When I was in fifth grade, I had this teacher who was awful. Mr. Hunger. Yes, that was his real name. I probably wouldn’t remember much about being 10, or his class, except for the fact that he was a very, very harsh grader. He gave me my first “D” and told me my writing sucked…
Writing, much like reading, was always something I’d enjoyed. I liked penning characters, developing plot lines and creating drama even at a young age. I loved English class. I can’t decide if I like reading more than writing or vice versa, but I figure they are so interwoven it doesn’t much matter.
Our end of the year assignment was to write a fictional piece of our choosing, about anything we wanted. Being a huge Fear Street fan, the genre I read the most, I opted to go the murder mystery route to express myself. Probably not something you’d expect from a 10 year old…but whatever, shoot for the stars.
I spent weeks writing my story. I took the whole thing very seriously because I wanted it to be good. I had, even at 10 an innate desire to impress people with words.
When I turned the paper in, I had hole punched the edges and tied them together with string, I had typed the story out–this was back before that sort of effort was expected and even asked my tutor to go over it with me.
It was extremely detailed, about two friends out to lunch and a murder happens. Like I said, deep for a fifth grader, but if I was going to write something it was going to be all balls to wall.
I was very, very proud of the piece I turned out.
I waited anxiously for Mr. Hunger to return the assignment. When he finally did, he failed me. The F I earned was huge enough to pull my solid B down to a D in the blink of an eye. Ouch, that hurt.
I went home in tears, embarrassed–not by the my lackluster grade overall, but by the dismal performance of my paper. And, to be honest, it wasn’t even the F that hurt the most, it wasn’t the failing, it was the comments scrawled across the page that hit an emotional nerve. He said my story was bad. Not bad because the spelling was poor or the grammar left much to be desired…he didn’t like the topic and looked for reasons to grade me poorly because of it. (and if we’re being honest, isn’t that what most critics do?)
I am still stupefied, all these years later as I revisit the review, that creative writing can be judged on topic. Doesn’t that go against everything creativity is supposed to inspire?
Mr. Hunger still teaches in my old district, at another school. I did a quick google search and that’s all I was able to discover about him.
But, I should thank him. And maybe someday, if I ever get published, I’ll drop him a note with a copy of my book–and welcome his review, of course…
His harshness prepared me for the rest of the critics that would follow, most of which I’m sure I haven’t even encountered yet. There is something about being told you’re bad that hurts, but also makes you stronger, thickens the skin, makes your work ethic brawny. It’s a lesson in the way the world operates, you can’t please all the people all the time.
Bad reviews are painful, they suck, they are the worst. But if you take them in the right way, they help you grow. Mr. Hunger showed me that, maybe, horror wasn’t my genre–and that’s okay. I can do something else…and be better for it.