Every student in my freshman college writing class was required to meet one-on-one with our professor a few times a semester to discuss the direction of our research project.
At the end of my last one-on-one meeting with my professor, he changed the subject away from my research paper (about how school violence was actually decreasing. I’d started to write a paper about the increase in school violence and interestingly found overall violence was way down).
“In my 20 years of teaching, you’re the best writer I’ve had,” he said. “You could be great, you know, if you put some effort into it,” he finished, leaving me perplexed.
Red-faced I argued, “I do put in effort.”
I was lying. I flew through everything with the goal of finishing and getting a passing grade.
I blew off the weirdo. He’d given me all A’s. I always got good marks in my writing classes.
Now, I understand.
New Year’s Eve second grade I decided to finish the year by writing as many short stories as I could by midnight. I can’t imagine too many other kids sat quietly in a corner writing on one of the few nights of the year bedtime was whatever time you passed out on the sofa or floor after boisterously ringing in the new year.
From that point on, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.
I entered Indiana University with an intended degree in journalism in 2000. Most of my classmates changed majors at least once, but not me.
I was set.
After college I worked as a newspaper reporter before I realized making a living working for a small newspaper wasn’t possible, and oh yeah, hey, newspaper was dying.
Everything was up in the air. I got a few part-time jobs here and there and was searching for something permanent when I became pregnant with Cora. I remember feeling extremely relieved. I could stop trying. I’d be a stay-at-home mom and work here and there on the side.
But then she died. It might seem silly because after all this was only the plan for nine months or so, but I was so attached to that identity, I didn’t want to give it up.
I’ve worked here and there and scraped around, but during the day, I’d mother her. I’d work to get laws passed in her name. I’d come up with graphics I was sure would spread to tell the whole world the signs of heart defects in newborns.
It felt right for awhile.
I believe firmly that dead children still need parenting. Maybe it’s part of the grieving process.
It was another stall tactic.
I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life.
I’ve been terrified of failing my entire life.
After all, obviously my writing needs polishing.
When people ask what I do, I always stammer and grow nervous inside. Most of the time I settle on “writer.” Their next question is inevitably about what I write.
Real writers write every day. I haven’t.
Real writers work to improve every day. I haven’t.
My knowledge of proper grammar has faded. It’s something that requires constant reinforcing.
I know what my college professor meant. I had some natural ability, and with hard work and dedication I could be better.
I don’t know if that better is good enough to write a best-selling novel.
Maybe my good enough will not be that great.
But, it’s time to find out. For real.
Time to set at the keyboard and bleed and then have my work torn to shreds.
Least you think I have some kind of big head, a few years later I turned in an assignment for a journalism class. It was about a topic I was really interested in. I got to interview the head coach of the IU basketball team at the time, and I really tried.
It was even set to be published in the school paper.
The professor tore into it and made me feel like it was the worst article in the history of journalism. I think she gave me a C. I remember calling one of the editors at the paper and begging her not to run it out of embarrassment.
That’s how writing goes. Not everyone will love what you do.