When I was in the fifth grade, my English teacher gave the class an assignment. Read a short story and write a one-page paper on it. The next thing I did goes against every molecule in my body. I raised my hand.
I asked the teacher, instead of reading a short story could I write one? The class and the teacher looked at me as if I had Mad Cow Disease. I would learn later in life that people looking at you as if you have Mad Cow Disease isn’t always a bad thing.
Let’s do some math.
I could read a short story and write a one-page paper on it. Or I could attempt something I had never done before. I could write perhaps a dozen pages or more, and my grade would be potentially the same if not worse.
When writing one page vs. 12 pages for English Class, the probability of misspellings, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, misplaced modifiers, pronoun disagreement, lack of subject-verb agreement, and any number of other grammatical errors goes up by 1100%. I’m just glad I wasn’t very good at math.
I quickly discovered that writing a short story is a lot harder than reading a short story. When you read a short story written by one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, you are in the hands of an expert whose life experiences, imagination, and writing skills can take you to places and through human emotions you never thought possible.
When you read a short story written by a fifth-grader you are in the hands of someone who’s being graded on penmanship,
Our assignment was due on Monday, seven days away. I immediately started to think about what I wanted to write about. Three days later I still had no ideas. In History Class we were just starting to learn about the Civil War. I decided to write a short story about the Civil War. The only thing I had learned so far was that some of the soldiers wore blue uniforms and others wore grey uniforms. I didn’t make an outline. I didn’t know who my main character would be. I didn’t know his character flaws or his motivations or the obstacles he needed to overcome. I just started writing.
They say that writing is re-writing. And it’s absolutely true, only in my case it was more like writing is erasing.
From Thursday through Sunday I wrote. I erased. I re-wrote. I threw it all in the trash. I started over. I wrote. I erased. I re-wrote. I might have cried. By English class on Monday, I turned in 12 hand-written pages. I bet Stephen King never cried when he turned in a short story.
My story was about a soldier behind enemy lines. He had a critical message he had to deliver to his regiment’s commander. After many hardships including getting shot, he finally made it to the encampment. Bloody and dying, he fell off his horse. He held out the critical message. By the fading firelight, the last thing he saw was the commander’s uniform. It was grey. The dying soldier’s uniform was blue. The end.
I honestly can’t remember what grade I got on my short story. I think it was a B. If so, it was a Pity B.
When I was 21, I started writing professionally, and I have been writing ever since.
My favorite kind of writing is what I’m writing now. I try to write every day. Nobody gives me a grade. Nobody tells me what I can or cannot write. I literally get lost in my storytelling, as lost as if I were in a theater watching a movie.
So, that’s why I write. It’s self-therapy. It’s escapism. It makes me a better writer. And best of all, I always learn something about myself I didn’t know before.
Want to be a writer? You don’t have to raise your hand. You just have to write.