Amanda Cockrell

Selected Works

Young Adult Novel
Saints and soldiers and the Untied Church of Dog
The Hollywood blacklist and a delayed funeral
Historical novel of a Roman legion in Britain
The Horse Catchers trilogy
Mythological novel of the coming of the horse to the American Southwest
Volume 2 in The Horse Catchers trilogy
Volume 3 in The Horse Catchers trilogy
The Deer Dancers trilogy
Mythological novel of the beginning of art
Volume 2 in The Deer Dancers trilogy
Volume 3 in The Deer Dancers trilogy
Children's books
By my mother, Marian Cockrell, the story of an enchanted castle on the edge of Fairyland

What We Keep

A fall meditation for the classroom

September 9, 2013

Tags: teaching writing, Hollins

My first fall class meets tonight. Itís not a writing class but I keep thinking anyway about a poem I read last month in The Sun, by Ellery Akers. In it she mentions the professor who wrote ďcrapĒ on her first poem for his class. Disconsolate, she decided that it must be crap. Obviously she didnít take it entirely to heart since she has published regularly. But Iíd like to find that professor and ask him how many other writers he imagines he did destroy. The ones not as thick of skin, not as resilient. The ones who decided that their work was crap. And who does he think he is, I would like to inquire in my imagined conversation, to decide what is crap anyway? Most of us arenít very good at the beginning. Most of us regularly arenít very good now, and only with considerable biting and chipping and tearing of hair and revision after revision do we approach good. Sometimes we approach and it takes off into the bushes.

The idea that writers need to toughen up in order to survive rejection is true if you donít want to spend all your time as a puddle. But it is not the job of your teachers to do it for you by browbeating you. Being able to withstand bullying does not make you a better writer, as I once heard a well-known writer insist that it did Ė he was going to cull the sheep from the goats among his students by sheer meanness in the guise of critique. Sheep who fled baaíing werenít meant to be writers after all and didnít deserve to be. I imagine the goats who stuck it out might have become pretty good writers, or at least thick-skinned ones, but I hate to think what their marriages are like if they took his approach to heart.

Personally, Iíve found that kindness and useful suggestions go a lot farther. You owe them truth, of course, but the package it comes in matters a lot.


  1. September 9, 2013 5:39 PM EDT
    One's reaction to any art-form is subjective, and opinions relative to art are like anal orifices: everybody has one, they are useful, but they should be accredited, i.e. given authority or sanction when recognized standards are met. In art, especially writing, recognized standards are as blurred as a hummingbird's wings. No one, including professors, is the final word.

    Indeed, I, although not a professor, do not care much for William Faulkner or James Joyce, both Nobel Laureates. Who am I? No one, but I do have tastes that I enjoy. "Stream of consciousness" is not one, and issues of diction and cadence can bore me. However, my not caring for Faulkner and Joyce does not diminish them, obviously.

    Now, when I writer can cease to take herself seriously, relax, and just enjoy the act of scribbling words, no amount of criticism, good or bad, can diminish them. Remember, every critic has a right to critique, but they are never all right.
    - Anonymous
  2. September 17, 2013 12:31 PM EDT
    This is such a good lesson for teachers of any art- Our job is is best spent as facilitators and discussion artists.
    - aroberson

Chocolate novios for Day of the Dead

Noon Whistle at the Lizard Works

Back yard bottle tree

The last hurrah

Delia Sherman and Ruth Sanderson, summer Children's Lit faculty

Children's Lit faculty Brian Attebery and Ellen Kushner at the end-of-term party