Friday, February 28, 2014

A+ / F -

That was my stock writing grade for many of my papers in school.

More than once this shy quiet kid would come up swinging in defense of her writing. If I listened to every teacher I had I would have never written anything post high school.

I let them tear me down. I let them tell me my writing was bad. That I could never be a writer.

It was my junior year at high school when I stopped cowering. I went to war over this word:


" I trotted quickly to the beginning of the path. There I halted and gazed into it's darkness. One question rolling in my mind. Which was greater? the fear of my sister, or my fear of the path.

I looked back over my shoulder at the house. I chewed on my thumb nail as I fought inner battles. Curling my toes in the dry powdery field dirt I surmounted my fears...and took a step...."

That is how I used it. Oh how my English teacher hated it.

"You can't use it like that!"

Me: Why not?

Years later I redrafted that original idea into a complete story and read it to my collage writing class. We had a professional writer sitting in that day. As the class critiqued it a few said I was using the word wrong and it didn't help the story.

When it came to the professional writer everyone got quiet.

"Read the surmounting paragraph again." he said leaning forward and closing his eyes.

I did so.

A broad smile crossed his face. "That is damn cleaver writing there." He said to the class. "As writers you must control the language and make it alive. That word not only mentally makes you stumble it forces your brain to wrestle with it. You tangibly feel it."

Two other started to disagree with him. He let them have there say. Then he spoke to the class as a whole. "You are writers. Your job is deeper then writing words on paper for others to read. Your words are capable of reaching into another's brain, monkeying with thoughts and emotions. Writing is a powerful tool."

His eyes settled on me. The class turned.

I took my pencils off the desk and blew on there tips and "holstered" them in my pants pockets as if they were six guns.

The class chortled.

"That right there is the most powerful lesson you will take from your writing class today." He said pointing at me.


I wrote this blog last year and never got it finished, All I needed to do was go dig out a copy of The Stretch of Midnight and copy in the surmounted paragraph.

Its been over 30 years since I wrote it and the above occurred. And you know what I discovered tonight as I did this? The story is forced, juvenile and heavy handed, and so awkward in its telling that its laughable. But I can see the writer in me framing what will become my style as I mature and hone my craft.

Surmounted was my ground zero. I stopped allowing the A+/F- grades to affect me. I stopped writing for the teachers. That's when I started writing for my readers.

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