|Flickr Credit: Moyann Brenn|
No, really. I couldn’t construct a decent thesis sentence to save my life. My in-line citations were essentially the entire citation. I didn’t use hard facts if I could help it, my syntax was like riding a skateboard over a busted sidewalk, and I was naïve and terrifying. Does it count as suicide if your past self KILLS YOU with her terrible writing?
I feel so bad for my teachers. Not only did they have to read my crappy writing, but if I was getting mostly A’s and B’s, imagine what else they had to grade…
My writing started to improve in eleventh grade, but I also admit that if I hadn’t been such a terrible writer, I don’t think I would have seen the growth I did. My teachers kept giving me ways to improve myself.
They Made Me PrewriteI was shamed (okay, I lost points) for poor prewriting in ninth grade. In tenth grade, there was at least one hardcore prewriting sheet for each writing assignment we got, and by eleventh grade, we only had to review the basics to work out the best system for ourselves. Prewriting forced me to think about organization, and organization made my thesis clear and thorough.
Eleventh Grade Brought RhetoricConfession: until twelfth grade I did not believe in literary analysis. Like I said, I tended to make stuff up or say weird and dumb things in my essays because I didn’t fully understand what I read or what the point of it was. I still thought that reading was primarily about entertainment (and how ignorant I was). In eleventh grade, learning rhetoric brought systems of analyzing solid facts from non-fiction sources and ways to synthesize them into new interpretations. And though I think I have a longer ways to grow in analyzing fiction, having those systems made it easier to understand how to talk about literature the following year, when I finally figured out that it is indeed possible for springy logs to be more than springy logs.
We got handouts. We got books. In eleventh grade especially, we would get all kinds of articles. Here’s a book by Daniel Gilbert—write like him! Here’s an article from the newsletter—write like that! Here is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”—write like him! And Joan Didion! And Maya Angelou! And Plato! And while I am not quite the writing master that the aforementioned names were just yet, reading the work of awesome people and finding out what made them awesome helped make me figure out how to be awesome, too. Just like with everyone else, studying the masters makes the apprentices better.
They Made Me Read Stuff
It’s easy to criticize my high school writing now, but it gave teachers the opportunity to tell me, “Heather, you need to learn to analyze texts without sounding like an unobservant half-wit, or you will live a fruitless and unhappy life.” (Just kidding, I made that up, but I’m sure they all thought that at some point.) With guidance to put me on the right track, I got better, and I even manage to write good stuff for college classes. I grew. Go me.
(On the off chance that any of my teachers end up reading this, a belated thanks for reading all of my dismal writings. I appreciate that.)