This week starts the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year for Online/Distance Learning students at SNHU. For this term, I am taking Intro to Critical Thinking. It’s considered a philosophy course and comes highly recommended for writing students.
Why Critical Thinking? Well the easiest explanation is it helps in editing. It is the essential skill when you edit your first draft that will help you “kill your darlings.” It’s a term that, as writers, we hear over and over and over and over again. It’s beat into us our entire careers. William Faulkner said it first, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” Stephen King followed in his book On Writing, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
As much as we hear it as writers, a surprising number of people don’t understand the term. When someone says “kill your darlings,” they aren’t saying to follow in the footsteps of the oh-so-murderous George R. R. Martin. There is no rule that says murder all your favorite characters even though we all know a good, old fashioned, offing of a beloved character can improve a story considerably when done right. Spoiler Alert: I am still salty over Sirius Black. But no, killing your darlings is in reference to editing.
Killing your darlings equates to cutting the fat out of your writing. Getting rid of things that are either filler or no longer relevant to the story, even if you have simply fallen in love with what your wrote. Thats where classes like Intro to Critical Thinking come into play. The course is designed to help students look at the world around them as objectively as possible. That objectivity can help writers look at their work as a whole and recognize when something is unnecessary, no matter how beautifully written it may be.
Our first week’s worth of assignments are pretty basic. Lots of introductions and getting to know our classmates. We are also discussing arguments we’ve either overheard or participated in and looking at rather the people involved showed critical thinking and objectivity or if they reacted emotionally. I chose a recent argument witnessed in one of the writing groups I am active in about why using food to describe people of color comes across as, at minimum, racially insensitive and at worst outright racist. Obviously, it is a highly charged topic, and I won’t get into my personal beliefs about it here, but reading through the discussion, it is easy to see who replied based on emotion and who replied based on objectivity.
I’m definitely looking forward to this course. I am a TOUCH nervous about the instructor for this course, he seems a bit… overzealous? I am not sure of the word that would best fit but there is something that already feels a little off. It should prove to be an interesting semester at least!