And while writing a fresh entry on, say, Telephone Jesus would be more original, I'm simply gonna' cut and paste most of my late, dashed off submission for my writers' group. Minus the first paragraph, which I found annoying. Probably a lot more needs to be edited, but c'est la vie...
My earliest memories of being a writer come from my school days, from when writing meant crafting a story below a picture you drew on that special paper with lines and dashes on it for big handwriting.
In the fourth grade, I wrote an Indian report. (We’d call this a Native American report today.) What stands out with this report is that it was the first piece of writing I did where I procrastinated. A lot. Apparently. Or at least, based on all the drama I remember from the event, from a meeting in the hallway with my mom and teacher about it, from the crying I did over the “I” volume of the World Book Encyclopedia, my procrastination was a BIG DEAL. This was supposed to be okay, as long as I “learned from my mistake.”
I’m quite sure it’s not the last time I’ve procrastinated, though.
In the sixth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Whelan who had a big bouffant, false eyelashes, and a charm bracelet that jingled every time she wiggled her finger in the air to point out a three syllable word. She was big on building our vocabulary by having us employ ten three syllable words for every page of writing we did, and underlining them. (Later in the year, she upped this to fifteen.) I wrote a lot of things about unicorns with amethyst eyes; I imagine I used adverbs prolifically.
I don’t do this anymore when I write. Not intentionally, anyhow. If it happens, it happens. If it don’t, it don’t.
Although the three syllable rule seems a bit ridiculous now, I do have to extend some credit to Mrs. Whelan. She pushed all of us to submit our stories to Cricket magazine contests, and so in the sixth grade, I won third place with a story about, well, a unicorn with amethyst eyes. I was the first kid in the class to win something other than an honorable mention, and it was pretty exciting to be called down to the principal’s office for this news. I still have the book that came along with the certificate; it’s still the only literary award I’ve received; and I’m still bitter that they didn’t publish third place, but they would have if it had been poetry.
Somewhere in middle school, they started switching things up from fictional story writing to essays. My writing slumped. I wasn’t as good at this, and it wasn’t as fun. You had to follow a five paragraph format and have an argument and supporting evidence and stuff. This got more sophisticated in high school, when this formula, along with the important “thesis statement” reigned supreme as a way to put a cherry on the top of Romeo and Juliet or the like. I typically found these papers painful to write—although not nearly as painful as geometric proofs—and sometimes, to vent frustration at the end, I would parody my own piece and read it to my brothers. (Only if it was something I’d written on my dad’s old IBM computer.)
Looking back, that has sort of a nerd-cleverness to it.
By my senior year, I was in Advanced Placement Lit & Comp. My teacher was Ms. Cook. She wore preppy clothes and pretended to be German and had two signs posted in her classroom: “So What?” and “Less is More.” The first question was to prompt us to delve deeper into the significance of what we were writing, to encourage critical thinking. The second was a way to get us to be more specific with details and examples. This doesn’t sound like exciting stuff, but she was a good teacher, and I’m sure my analytical essay writing improved. I know I got the highest score I could on the AP placement exam.
Then college came.
While I took the required freshman lit/comp class, the class that really made an impact was some random University Course entitled “Freedom, Identity, and Alienation,” or something like that. The prof was some tenured psych guy who told us we had no reading requirements, homework, or writing assignments whatsoever. Then he told us that he wanted us to become Readers and Writers.
He met with us individually in office hours, where he asked me about writing, and if I ever wrote “just for myself.”
I must have submitted a few random pieces of writing to him, because I remember him referencing them. On the day of the last class, I wondered if, for this assignment-less class, I’d done enough, and wrote something. I don’t recall what it was. All I know is that on the way to class, I saw a trash can, and thought: if it really doesn’t matter for the grade, I can toss this. So I did. I shoved my paper in the trash.
Somehow, that action was transformative. I didn’t have to write for someone. I didn’t have to write for a grade. Writing was something internal, and personal. Within.
After the class was over, I started a journal. For myself. And I never looked back.
Do you like to write? Need to write? What may have shaped you? Mike Myer's character would like you to "discuss among yourselves."