Monday, September 6, 2010

Living up to expectations

I have a secret. My tutor thinks I'm a better writer than I actually am.

This used to concern me a lot. I'd come home after workshop and tell Phil, "Julia says I skipped over an important scene. But she was sure I had a reason."

"Did you have a reason?" Phil would ask.

"Yeah," I'd say. "I'm lazy."

I worried Julia thought too highly of me and might not criticize my work.

I needn't have worried. Actually, the opposite is true. Julia is perhaps the harshest critic I've ever encountered. As she's gotten to know me better, she's become more honest, too.

"I expected more..."

"It's good, but I think you should rewrite it, make it better."

At one meeting, I remember her pulling off her reading glasses, looking at me, and saying, "Anne..." in a long, drawn-out sigh.

So I'd rewrite the passage in question. And rewrite it again, always knowing that Julia expected more.

After Julia read my draft this summer, I made a to-do list out of all of her suggestions. Anything I didn't know how to do or didn't understand I threw in a second list entitled "Ask Julia."

But a funny thing has happened in the past month. As I've worked through my to-do list, completing items, adding new ones, I've answered many of my "Ask Julia" questions. I've known what she'd say, I could imagine her pulling off her reading glasses, giving me that look. So I've pushed myself harder.

I'm meeting with Julia tomorrow. I'm expecting more criticism, more pushing. And I still have plenty of questions. But I'm also really proud of what I have to show her. I've met many of her challenges in the last draft. Things I thought I couldn't do, I've done. And in struggling to meet her expectations, I've far exceeded my own.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what will happen when the program is over at the end of September, fantasizing about snagging an agent, maybe making a career out of this. And it's occurred to me that one thing I definitely want is an agent like Julia who believes I'm a better writer than I actually am.


  1. Great post. I had a professor in college like Julia. I always thought she made me such a better student than I was. But maybe that's not right. Maybe she saw what I didn't—that I was a good student. And by her pushing (boy, did she push) she let me see that, too. I still think of her when I attempt something—she's still giving me the push I need. Great teachers/tutors/mentors are like that. They never really leave you.

  2. Julia is truly a good writer mentor because she pushes you to do better and can give credit to your writing that you're too close to see (I have a feeling Julia may be right about your writing).

    My first writing mentor sounds a lot like Julia and I wouldn't trade that experience for nothing.

    So consider yourself blessed.

    Good luck.

  3. Thanks, Andrea and Karen. I definitely consider myself blessed to have such a mentor. And I hope you're right, too, Andrea, about the Julia voice in my head continuing long after I stop meeting with her.

  4. sounds like you are on your way! Having a tutor or crit partner who pushes you to find the best story is GOLD! Very uplifting post!

  5. Aw, thanks, Terry! She has definitely been SUCH a help!

  6. Oh, this sounds so familiar! I've been lucky enough to find an agent who fulfils exactly this role and I've definitely had that "voice in my head" moment. In fact, she was a little disappointed when I was able to go away and do most of the rewriting without her help! Sometimes, you just can't win :-)

  7. Oh, I'm so pleased to hear you have this type of relationship with your agent, Nick! But I bet she secretly hopes you really do start channeling her--less work for her! =)

  8. I just read this, Anne. It made me very happy.


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