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Advice from a Writing Teacher: ‘Is it good?’

/by Rachel Marsh/

Mostly because I am an eternal student myself and the point of taking a class is to learn, I encourage discussion when I teach. Students by their very definition are unfamiliar with certain concepts, topics and ideas, and the only way to acquire knowledge is to ask questions. This policy leads me to state that there are no ‘bad’ questions, and I encourage all students to please speak-up.

However, there is one question which makes me cringe when I hear it: Will you read this and tell me if it’s good?

The answer is always, always, always ‘No’. If I have time, I might read the piece, but I will never tell you if it’s ‘good’.

First, ‘good’ is a subjective term, and I refuse to use it.

Second, do not rephrase the question to state, ‘Will you read this and tell me if it’s ready for publication’, because the answer is still ‘No’.

If you have to ask, it’s not ready for publication. Also, while this piece might not be ready for publication, a redraft might be, or this piece might be fine but I haven’t read the rest of the novel, or one publisher might have room for it on their schedule, while another may not. Publishing is such a complex business, ‘yes it’s good’ is not an appropriate answer.

Instead, if I have time, I can tell you what aspects of the piece ‘works’, what might need to be rewritten, what doesn’t flow, and a myriad of other critical responses. Then it is up to you to decide what to with the piece. I am a firm believer that a good creative writing teacher should expose a student to good writing practices, useful techniques, tools for writing, and a supportive environment. It is not a teacher’s job to validate your work.

Which leads me to the fact that most people who ask this question are only looking for validation. They need that external praise to keep on writing, and I am a firm believer in ‘If you need my approval to write, then you’re not a writer.’

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One thought on “Advice from a Writing Teacher: ‘Is it good?’

  1. Wow! Well said. It makes me think twice about how I should respond when I am asked to read pieces from friends and other writers. Thanks.

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