Dreams

“I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

W.B. Yeats

It takes a lot of courage to share your writing. What will people think? What will they say? Will they like my ideas? Is my writing any good? Most people lack self confidence when they first start writing. 25 years and 25 books later I’m pretty confident that I can write well. The fact that my books sell helps me believe that people want to read what I write. But when I started out, you could have crushed my confidence in my writing with a single ill-judged comment. (Luckily, we did not have the Internet when I began.) Even now, when I write a new book, I still feel nervous about how it will be received.

One of the strangest things about being a writer is that you must care deeply about what your readers think about your writing, and yet at the same time you must not care at all.  You write for your readers, but you don’t write because you think your readers will like what you wrote. You write because you must. Sometimes people will take against what you write. They will dislike your ideas, or the way that you express them. The problem is, when it comes to writing, that the writer often conflates the two. An attack on your ideas can feel like an attack on your writing, even if the reader didn’t mean it in that way.

As educators, we understand that helping children learn and develop is about having high expectations, but that it is also about building self confidence and self esteem. If a child’s writing is riddled with errors, we don’t highlight everyone single one, because that would be counter productive. We look for parts we can praise, at the same time as giving targets for improvement. We practice the art of being subtle. People often ask me if they can send me samples of their writing, so that I can give them advice. I could send their writing back to them, spray painted with ‘don’t do THIS!’ and ‘what are you THINKING!?’ But that is about as much help to an emerging writer as a chocolate tea pot. It is far, far better for me to give general advice, constructive criticism and to highlight what is working well. Then allow the person to figure out where they want to go next – what kind of writer they want to become.

My blog is an experimental space, and it doesn’t bother me at all if commentators don’t like my ideas. I don’t even mind when other bloggers take my blog posts and use them to write ones of their own, in which they very kindly point out all my errors of thinking. (I’m looking at you, Mr Old.) But for those new to writing, I can see that this might be enough to crush the writer’s confidence and make them think twice about writing again. We don’t always have to say what we think. An awful lot of the time these days, I find myself biting my tongue. And if we do want to make our feelings known, we can do so in a way that is polite and that models the message we want to send. There is enough space in the world for people to share all different kinds of ideas. It is wonderful that different writers have different ways of expressing what they want to say. And we do not need to crush anyone else’s dreams to have dreams of our own.

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8 Responses to Dreams

  1. nancy says:

    Sitting here in the staff room, eating a sandwich and nodding away. My colleagues must think I’m mad.

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  2. Jill Berry says:

    Thought this was excellent, Sue.

    And re: “an attack on your ideas can feel like an attack on your writing” – I’d go further and say that an attack on your ideas can feel like an attack on YOU. I know you’re pretty resilient, but I have to say that many of the women I know (sorry for the stereotypical generalisation) have a greater tendency to take criticism personally than many of the men.

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  3. mariegoodwyn says:

    Having been tangentially part of something like this very recently – it occurred to me that what seems to happen is people not only do not agree – loudly and even unkindly – it is obvious that they haven’t even properly read what was written, in the first place. Which is pretty scandalous really – considering our profession.
    Yours were some of the first really good books I found on education – well informed and practical – so thank you! @skybluepink

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  4. bravealbion says:

    Well said. I especially like the part where you said “You write for your readers, but you don’t write because you think your readers will like what you wrote,”. I try and explain that all the time, as there are many writers who seem to have trouble understanding that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  5. As a novice blogger, for me the blog is also an experimental space where I can freely write and explore ideas in ways not possible in other places (like my PhD thesis). It’s also opened up my social media conversations, as a blog allows deeper expression of my ideas than a 140 character tweet.

    For my students, I agree that feedback on writing is so important. Our job should be to facilitate growth from where the writer is at, while protecting the safety and joy of writing as a place where students can be vulnerable, open risk takers without fear of a red pen assault!

    I also wonder if – in our age of clicks, likes and shares – perhaps online writers judge themselves as much on lack of interaction with their work as on negative feedback?

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  6. Pingback: Has The Debate Moved On? | Scenes From The Battleground

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