At the end of my sophomore year of college, I was accepted into the advanced playwriting sequence and the advanced poetry sequence. I was thrilled, but I knew they would both be challenging, to say the least, so I scheduled meetings with both professors to talk about the realities of completing both sequences simultaneously. The playwriting professor didn’t sugarcoat the hard work that would be involved, but she encouraged me to do it if I thought I could handle it, and we spend most of the meeting talking about the ways poetry and playwriting overlap and intertwine, and how each course could actually support my work in the other. The poetry professor told me I should pick one or the other, because it would be too hard to do both.
I went ahead and signed up for both, despite the poetry professor’s dire warnings.
The experiences could not have been more different.
The first time I read my work out loud in the poetry class, the professor literally laughed at it. I’m sure the stanza I had read was clumsy and awkward, but the professor’s response didn’t inspire me to fix it. After one or two instances like this, I changed my objective for the course: I was no longer learning to write poetry. I was learning to write poetry that matched my professor’s taste and helped me avoid weekly humiliation in the classroom. Before this course, I used to fill journals and journals full of poems. Since, I haven’t written more than half a dozen.
In playwriting, on the other hand, I had the opposite experience. The professor’s expectations were through the roof, and she demanded professionalism and accountability in every moment. But when she gave feedback, it was designed to help us find solutions. When I was struggling with a scene, I was excited to take it to her and ask for help. I brought my best effort to class each week, and I wasn’t afraid to try new things or take risks, because I knew that, when I shared my clumsy efforts, my professor and classmates would work with me to find ways to improve.
Today, when I work with authors, I do everything I can to channel that playwriting professor. I won’t tell a client her work is fabulous when it’s not—that’s not helpful. But I’m not there to tear anyone down. I’m on the same team as my authors, and it’s in both of our best interest to make each manuscript the best possible version of itself. I’m here to equip authors with the tools they need to hone their instincts and their prose in order to bring their stories to life on the page.
I have high standards, and I’ll shoot you straight, but my goal is to guide and inspire each author I work with to meet those standards and create a manuscript she can be proud of.