A&HHE Special issue December 2016AHHELogo-e1420559902593

‘Have you considered … ?’: written feedback and the student creative writer

Patrick Allington

Flinders University


Writers need editors, and writers need to learn how to work with editors. For their part, editors need to provide cogent advice about a manuscript. Importantly, though, they need to do so in a way that accommodates writers’ sensitivies. Similarly, academics providing feedback to university creative writing students need to be aware of a complex mix of priorities – complex because although a piece of feedback is a response to a formal task undertaken in a learning environment, it is also a response to individual creativity. I draw on my working history as both editor and academic to consider the content, limits, motivations and, not least, the tone and language of giving feedback on fiction manuscripts. In particular, I compare written feedback that academics provide to students with the feedback professional editors give to writers. While I identify differences between the two activities, I conclude that the juggling act editors engage in – challenging the author and identifying problems with a manuscript, while also affirming the person and the project – is directly relevant to creative writing academics seeking to offer constructive and truthful but non-damaging feedback for students.


Creative writing, editing, feedback, fiction, Steven Carroll, Lucy Neave, Peter Carey

What’s the question?

The critically acclaimed and prize-winning Melbourne novelist Steven Carroll does quite a few things ‘wrong’. From my critical perspective, Carroll periodically stands charged with didacticism, telling not showing, over-explanation, a reliance on coincidences to drive the plot and develop characters, repetition, and prose that moves so slowly that at times it almost seems statuesque. Despite these apparent or theoretical flaws, Carroll’s novels succeed. Frequently, they soar.

Steven Carroll is not the subject here, or not directly. Instead, I consider the complex mix of priorities, issues and desired outcomes that are in play when a university teacher provides written feedback to a creative writing university student. I focus on the content, motivation and responsibilities of written feedback. Perhaps most especially, I focus on the language and tone of feedback. In particular, I explore connections and differences between editorial feedback and teacher-to-student feedback.

The list of apparent flaws in Carroll’s work encapsulates many of the actual flaws evident in student writing. This essay, then, is in part a cautionary tale about the vexing qualities of feedback – both its details and its tone. What are some of the key factors that a writer of feedback might usefully consider when writing such feedback? To begin answering this question involves me acknowledging that, as a teacher of creative writing, I need to take a contextual view, a long view, a realistic view, a creative view and an industry view. Far from being perplexed or confused by these multiple views, I welcome the convoluted and dynamic qualities involved when writers attempt to find their personal version of excellence.

Three parameters frame this discussion. First, I argue that the tone of feedback is critical and that the way editors communicate with writers is relevant to the way creative writing teachers might frame feedback. I conduct discussion around Australian novelist and academic Lucy Neave’s description of the genesis of her novel Who We Were (2013). I argue that the tone of fine editorial feedback is, on the one hand, rigorous and critical, and, on the other hand, affirming, and I suggest that teacher-to-student feedback would benefit from a similar juggling act.

Second, I argue that writing fiction can never amount to following a checklist of ‘do’s and don’t’s’, not least because writers such as Steven Carroll routinely break the rules. While counselling ‘don’t rely on checklists’ might seem uncontroversial, it is a proposal that bears remembering every time an editor or teacher considers how to critically respond to a work of fiction.

Third, I reiterate that failure or misstepping is a necessary part of a writer’s development. Framed around a discussion of the writing ‘voice’, I discuss the Australian novelist Peter Carey’s early writing history. Many writers work on stories that they do not finish or that do not succeed. That such ‘failures’ form a legitimate and sometimes vital part of a writer’s development and/or professional practice is a challenge for a teacher of creative writing – and not just because it is difficult to know how to formally assess a grand or honourable or necessary failure.

In part, I offer exegetical commentary on my own personal working history, considering the different types of written feedback I have provided to fiction writers over a number of years of varied professional practice. I have looked for common ground between these different types of feedback, and for differences. In addition to now being a creative writing academic, I have been, or continue to be, the following: an editor of fiction accepted for publication; a reader who rejects fiction for publication; a manuscript assessor who writes written reports on fiction manuscripts, assessing strengths, weaknesses and publishability; a judge of writing competitions; a one-on-one writing mentor in non-academic settings; a workshop convenor in non-academic settings; a writer-in-residence at a nursing home; and a professional critic of fiction (‘professional’ means that I did it for money, but not that I made a living wage from it).

In the context or giving and receiving feedback, I note that I am an active writer of fiction whose work is sometimes accepted for publication and edited, sometimes rejected for publication, and sometimes, at least in the first instance, neither accepted nor rejected. The editors who have worked with me on my writing – both fiction and non-fiction – have had a marked impact on both my writing and editing. An example: one editor I worked with demonstrated his acute understanding of my manuscript by debating its merits with an external reader, in the process offering a description of the story that captured what I was trying to achieve in more accurate terms than I had myself managed. The gave me, the writer, complete confidence in him, the editor.

The broadly related topic of the creative writing workshop, a teaching and learning space ubiquitous in many creative writing programs in which a facilitator and a small group of students come together to discuss each other’s work, is not my focus here. Certainly, the limitations, tensions and possibilities of the workshop space, including its capacity to develop students’ ability to give and receive feedback, warrants ongoing assessment. But here my focus is elsewhere. Neither do I include a survey of student reactions to teacher feedback, even though such surveys can serve a useful function at the immediate conclusion of a topic and, perhaps even more so, after a passage of time. Here, I focus predominently on written feedback from editors/teachers to writers/students.

Not different but different

On one level, a creative writing assignment is no different to other types of university assignments. A marker marks an assignment based on a transparent set of criteria (a formal or informal rubric). A course coordinator might make decisions about whether to mark a piece of work using summative or formative assessment: ‘in summative assessment, a student’s work may be assessed ultimately as providing certification that the student has achieved the required standard in a subject or discipline as a whole’ (Taylor and da Silva, 2014: 795), whereas in ‘formative assessment’ ‘a student’s work may be assessed as part of the learning process with the aim of improving the student’s performance’ (Taylor and da Silva, 2014: 796).

Another key consideration is whether, and to what extent, the student has or has not actually answered the question asked. If, for example, the assignment asks a student to write 500 words in the style of Stephen King but the student produces 1100 words that more resembles the prose of Joan Didion, can the student expect to receive a high distinction even if the marker decides that those 1100 words are brilliant? If the answer is ‘no’ – because (1) Stephen King is not Joan Didion, and (2) 1100 words is more than double the word limit – then the marker needs to think not merely about how to ‘grade’ the assignment (how to give it a number) but also how to respond to the student. Specifically, the marker needs to be able to explain why those 1100 brilliant words do not answer the question, while finding a way to acknowledge the brilliance.

But however much a creative writing assignment is simply that – a university assignment, and therefore a ‘writing exercise’ or a ‘writing task’ – it is also an act of individual creativity. When writers place words of fiction on the page or on the computer screen, they expose their inner worlds to scrutiny and possible ridicule: to write fiction (or poetry or memoir) is a genuinely exposing act. Most student writers, even highly proficient ones, are still developing their craft. If the industry talks about ‘emerging writers’, many student writers are ‘pre-emerging’ writers. Such categorisations reflect partly on quality, but they are mainly about industry and reader exposure and recognition. Student writers are often unused to submitting their work for publication, and unfamiliar with the feelings associated with strangers (whether industry or the general public) reading their work.

But even when student-writers are in the earliest stages of developing their craft, they frequently display writerly characteristics that are recognisable in established writers. Good editors are often mindful of these writerly characteristics (and bad editors, in my view, ignore them at their peril), which include the following:

  • a mix of intense confidence – or even arrogance – and intense self-doubt (sometimes a writer alternates between these two extremes, but, from my observations, a writer often experiences these extremes simultaneously)
  • public pronouncements by a writer that he or she craves critical feedback, followed by sullenness or hostility when the feedback actually appears
  • suspicion about the motives of editors, irrespective of the actual content of the feedback (as in, ‘nobody messes with my vision’ or ‘the marketing department sent you, right?’).

It is an editor’s responsibility to understand an author’s susceptibilities to feedback and to phrase critical comments accordingly – but to do so without the slightest equivocation – in order to help a writer produce the best possible version of an author’s manuscript. But before that – that is, before the moment when an editor delivers feedback and an author reads it, or, at the very least, at the front end of that moment – it is an editor’s responsibility to demonstrate to the author that the editor knows what the author is aiming to achieve with a given manuscript. That is no small task, and it is not easily achieved. Writers, whether or not they are students, sometimes feel confused by diverse or even contradictory appraisals of works-in-progress. They also sometimes carry with them the demons of past bad experiences (there are all sorts of reasons why an editing process can go wrong). A good editor starting on a new manuscript, and establishing a relationship with a new author, understands and takes account of all this.

In this context, it is worth noting that the mechanics of feedback from editors is not something that is especially widely discussed. In part, this is because the industry (including writers) likes to maintain the illusion that writing and publishing fiction is always a solitary task. As Mandy Brett has pointed out, readers like that illusion too: ‘The feeling I have when reading fiction–of a single mind feeding me experience and sensation–is seldom articulated but incredibly powerful. As a reader, I don’t want fiction to be a group project’ (Brett, 2011). I am partly sympathetic to the idea than an editor should stay in the shadows, but I also agree with Brett that it is odd that a worker in the arts aims for, or should be expected to aim for, invisibility. She is also right to acknowledge the role of gender in this invisibility: ‘it is gendered obviously and I am not going to try and flog that old sack of horsemeat into a canter, but we all know that where there are a lot of women in the same line of work it tends coincidentally to be characterised as more servile and less prestigious: subtly less worth evaluating or acknowledging’ (Brett, 2011).

I do not suggest that the way an editor works with a writer can or should translate neatly into the way a teacher might offer written feedback to a university student. For one thing, an editor who is working with a writer towards publication has determined that the manuscript should be published: in other words, the editor and/or the publisher admire the manuscript and the editor has a personal investment in the final, published version of it. That is not necessarily the case for student-writers (although it is thrilling to read a high quality piece of fiction written by student). It is often the case, too, that students are working on first drafts or early drafts – and many writers’ early drafts are poor (mine certainly are).

But even though the scenarios are clearly different, the language of editorial feedback can be instructive, I argue, in determining the tone of written feedback to students. Not least, if editors working with writers need to maintain a delicate juggle between criticism and affirmation, this same juggling act is necessary when providing feedback to relatively unformed student writers. There is no single correct approach, but writing teachers might clearly define, at least to their individual satisfaction, what they believe their duty of care is in terms of fostering and nurturing student writers.

On tiptoeing and brutal truths

The Australian novelist and creative writing academic Lucy Neave has written about the feedback (both oral and written) she received while writing what later became her debut novel, Who We Were (2013). After noting that ‘there is apparently little scholarship on the experience of being read and the impact of criticism on writers’ final drafts’ (Neave, 2014), Neave discusses the impact that feedback she received from various readers had on her working draft. One of these readers was a friend of Neave’s who was enrolled with her in a graduate creative writing program in the US – in other words, they were peers. But – significantly – this friend was also the editor of a literary magazine. The following forms part of what the friend wrote to Neave in an email:

‘The descriptions of nature, the more sensual aspects of the story, are some of my favourite prose. I would love to see that same texture and depth given to the emotional aspects of the story and to their view of their own work. If you were to show them when they’re happy, show them beginning to fall apart, and don’t worry about explaining it, but instead dramatizing it, I think you will have a dramatic leap forward.’ (quoted in Neave, 2014)

For Neave, the key point of this feedback is that her friend (politely) requests ‘more scenes’. But as Neave says, this feedback does not speak of vague ‘wrongness’, but instead offers particulars about the manuscript’s failings. It is a critical element of editing practice that feedback should be specific and comprehensible. I once worked with a poet (this was in a community rather than an academic setting) who tended to periodically draw words and phrases together in a characteristically unwieldy fashion, which fractured the flow, balance, clarity and especially the rhythm of his writing. I frequently wrote a single word – ‘clunky’ – in the margin of his manuscripts. This poet-in-training knew exactly what I meant by ‘clunky’ because of our shared history of giving, receiving and debating feedback. He and I had a one-on-one vocabulary that had evolved over time; in other words, we had a relationship. But if I had written ‘clunky’ on the manuscript of other writer in the group, it would be meaningless while also being negative in a non-specific way; or it might have meant something different in the context of a different one-on-one relationship. A creative writing teacher might find particularly challenging the need to provide this sort of personalised feedback to an undergraduate creative writing topic with a sizeable enrolment that runs for a semester.

The quote from Lucy Neave’s reader is particularly interesting because it is full of the language of an editor. Consider it again: ‘The descriptions of nature, the more sensual aspects of the story, are some of my favourite prose’ (emphasis added). This feedback offers praise and encouragement, but it does not gush. Importantly, it is specific; the reader says why she likes certain elements of the prose.

The reader goes on: ‘I would love to see that same texture and depth given to the emotional aspects of the story’ (emphasis added). The reader could have said ‘You have failed to give the emotional aspects of the story sufficient texture and depth’. She could even have said ‘this sucks’ or ‘this fails’. Instead, the reader’s phrasing opens up options and possibilities. Rather than rejecting or criticising the draft in imprecise terms, the reader imagines and invites a bolder, deeper version of a draft. The quote continues: ‘If you were to show them when they’re happy, show them beginning to fall apart, and don’t worry about explaining it, but instead dramatizing it, I think you will have a dramatic leap forward’ (emphases added). Again, the phrasing is open-ended rather than absolute: the reader effectively says ‘have you considered …?’ and even ‘let’s talk about this’, rather than delivering a prescriptive ‘you must do this’ or, even worse, ‘if I was writing your book, I’d write a different book altogether and you should too’.

These observations might sound like excessive tiptoeing, and could prompt the counter-proposition that writers should collectively toughen up. A generalisation based on personal experience: writers are sensitive – sometimes overly sensitive (Norton, 2009: 31-33). But the point of positively phrased feedback is not to pander to these sensitivities. Instead, the point – whether the feedback is for students, for amateur writers or for working writers – is to strike a balance: to offer the unadorned truth – if necessary, the brutal truth – delivered in a constructive, accessible and positive tone (Brett, 2011). In this respect, student writers are no different to established writers: given the slightest opportunity, they are likely to interpret positively expressed criticism to mean ‘You are a genius’. A painstakingly modulated tone allows an editor to say so much more and with more precision – and increases the chances of a writer hearing what the editor is actually saying. The published version of Neave’s Who We Were is an assured debut novel, one that draws together the personal, the professional, the cross-cultural and, especially, the political to telling effect (Allington, 2013).


I began by offering a list of things that the writer Steven Carroll appears to do wrong while writing his novels. There are various reasons why a novel cannot be reduced to a checklist of technical practices. Partly, it is because no single element of a story (plot, characterisation, dialogue, and so on) works in isolation: fiction writers draw these elements together carefully, crafting something that comes to appear, but rarely is, spontaneous. It’s also because writers do what they do – including, seemingly, twist or break ‘rules’ – in response to telling particular parts of stories in particular ways. As Xavier Pons suggests, Carroll distorts the real world of outer-Melbourne suburbia by magnifying key moments, and ‘attempts to breathe new life into realism by developing original narrative methods that renovate the usual conventions of realist fiction’ (2014: 11). Reviewing Carroll’s 2015 novel, Forever Young, Kerryn Goldsworthy also refers to ‘the Dickensian coincidences that Carroll uses unapologetically to illustrate the way that time loops itself around in the mind to produce moments of significance and illumination’ (Goldsworthy, 2015). Goldsworthy is correct that Carroll uses coincidences unapologetically. As the coincidences pile up in Forever Young (Carroll, 2015), Carroll’s feat is to convince readers to play along.

The example of Carroll makes clear, I think, that the idea of measuring a piece of fiction against a checklist is inherently flawed. Even highly skilled editors cannot insert themselves inside an author’s head. Feedback given without care – that is, feedback offered without taking fully into account the specific intent of a work-in-progress – can be unhelpful or even destructive, especially for student-writers still learning the craft of accepting, rejecting and interpreting feedback. When aspiring fiction writers first start thinking seriously about how to hone their craft – before they even expose their actual work to the scrutiny of actual readers – they are inundated with advice in the abstract, in the form of tips and rules that often include exactly the sort of ‘writerly sins’ that I identified as present in Steven Carroll’s work, and which, it is true, in most writing can indicate substantial flaws.

For a new or aspiring writer, a Google search will elicit pages of abstract, impersonal advice, often presented in the form of a list. This advice rains down on new, formative and emerging writers, delivered by everyone from fellow novices to living and dead luminaries such as Margaret Atwood (2010), Kurt Vonnegut (Popova, 2012), and many others. Some of these lists are prescriptive, implying that writing fiction consists of following rules, while others are aware of such limitations. And some, as with US crime writer Elmore Leonard’s ‘10 Rules of Writing’, are themselves entertaining and rigorous pieces of writing: ‘Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip’ (Leonard, 2010).[1]

A good deal of these impersonal instructions can be reduced to three well-worn maxims of creative writing: ‘write what you know’, ‘show don’t tell’ and ‘find your voice’. In his absorbing study of post-World War II creative writing programs in the US, Mark McGurl suggests these three maxims represent three key elements of ‘the abstract model of the autopetic process as the Program Era has understood it’. McGurl equates ‘write what you know’ with ‘experience’, under which he tiers ‘authenticity’ and then ‘memory, observation’. He equates ‘show don’t tell’ with ‘craft’ (or technique), under which he tiers ‘tradition’ and then ‘revision, concentration’. He links ‘find you voice’ to creativity, which includes ‘freedom’ and then ‘imagination, fantasy’ (2009: 23).

What the first of these maxims – ‘write what you know’ – does and does not mean is contested. All writers should strive for authenticity, but authenticity for a fiction writer should not, and generally does not, resemble the type of authenticity that, say, a non-fiction writer (whether historian, memoirist, journalist, science writer or so on) strives for. Believability and objective accuracy are not necessarily bedfellows in fiction. In addition, the pursuit of accuracy can lead to excessive exposition. Fiction writers should roam free … if they choose to. Fiction writers should explore whatever they feel compelled to explore. As a throwaway piece of feedback, ‘write what you know’ runs directly counter, I believe, to the very purpose of fiction. In new writers, it can foster an unedifying safeness.

A fiction writer relies, at least in part, on technique to achieve authenticity. In this context, the second maxim – ‘show don’t tell’ – is vital, as Lucy Neave and her designated reader seem to agree, and as I would suggest that many other editors, writers and readers would agree. My personal assessment of much of the unpublished contemporary fiction that I have encountered is that it would benefit from less summary and more scenes and more details: sometimes scenes are absent or near-absent, and sometimes scenes compete with redundant and deflating summary. I do not suggest that fiction can or should be free of summary. Nonetheless, stories are animated by action, allowing readers to become actual witnesses to events. And yet, Steven Carroll is an example of a fiction writer who seems to embrace ‘telling not showing’, and he does so to critical acclaim. Similarly, the US writer Philip Roth, for example, has forged a formidable reputation by over-telling. In broad terms, fiction writers persistently break or twist ‘rules’, creating unique solutions to their unique problems.

The third well-worn creative writing maxim is ‘find your voice’. But what does this mysterious direction actually mean? The Australian writer and publisher Angela Meyer has written that the question of whether a manuscript has ‘a strong voice’ seems ‘instinctual’ and ‘intangible’. Meyer identifies three specific (if related) elements: ‘the voice of a text’, ‘a writer’s voice’ and ‘being a voice for, or of …’, as in ‘She was the voice of a generation’ (Meyer, 2015).

To what extent, though, does a student-writer understand feedback that reads ‘you’re really finding the voice’ or ‘the voice is erratic here’? For many student-writers, the writing voice is a work-in-progress. Where the voice comes from, and how it emerges, is complex and hazy. It has to do with reading and with experiments in writing, with the influences of various other art forms (not least, in the twenty-first century, film and television) and with the influences of any number of personal, psychological, cultural, and political, peer or familial influences. Meyer links a writer’s voice to a writer’s concerns:

‘Concerns’ are a writer’s obsessions or fascinations: themes like death, secrets and love; settings or objects they are drawn to; even more abstract elements, like a particular colour. A writer may not know why ‘yellow’ or ‘hallways’ are a concern (these are two of mine), but this not-knowing is interrogated through the writing itself. (Meyer, 2015)

Meyer goes on to suggest that when writers are yet to ‘find’ their voice,

… it is evident in their writing – particularly when it has an uneven or erratic pace, so that the voice only comes through in snatches like a car radio in a dead zone; or when it has an overly earnest tone … Overt performativity is another giveaway, because the writer is still mimicking the form or style of others, without having gone deep enough … and matching their own concerns to an appropriate form. (Meyer, 2015)

It is unsurprising that student writers do not have an assured voice. Some writers never acquire it. Meyer cites James Baldwin, who wrote four novels before he published one. Similarly, the Australian novelist Peter Carey wrote three unpublished novels before switching to short stories, publishing the influential short story collections The Fat Man in History (1974) and War Crimes (1979). Subsequently, he switched back to novels, publishing Bliss in 1981. When I interviewed Carey in 2014, he said this about those early short stories:

I began only wanting to write novels and then I wrote short stories because all my grand – or grandiose – schemes to build these mansions of fiction failed. I came back to Australia and just thought, well, maybe I can build some really interesting little sheds and that would be good. And, indeed, that’s what those short stories were, and they were the first things I ever did that came close to succeeding. (Carey, in Allington, 2015: 158).

Somewhere in that time, Carey found his writing voice, which at its best is a rollicking, politically charged, highly inventive, sardonic and audacious voice. Perhaps this stemmed from a honing of craft/technique – an ability to control his sentences and paragraphs in the service of his sustained vision. Whatever else happened in that time, Carey found his voice. He went on to win the Booker Prize twice, although not necessarily for the right novels.


When I interviewed Peter Carey in 2014, I asked him if he ever revisited his first unpublished novels. He replied as follows:

For a lot of years I did. I’d go back – and you’d sort of have this childish hope that they’d matured in the top drawer, and that when you take them out they’ll be wonderful. And of course, they weren’t. And the things that were wrong before have, in a way, got worse with time. No one was unfair to me. In fact, people were very generous to me. I wasn’t unfairly rejected. People were kind; people recognised talent and supported this and extracted that and so on, but… no, they’re not going to get any better, they’re only going to get worse. (Carey, in Allington, 2015: 159)

At one point, the publisher Sun Books planned to publish one of the manuscripts, ‘The Futility Machine’. Years later, Carey told the would-be publisher that, ‘In retrospect I think I was very lucky I wasn’t published’ (quoted in Munro, 2015: 51). Whatever wonders and promise those early Carey novels possessed, they failed in publishers’ eyes and Carey’s own eyes. But it is worth considering the long view: Carey’s success later excellence emerged, at least in part, from a foundation of provisional failure. Audacious and ambitious writers are bound to sometimes produce manuscripts that fail.

Written feedback delivered to a student-writer should aim to avoid messing with this process of failing, as a simple mark of respect to that student writer, while also, as noted previously, being brutally truthful and offering criticism in a spirit of open dialogue.

Related to this discussion of failure is the idea of non-knowing. The English novelist and creative writing academic Andrew Cowan has written that, ‘I think the truest think I can say about my own experience of writing is that I don’t know what I am doing. Writing is the activity where I feel most adrift, least competent, most uncertain, least aware. I stumble along’ (2011). Cowan went on to quote writers – including Joan Didion, W.G. Sebald, E.M. Forster, Elizabeth Hardwick and others – expressing similar sentiments. He quotes David Malouf, for example, who says, ‘Writers have to be – naive is the wrong word – but in a state of innocence when writing. Everything you think you know you have to let fall out of your head, because the only thing that’s going to be interesting in the book is what you don’t yet know’ (Malouf, quoted in Cowan),  Aa a fiction writer, I agree with Cowan and Malouf, and yet the idea and ideal of non-knowing can be confusing and even disingenuous. I understand, as William Trevor puts it, that many writers write ‘out of curiosity and bewilderment’ (quoted in Cowan), and yet writers are experts in employing a storied, rigorous and highly crafted version of bewilderment.

Experimentation and conformity

Some critics, editors and publishers complain or worry that literature has become technically proficient but bland, predictable and safe – and too infrequently bold. To whatever extent this is true, we should not accept the assumption that creative writing programs are to blame for this by favouring conformity or standardisation over experimentation and originality. Nonetheless, in focusing on the complexities of written feedback and fiction, I acknowledge that creative writing programs have an obligation to students and to the wider culture to not use the acquisition of technique and skill to dampen originality.

A persistent bigger question casts its predictable shadow: can creative writing be taught? On one level, this is a question worth asking and re-asking. Mark McGurl, for one, has done so to stunning effect in his sharply nuanced, opinionated and entertaining history of postwar creative writing programs in the US. But the question is often asked and answered in a tiresome and facile fashion. As with medicine, as with law, as with the violin, creative writing can be taught well, indifferently or poorly. Regardless, students probably will not all win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Or as the US writer and academic John Barth once said, ‘Not even in America can one major in Towering Literary Artistry’ (Menard, 2009). But for student writers of all levels, there is value in fostering skills in receiving editorial feedback and in developing self-editing skills.


[1] The list is readily available online, and which later appeared in book  form (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2010), was first published in the New York Times, 16 July 2001.


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