What I always find most interesting, though, aren't the drafts themselves, but the responses I get once I've returned them with feedback. So many of you are writers, and even if you are not highly sensitive to criticism yourself, you know at least a few writers who are. You can remind me, if you like, how hard it is to hear that something you've written isn't fantastic, and I'll agree.
When I send my own writing out into the world--whether to another writer or a beta reader--I naturally hope to hear how fantastic it is, that I'm going to be the next J.K. Rowling, that it was a life-changing work, etc. That's not what I hear, though, and I am prepared for that. I have pretty thick skin.
My students, however, do not. Their skin is thin, for many of them have not been writing long, and they may have never shared their writing with others before. First they get feedback from others in class, and then they get my response, covered in blue or purple comments. I don't use a red pen, but that doesn't mean the comments don't hurt.
I could be gentler, letting them get by with more, but that wouldn't serve my students in the long run. That would be akin to telling a friend/writer that his or her novel is ready to be published when I couldn't get through it. I don't tell my students what to write, but my #1 task is to help them write what they want to write in the best possible way. And that means I have to be honest.
My students do have it harder than most writers, though. Writers can choose to show their work to no one. Writers can get belligerent when feedback isn't what they want to hear. Writers can send whatever they want--in whatever stage of development--out to agents and editors, and they can curse these people when all they get in return is rejection slips.
My students have to show their work to me, even if they skip the day for peer response. They are forced to hear the criticism. Even worse, they have to use that criticism to revise and improve their papers. They can't ignore due dates or opt out of essay assignments. My classroom is a dictatorship, and I'm in charge. I'm the only editor, the only agent, the only chance they have.
Sounds pretty hopeless for them, doesn't it? It would be akin to the oppression of the setting for V for Vendetta, except for one thing. Just like real editors and agents in the real publishing world, I want my writers to do well. My feedback is intended to hone their writing, to help them accomplish their writing goals better.
Beta readers do the same, expressing when characters, settings, situations, or even individual lines of dialogue don't work, or don't fit with the rest of the work. In fact, I don't know a single person who has ever read my stuff who didn't intend to help me, even if that person didn't quite get what I was after. Yet I know so many writers who are still too afraid of failure to show their work to anyone.
Don't be afraid. Get the feedback. Welcome it. Yes, it might hurt--and you might feel bruised for quite a while--but your writing will be the better for it. The feedback you get will make all the bruises worth it.