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Writing is not Teaching

by on December 20, 2012

Nearly every person reading this has received a bad review at one time or another, whether it be a poor grade in a class, a poor performance review at work, or (gulp) a bad review on a book.  Given my successful experience as an educator (backed by  a file full of good reviews) my take on reviews were a lot different.  Let me explain.

As a teacher in a room full of students, it is your job to convey the material to them.  That is to say, if you administer a test and more than ten percent of the class fails, you’ve failed as a teacher and the material must be re-taught.  The purpose of a teacher is to ensure that students are learning and retaining the material because every lesson taught builds upon the one before it.  If they miss out today, then the next portion of material will be that much harder for the student.

A brief example:  if a student doesn’t understand the concepts of addition and subtraction, then teaching them multiplication and division would be difficult, as the latter concepts are simply repeated addition and subtraction. (I could go on all day about math, but I’ll restrain myself.  For all of our sakes.)

I carried that same mentality over into my profession as a writer, not realizing that some absolutes don’t transfer.  When I received that two star review, it wasn’t the rating that bothered me the most – it was the fact that the reviewer didn’t “get” what I was trying to convey.  Therefore, I felt that I wasn’t doing my “job” as a writer because they didn’t understand my story.

Then, I realized something.  I write to entertain, not to teach.  This is fiction, not a textbook.  If you look at the plethora of television shows, books, movies and music that are available, you realize the spectrum of taste that is out there.  Perhaps my story wasn’t entertaining to this particular person.  They didn’t identify with the heroine, or a word I used yanked them out of the story. Maybe they didn’t like the hero.  Who knows?  I re-read and read a lot of books to which people have given bad reviews.  Conversely, I’ve wrinkled my nose at reading some books that people found fan-freaking-tastic.

Writing fiction is not teaching two plus two.  The entertainment/enjoyment value of my writing  to a random person is so subjective that it simply cannot be gauged. And since it cannot be gauged, then, I have to fall back on À chacun son gout:  To each one his taste.

But here’s a story I’ll hope you do like…tis the season!


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One Comment
  1. Shyla Colt permalink

    I like the way you look at things Dahl. Thank you for posting this. I think it’s something we all need to remember. 🙂

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