Taking edits from your editor

Instructors give cherubs feedback on their assignments, ranging from grammar and AP Style edits to suggestions on improving content. Photo by Andrea Klick

For as long as I can remember, teachers have told me that I’m a talented writer.

While my classmates struggled to craft a readable sentence, I would whip out essays and articles in a few hours. My English teachers praised me constantly and gave minimal feedback on my assignments. I thought my work was flawless and that no matter where I went, teachers would adore every piece I penned.

And then I came to cherubs.

On the third night of the program, we participated in rotating rewrites, an activity equivalent to journalism boot camp. Basically, we rewrote leads until our instructors approved them, and we couldn’t head back to the dorms until our writing was suitable.

“This should be easy,” I thought. “Leads are Journalism 101. I’ll be out of here soon.”

I was not.

When I brought my first lead to Mary Lou Song, my instructor, she stared at it for a second, looked up at me and simply said, “No.” After each attempt, she crossed out phrases and wrote notes all over my work. And with each correction, I focused less and less on the assignment.

Instead, I wasted my time questioning my writing career. Did my teachers lie to me when they said my writing was good? How did I get into this program? Why did my parents spend all this money to find out I was awful on the third night?

I took the feedback as an attack on my writing abilities, and it showed in my work. Looking back, those leads were some of the worst sentences I’ve ever written, but I didn’t care in that moment.

For the next few days, I didn’t turn my assignments in until the last minute, not because they weren’t finished but because I didn’t want my work to be criticized.

Then, at our first one-on-one meeting, Mary Lou talked to me about how I reacted to feedback. During our conversation, she answered all the questions I had been asking myself. This feedback was meant to help me improve my work, not make me question my talent, and I wouldn’t be in this program if I didn’t belong.

After that talk, my outlook changed. I stopped worrying about being critiqued and started writing and reporting because I loved it again. Each time I got an assignment back, I analyzed all of Mary Lou’s comments, taking note of how I could improve my next article.

I started to enjoy being critiqued because it meant that I had a new challenge to focus on for my next piece.

By the end of the program, I saw my writing improve immensely. I know I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t learned to take edits first.