writing then & writing now

When I was younger, as you all know by now, I wrote a lot of fanfiction. But I also wrote some original short (short short) stories and dabbled in teenage emo poetry for a while. Looking back on it, I cringe. I cringe hard. This was back when I thought all poems had to rhyme and when I thought I had some dark bottomless pit instead of a soul (no, really; it was that bad), so I was a little misguided. (Okay, a lot misguided. Maybe even delusional.)

I don’t remember ever wanting to stop, though. I didn’t have the inner critic I have now—I just wrote because I felt like it. I wrote to get the feelings out, and I wrote to entertain. I sometimes wish I could go back to that point in time just so I could start writing freely again, but I also don’t want to go back to a point in time where I wrote that way. I really wanted to share an excerpt of some of that writing in this blog post, but my embarrassment got the better of me. Sorry(?).

My most formative writing years were probably seventh and eighth grade. I still have a folder full of the essays I wrote for various classes, most of which had attached, hand-illustrated cover pages and were written in ridiculous fonts (I quickly learned not to do that… and apparently kept doing it anyway, since there are about six or seven of those sitting in said folder). Some of the topics written about included luna moths (my favorite insect), the Jersey Devil, Jack London, shrimp (with an appendix containing a recipe for shrimp cocktail), and—drumroll, please—a 12-page essay on Pearl Harbor actually being a conspiracy between the United States and Japan. My history teacher liked that essay so much he made me bring a copy to my English teacher so she could read it. This was when I was going through my crazy obsessed X-Files fan phase and thought everything was a conspiracy. I was a weird teenager.

I don’t know whether I proved anything or not in that essay—and I haven’t gone back to re-read it in a very long time, nor do I have any plans to do so anytime soon—but I was lucky in that my teachers allowed me to write about things I was interested in and that excited me. That excitement carried over into high school and college, so much so that even when I was faced with topics I didn’t like at first glance, I was still able to make them fun to write about. Case in point: I had to take a literary theory class this past semester that I felt I wasn’t engaging with at all. I’d almost dread every Tuesday night because I felt so dumb and out of the loop—like everyone else was Getting It except for me. But my professor let me tie in my current favorite TV show, Breaking Bad, which made the topic of ecocriticism much more exciting to me and even helped me understand it in a new way. The bonus here is that that paper was one of the best I’ve ever written.

This is why I always encourage students to write about things they enjoy, or things they care about, or something that will excite them or evoke curiosity. If you don’t care about what you’re writing, you won’t work hard to prove your point, and your essay will fall flat. Even worse: If you’re bored while you’re writing, your reader will be bored, too.

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