Tell us about the harshest, most difficult to hear — but accurate — criticism you’ve ever gotten. Does it still apply?
Peggy was absolutely crushed. Written in a red marker on the title page of her short story as if from the blood of her own heart, “Rubbish, dithering screed unfit for human consumption.” It was handed back to her by Professor Carson with all the force that impelled those words.
She stayed after class to confront him. With red eyes she approached his desk.
“Are you purposely trying to fail me?’ she said timidly.
“What you wrote was sentimental drivel,” Carson said. “Meant to somehow impress me. I’m not impressed by dishonesty. Write with passion and not weepy bleeding gobbledygook. This is stuff written by silly fourteen year old girls who lives in a make-believe world of princes, princesses, toads, and evil step-mothers. You’re trying to write something you’ve read. Do me a favor and yourself and for god‘s sake this class and go to beautician‘s school.”
“You are undoubtedly the cruelest person I have ever met,” Peggy said. “And I hope you burn in hell and you are kept burning by all the earnest papers handed to you and you wrote remarks like these. They do nothing but crush a person and make them feel worthless. You are a disgusting toad yourself.”
“Young lady, did you take this class for a pat on the back or to receive an honest assessment of your work?” Carson said. “This is absolutely the worst writing I have seen since… Well, this is the worst.”
“Could you do anything more to make me feel worse?” Peggy said.
“Certainly,” Carson said. “I could publish it as is in our school’s literary journal, but that would be cruelty beyond my burning in hell. You would be laughed from your dorm. No, I think it best to kill this brain-eating bacteria before it spreads.”
Peggy stormed from the classroom and back to her dorm. She cried the entire night and reread the short story Professor Carson disliked so vehemently. After reading it she sniffled and said to herself, “He’s right.”
The next week she handed in another assignment. The criticism was of equal measure. As the year progressed Professor Carson began to write constructive and technical criticisms.
And finally one day at the end of class Carson said, “Miss Rendell, may I see you after class.”
Peggy approached his desk ready for combat. “I’m not going to beautician’s school. The only way to get rid of me is to fail me.”
Carson ignored her and said, “With your permission, Miss Rendell, I’d like to submit your latest short story to our school’s literary journal. It is quite good.”
“For how much?” Peggy said.
“Oh, you have come a long way, Miss Rendell,” Carson said. “I can get you fifty dollars.”
“If accepted that will be fine,” Peggy said.
“Do you know how many first year students are ever published in our journal?” Carson said.
“No,” Peggy said.
“None,” Carson said. “You are the first. I have rejected seasoned writers.”
Peggy smiled. “Thanks to you, Professor Carson.”
“Honesty, Miss Rendell, honesty,” Carson said. “You could have walked away from my class and never come back. Don’t allow this truth to escape you, Miss Rendell, there are no talented writers, there are only writers who persist. Keep writing, Miss Rendell.”