Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 17, 2008

In Praise of Uncertainty

Today I met with some students offering me and each other fragile early-ish drafts of stories. There were some fabulous sentences, great ideas, and well wrought scenes, but what most touched me today were the breaks in voices, the sentences that backtracked as students spoke of their writing, and the soft frustration with what didn’t work. I think their tenderness toward their work’s still-in-the-womb state made me feel, more than any vigor or sensitivity in their prose, that these students may be writers to watch out for. They could spot flaws before anyone else did. I’m not a big fan of people apologizing for their prose or rhymes, but their apologies didn’t seem to be about embarrassment. They bent over their work the way you’d lean over a kitten, a puppy, a young animal you knew was going to grow. We watch for what we love, we watch for what may cause trouble, we watch for what this young animal may need.

The students reassured each other more than criticized. Some things got fixed and some were left. Be patient, wait, some solutions come when you’re not looking. And now I’m back to leaning over my own work, trying to keep my eyes wide open, too.



  1. Now THAT is a vision of group critique that I will keep in my mind for a good, long while …

  2. Thank you for this post.
    I’ve been running into a lot of fairly dogmatic stuff about writing on the web this past week (you must do this! you must do that! or you’re not a writer!), so this gentle, thoughtful post about it being okay to nurture others’ writing a little was just what I needed to hear.

  3. The Moral of the Story
    As teacher teaches, teacher is taught?

  4. Thanks, Loree.

  5. Thanks, Janni. I’m a lot of things, but dogmatic re writing isn’t usually one of them. I guess I’m too fumbling through myself.

  6. Re: The Moral of the Story
    Absolutely. Not that I will refuse a paycheck…

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