Because my high school life was so wretched (internal link), I hesitated to join anything extra-circular, anything that deviated from the main goal of getting out of that prison. It was such a killing environment that I never went to a game, a dance, the senior prom, or graduation. To hell with them.
I did get caught up, though, in a flirtation with the school’s newspaper. In my third year I entered a class that was mandatory for writing in the paper. I had been the editor of my junior high school newspaper so I thought, “Why not?” Why not, indeed?
The teacher, if you can call her that, approached me after we turned in our first assignment. She presented me with my corrected article, with so many red marks on it that I thought the paper had measles. She started to go over each correction but my mind faded out, I had never seen so many problems with my writing before. Or were they problems? Or was she just another cretin in this crippled institution? I was so embarrassed and humiliated that I immediately dropped the class.
A few years later I enrolled in a variety of courses at a community college, although I knew I could never graduate because I could not pass algebra. I took three English courses. Straight “A’s.” My last test for my last course earned this note from the professor, “You should definitely pursue publication for this piece.”
On the other hand, a Humanities professor called me into his office one day to ask about a paper I had written. He accused me, somewhat gingerly, of plagiarism. I am still furious over that. He couldn’t name the article that I had copied but he was sure he had read something like it somewhere. Yes, I quit that class, too.
Between all of those experiences, I gave up on writing and went into the landscape trade. I never thought about writing professionally until I was injured many years later at work. Everyone I knew said I should write so I eventually started up my self-published magazine and then I went on to writing articles for different magazines.
If you edit, be careful with your writers. They may have never experienced a variety of editors, from casual to strict. Don’t end their career without knowing it. I recently corrected one of my writers on a point of law. Not a style issue, mind you, or something grammatical, just a note that the law had changed recently and to start using its new name. The writer said my correction made him feel “like a beaten pup.”
I then asked if he had ever written for publication. He hadn’t. He hadn’t yet experienced this business of writing. It can be strict but it should never be cruel. If you do take your writing too personally, however, then you should be writing for yourself and self-publishing. Otherwise, learn to work with an editor when you are writing for others. If an editor is cruel, however, walk. But don’t take twenty years to write again.
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