My Students, My Readers

This might be my worst idea yet.

Some of my freshmen (class of 2016) have asked to read the current draft of my novel as their “outside reading project” this semester. My first inclination was to say “No” since I want them to read great literature or at least something fantastically entertaining. I’m proud of my story—especially my latest draft, but I’m not in the same league as Rowling, Collins, Tolkien, Card, Asimov, Bester, Conroy, or a thousand others. Besides that, it would be weird for me to have them come in asking questions about my own story. Their reading it makes me vulnerable.

However, I have agreed to their request for several reasons:
1. I am happy with the novel and have received positive feedback from a few editors and other readers.
2. The students seem genuinely interested in what I’ve been up to—they think reading my book would be fun, if for no other reason than the novelty of critiquing a teacher’s work for a change.
3. I’m extremely curious about what they’ll think.
4. I think it is important that they see someone “go for it.” Hopefully, they’ll see me working toward my dream, see that it is often difficult, that it is okay to make mistakes, etc. I’m not giving up and I’m having fun.
5. And there’s a more academic reason: talking to them about my writing process could be a valuable learning tool for them as it (hopefully) will be for me. What I mean is, they’ll be able to ask an author direct questions like “Why did you chose to have X happen?” “How is X connected to Y?” It turns out there is a new state test heading our way in a few years (grumble-grumble-grumble) and it will test high school students on their ability to craft a story—so explaining how and why I made the decisions I did could help them consider story elements in their own writing. At the very least, it should open their eyes to the number of factors that go into an author’s decision making.

I will still encourage them to select any of the other novels on my approved list as they are, in fact, better than mine, but it seems that 10 – 20 plan on reading my draft.

Their critiques could provide great insight about what is working in the story and what is not. On the other hand, this entire ordeal may simply bring me to tears.

Of course, I expect some students to take this as an opportunity to get revenge on me for all the times I gave them something less than an “A.” That goes without saying. Still, I will encourage them to be honest in their critiques and join in my creative process and growth. If I were a student, I think I’d find this appealing. After all, it’s not every day they get an “inside scoop” and can actually help shape a story.

Oh, one last thing: no matter what my students say, “I solemnly swear not to hold their criticism against them.” They can still get an “A” on this assignment if they trash my novel.

I promise.

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