Monday, January 18, 2016

I Really Sucked at Writing

I moved back into my room and decluttered, a big part of which involved getting rid of old school stuff. From reading many of my old assignments, I have come to a certain conclusion: I was a terrible writer.

School
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 na├»ve 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 Prewrite

I 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 Rhetoric

Confession: 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.


They Made Me Read Stuff

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.


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.)

Have you looked back on your writing from years ago? What do you think?


18 comments :

  1. I totally understand looking back and cringing at my writing. I think the thing that shocks me the most is how shallow my writing was (and oftentimes, still is).

    However, I've taken the position that writing--like life or swimming or archery or whatever else you can name--is a journey. It's not so much the lack of skill at the start, but the journey, that matters.

    As C.S. Lewis would put it (to paraphrase rather roughly), it's more about constantly striving for perfection and not being content with stagnancy than actually achieving perfection. I had to shoot arrows at half distance on a target that's twice as large as competition size before I could even hope to shoot my score for the team. Now I'm at the right distance on the right size target, and I've made my score. And I still have a long ways to go. That's where teachers/coaches come in to help you. And then we're at a crossroads--to try new things to improve, or to be content to be settling for less than our full potential.

    Thanks for the post! I really enjoyed it.

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    1. Yeah, finding yourself to be so shallow and inexperienced can really throw you off.

      But, I agree. It's the journey that matters, not the fact that you get it right the first time. I think, to add to your comment, another quote from another author whose identity is lost on me atm: "We are all apprentices in a trade where no one becomes a master."

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. We've all been there. Depending on my mood, reading over my old school assignments, journal entries, and stories can either be encouraging or depressing. Mostly depressing. Like you, I had some really good writing teachers in high school who helped improve my school assignments (and by extension my own personal writing) quite a bit.

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    1. *wince* Yeah, depressing, blah. But, I'm glad that you had really good teachers to help you through it all! :D Thanks for joining the conversation, Alex!

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  3. *nods* My short stories especially from way back when are an awful sight to behold. I'm thinking it takes a brave sort of teacher to voluntarily teach young children to write because it has to be traumatic. But at least they don't have to deal with the trauma of that being their own writing.

    I know I didn't improve much at all in writing when I went to a private school in America for several grades because my teachers didn't have the time and energy to devote to making me a better writer. I only started improving when my mother started homeschooling me and tailoring my curriculum specifically for growing as a writer. I had so many in-depth literary and writing classes that forced me to try to think deeply about things and fix my syntax and analysis and all those other lovely things. I even took a course specifically focused on writing better sentences. It was a lot of overload, and at the time, as I was just beginning to process all that information, my writing sounded stilted and awkward--I knew how to implement the techniques, but I didn't know how to implement the spirit of the techniques. I'm sure if I were to reread a bunch of my essays it would be pretty horrifying and I would probably need extensive therapy after. The only portions of my writing that I can look back on with any sort of fondness would be my fiction from ages eight to twelve. I wrote with a different style then, and a different sort of spirit, and even though my execution was still awful, I think I captured some sort of essence in my stories that I doubt I will ever be able to capture again. I'm not sure what caused it, and I'm not sure what has changed since then.

    Anyway, that was a tangent. But I really love this post. It's interesting to look back and consider how much we've grown as writers and how things that are obvious to us now weren't so obvious to us then.

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    1. That is true. Still, if I were the one teaching, I'd probably end up throwing all the assignments in the fire at some point just because I was so frustrated. :P

      That's too bad that your experience at a private school was like that—I mean, I realize that I'm relatively lucky to have had the experience I did at a public school, but if you're paying your own dollars to go to a place, I feel like you should hold it to a higher standard. Because forrealz. Still, I'm glad that your mom helped you learn to think and write better, and that you were enrolled in classes that pushed you to be better, too. :)

      I'm glad you liked reading, Liz, and thanks for joining us.

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  4. AMEN. Rereading my old writing makes me cringe, and I'm always a little offended that my younger self considered the same writing to be actually decent. But I suppose it is a good thing to be able to look back and say, "Pft, I can write SO MUCH better than that now!" If we didn't have the stinky writings, then we wouldn't be able to see our improvement.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Heather! :)

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    1. XDD I know, I know! I get so frustrated by the memories of how proud I was by my old writing. Still, you're right. Keeping bad writing helps us see our progress.

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  5. 'Imagine what else they had to grade' I've always got As in my writing, so it's horrible to imagine what else teachers have to read. Until 9th grade all my teachers gave me easy As (probably because everything else they had to read was so bad, and mine was a leeeetle bit better) but then I had a teacher who NEVER gave A+s and rarely gave As. Suddenly, the expectations for my essays (in history and english) was just WAY higher. I'm sure if I read my 9th grade essays now, I'd fine them a lot worse than I thought it was, but teachers with high expectations, in-class draft workshops and out-of-class required meetings before the final thing is handed in all helped me improve. Some of my old writing is SO BAD. Anyway, interesting discussion (as usual)

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    1. I know, poor teachers. :/ I know that I too am a fan of easy A's, but I also think that having teachers raise their standards like that really help us be more than we were. Also, you're not alone. Some of my old writing is SO BAD too. :)

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  6. Ughhhh looking at old stories is the worst. I try to avoid it, but sometimes it happens and I can't help but laugh because I used to think that was good. *sigh*

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    1. I know. D: I mostly just sink into a puddle of shame when that happens and try not to take it personally. Thanks for stopping by, Aimee!

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  7. No, my essays used to suck to. Luckily I have awesome teachers and newspaper editors and parents and other people who read my outline and now I'm basically in love with essay outlines. Reading old creative writing is worse though *winces* I thought I was a poet in eighth grade. That said, I can see improvment. The goal I set last year of reviewing half the books I read really helped e to analyze as I read and I like to think that that translated int o better essays. Maybe I'm weird, but I actually love writing essays if I'm having a good time, like when I chose to analyse an editorial fro AP Language and Composition, or whe nI wrote an essay qualifying my feelings about a quote from a YA book I read. As editor of the newspaper at school I really hope that I help other people's writing to get better as well.

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    1. That's good that you like outlining! It can make school assignments so much easier. It's also cool that something that you can do kind of for fun (hopefully you think book reviews are fun) can also help you practice your analytical skills. :) Also, it's great that you enjoy writing and helping others. It will probably help you, too! Thanks for reading, Shanti!

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  8. I actually have been looking at some of old writing, just yesterday in fact. It's interesting because, like you mentioned, I can see a lot of my old self and my old views in my writing. When I was an angsty young pre-teen/teenager, lol, I had a habit of taking whatever was going on in my real life or whatever I saw in the media and writing about it. It's... embarrassing in a way because the writing is often terrible (though I have found some salvageable parts), the plots are ridiculous, and the characters' actions don't always make much sense. At the same time, I'm not strictly ashamed. Because even though I didn't realize it at the time, writing was my way of working through my life, of understanding the world, the lens through which I should view it, and the way I should respond to it. I guess you could say I had to write my way out, lol ;)

    So, while I will never ever show those pieces to anyone ever, I'm not strictly upset that I wrote them. Because I needed them; I needed them to learn, to grow, and to move on from all of the things that were making me an angsty young teenager, and so I could eventually grow into a (hopefully) mature young adult. :)


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. Ughhh I thought I knew everything and looking back on it... Nope. I did not. I did the same though, through fan fiction, so I know how painful it can be when you're like, "Little me, this a terrible way to solve your problems." XD And nice! Writing your way out is fun.

      Yeah, they helped you get to be a mature adult. Or an angsty adult. Whatever you want to be.

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  9. Yeah, I've been there. It's always nice to look back and see that while my writing sucked I've improved and I think the only important thing is that you work at improving.

    And you are an excellent writer, so if you thought your stuff was bad I do feel very sorry for them and the other stuff they had to read. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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    1. Indeed. As we writers often say, writing is a journey. And so getting better and not getting best is the big deal. :)

      *nods* My essays were worse though. Because you actually can't make up facts. You get downgraded on that. But indeed, I feel bad for them. XD Thanks for reading, Victoria!

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