Sunday, October 14, 2012

Encountering Emotional Writing

As an English undergrad with an emphasis in creative writing, I had several experiences with emotional writing. Some involved manufactured emotions, such as those derived from fiction, but I also took a poetry class and a creative non-fiction class in which people wrote pieces that were very brave in their openness and honesty. Among them were stories of encountering racism, dealing with spousal or child abuse, or losing loved ones to disease or old age.

Perhaps because there was a tacit understanding that these types of pieces would arise and were difficult to write, everyone in the class responded well. It seemed universally acknowledged that the students could express sympathy and encouragement, but still voice criticism and suggestions for improvement.

Due to those classes, I tend to react that way when someone hands me a paper, for a class, that has as its subject or content something that is obviously close to the author’s heart. I do my best to be sympathetic and understanding, but still help that person revise for a better paper. The result is that I tend to be more circumspect than I normally would if it were an argumentative essay, even adopting a gentler tone than usual, but I still don my editor’s cap because I know that’s why they handed me that paper.

While I have not encountered emotional writing in the Writing Center, I had a friend who wrote a very emotional piece for a class about the death of her father and her estrangement from her family. Later, she tried to publish it, and wanted my input. I noticed that there were several sections that strayed from the plot or cut down pacing, and others where the action wasn’t clear. Although I knew it was difficult for her to write, I told her what I thought and how she could improve it.

Were I to enter a tutoring session where the tutee had a paper like her’s, I would do the same thing. Honestly, I don’t see any other way of approaching it. It does them no good for me to try and spare their feelings by not pointed out areas that need revision and possibly condemn them to a poor grade. As long as the advice is given from a place of respect (as should all advice, regardless of content) I don’t see the tutee becoming angry or upset. It’s not like they don’t know that my job as a tutor is to say something about their papers.

If I came into the Writing Center with a paper about the time my pseudo-fiance dumped me (long story, but trust me, it’s emotional), but it was poorly written, I would be more upset that the tutor ignored those errors in an attempt to spare my feelings. As long as this hypothetical tutor wasn’t rude or dismissive, I would understand that he was commenting on my writing, not me as a person. I would hope that anyone I tutor would grant me that same benefit.


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