I studied art in high school (or, the British equivalent: O’ and A’ Levels). We had three-hour classes and I would pour my heart and soul into each work of art, even something as mundane as a painting of a clay pot. I loved it. I loved my finished pieces—my parents loved them, my teachers loved them. We’d get them framed and put them up (to this day, a pencil sketch of mine still hangs in the principal’s office of my old high school). My parents showed them off to every unlucky visitor who happened by. Our teachers taught us to respect our own work, to love it, and to love art. Life, and school, were sickly sweet and I was on top of the world.
Then, I landed in art school. I now attended day-long drawing classes, and the work was intense (anyone who says art school is easy has never spent a whole day drawing). I loved it, until the day, after a grueling session, we were told to rip up our works of art. What? Yup, that’s right. Rip them up. Into tiny little pieces. Throw the pieces in the trash. Start over.
This, of course, was after the ‘crit’ sessions we had. See, it worked this way. After each session, everyone put up their finished artwork on the wall, and the whole class (about twenty people), would gather round and criticize each other’s work. Occasionally, the teacher would call in reinforcements—other teachers from other disciplines (sculpture, design, language)—and we’d all learn, in front of the whole class, just what we had done wrong, and how we could improve ourselves. It was a shocking reversal from high school, but it was a valuable life lesson.
At the end of the day, our foundation year in college was just that—learning how to improve. We weren’t allowed attachments to a way of working, or to a particular piece. We no longer thought of them as our ‘creations’ or ‘works of art’, because we knew that if we could do it once, we could do it again. It was drummed into us, in every class, that we could always, always do better.
I never studied creative writing, but I suppose it must be pretty much the same. Every sentence crafted by a writer must be like a work of art, and to have someone come along and rip it apart must be like tearing up a painting.
But it takes a little bit of confidence for a writer to recognize, like we did in art school, that writing, like drawing, is a skill easily replicated and improved upon. You may have written a beautiful paragraph, but know that with a little bit of help, the next paragraph will be better, and the next book will eclipse your first one. Like art, writing requires practice and an impartial eye to allow us to be all that we can be.