive in his comments.
The chap said that afterwards he had never felt any inclination to write anything again. While he had been telling me about what his teacher had said to him I could see that there was an underlying resentment that his work, his enthusiasm for the idea that he had turned into a story, had been discarded so brutally. Not with a comment such as 'This wasn't what I was looking for.' which might have been fairly reasonable, but he was told that he had
" ..wasted four hours of his life, with this rubbish!"
But he said no, he wouldn't, but if I wanted to I was welcome to use it and if it got published, perhaps I could name him in the credits. Watch this space!
His story reminded me of how I used to believe I had no imagination because when I was about seven my teacher had actually written in my report card
The problem was that I believed her and wore that description like a badge. It never occurred to me that she might be wrong. It may even have been the reason why I never considered the possibility of becoming a writer until I had was an adult with children of my own. I sometimes wonder if teachers are actually aware how much power they have to nurture or damage that fragile creativity in children.
Creativity is a fragile thing that can be easily wrecked and shattered by destructive criticism, no matter what age you are. It is one reason why I deliberate and use careful language when I am asked to evaluate someone's writing. Most writers are fragile about their work, me included. It is important to get honest evaluation of your writing but we also need to hear good things about what we do, because most of us don't think we are any good, or at least not good enough. It is not that we are looking for flattery, because empty praise is useless indeed.
A few days ago I was watching a re run of one of the Parky interviews with Kenneth Williams. One of the other guests was Sir John Betjeman and at one point they were talking about critics and press cuttings.
Sir John Betjeman said he read them with dread because he believed anything that was said against him was true, and that anything said in his favour was flattery. He said he never believed he was any good at all!
How much does criticism affect you?
Linda Strachan writes books for all ages, from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing for Children
Blog Bookwords where you can find out more about her trip to MES Cairo