Me… the Writer?I am not a writer. No. Really. My memories and emotions about writing are mostly confined to school assignments and the fear and trepidation summoned by the words “single space.” Essays, book reviews, and research reports are evils to be avoided only in the extreme case of a teacher mandate. This motto of not touching optional papers with a 29 and a half foot pole has worked well for me… until now, when I am supposed to write a two to three page paper on the papers I have written.
My first memories of writing assignments are from first and second grade. The teacher would stand at the front and explain (in a very slow, first grade teacher kind of voice) what we needed to write about and how long it must be, the class would groan collectively as we dutifully wrote it down in our handy dandy homework notebooks, and I would start fretting. When my mom picked me up, I would immediately bemoan the great wrong done by my teacher, for – can you believe it? – she assigned us an essay of 100 words! I was not sure I even knew 100 words. My mother would compassionately endure through my long, morose tale of first grade injustice and even throw in a few platitudes.
Once we got home, she opened up Microsoft Word and told me to write. After I finished moaning and groaning and had written a couple sentences, she showed me the “word count.” (It counts your words for you! I was quite relieved to hear of this feature, as I expected to have to count them myself, by hand.) Once I realized that 100 words were not really that bad, I cheerfully typed the rest of the “essay” and saved it. It was a silly overreaction, and I would love to have the same 100 word requirements for my essays now. But it did show me that essay requirements that appear daunting initially, often are not nearly as bad as they seem.
Fast forward about 10 years to my very first writing class. I needed a course to help me improve my writing abilities before I took the ACT with Writing and started doing college essays. Optimistic little me decided that this would be a good opportunity to add some AP to my transcript. All was fine and happy until the syllabus arrived in my inbox. I could feel the first grade panic as I scanned the assignments. Three essays in two hours?? Six times? Nine essays?? Three pages long? Then sickening dread as I read the words: “writing groups.”
Some people say that letting others read your work is the point of writing, but that seemed a bit extreme to me. I could barely stand letting my teachers read my essays, and now my classmates would see them, too? No handy word counting feature could take the worry out of that. Time to turn in my first peer reviewed essay came, and I mustered up the strength to click the “upload” button. Having to read and critique the fantastic essays of my fellow group members while waiting for comments on my own did not help my feelings of under qualification to even be in this class. When the first critique showed up in Doc Sharing, I downloaded it, opened it, and winced as I began to read, then…. confusion hit: “What? A compliment? My essay is decent? I’m not going to fail? Oh, I totally did not even see that. That is a great suggestion!”
Receiving input from other people was surprisingly less terrifying than I had supposed. In fact, it helped me greatly improve my papers. They were much more helpful than staring at my computer screen until my eyes popped out (It’s called the Oedipal writer effect…. Sorry. Lit humor.), and reading others’ essays and giving them input has been, dare I say it, enjoyable! Yes, this was another silly panic attack, but it was a huge step for me in my confidence as a writer. Not only did I see that my writing style was not quite as convoluted as I thought, but I also discovered that having people read what I wrote was not quite as petrifying as I expected.
So, as you can see, my authorial history is short and full of fear, and the only reasons I have had any writing history at all, are because of teacher mandated assignments. Thankfully my first grade papers and AP writing groups have shown me that writing can be enjoyable, if I would only stop worrying, and I have grown in my confidence as a writer, especially this year because of these experiences. I still dislike essays, mind you, and I always will. But they are not such an ordeal as they once were, and this, in itself, is quite impressive.
A La Carte (December 11)
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