I’m an English major. Every time I correct someone’s grammar, everyone else laughs and points out “ohh… you just got English-majored!” I guess most of my friends assume being an English major means that I learn about grammar or speaking English or something. But to me, for the most part, being an English major means that I study literature. However, since I was eight years old, I’ve wanted to write. My truth about stories makes me think about how it felt to be in grade two and to be writing stories in class.
I would sit in the classroom and Mrs. McNichol would announce that for Language Arts class that week, we would be writing stories. I could feel my adrenaline start to pump. Well, maybe it wasn’t that extreme, but it provided me with an excitement that dodge ball or math class couldn’t offer. The stories always had a theme that corresponded to the time of year: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and so on. We would write our rough drafts and it took forever. I remember having some type of page limit, which I always went over. We would fill our page quota with simple plot lines and elementary dialogue, and then struggle equally as much to ‘edit’ the story. In grade two, there were only two steps to writing: rough draft and good copy. There really was no revision or peer-editing. ‘Editing’ essentially meant proofreading or spell-checking the rough draft. Grammar didn’t even enter into our vocabularies yet, so we simply searched through the freshly-written stories to filter out any spelling errors, and to make sure all the capital letters and apostrophes were in the right places. We then nervously stood at Mrs. McNichol’s desk, watching as her red scribbles on the paper loudly announced: WRONG!
Then we took our papers back to our desks, fixed the embarrassing, red-inked mistakes, and proudly marched back to the teacher’s desk to get permission to enter into good copy transcription phase. Because I enjoyed writing, I was usually among the first students to finish writing and editing. Entering into the next step felt like such a milestone had passed, and I was darn proud. I was ceremoniously handed a fancy piece of paper on which to write the final copy of my story. Or, at least it seemed fancy at the time. Usually it was merely an 8 ½” by 14” piece of paper, but sometimes it was a photocopied 8 ½” by 11” with lines and a clip art picture at the bottom which reflected the theme of the story: pumpkins, Mary and Joseph, Santa, the Easter Bunny. It felt so official either way. Either way, it wasn’t a notebook with blue lines spaced way too far apart, divided evenly by a dotted red line that indicated where to cross your lowercase Ts and make the humps of the lowercase Ms and Ns.
I marched back from Mrs. McNichol’s desk holding my official good copy paper, and wearing my official ‘I’m done my rough draft’ facial expression and sat down at my desk. I stared at the paper at least a minute or so before beginning to set a pencil to it. Carefully, I began with the title. Under it, I printed “By: Whitney.” So far, so good. Now came the hard part. We didn’t use computers, so our good copy had to look as good as pencil on paper, with an eight-year-old’s printing, could possibly look. I carefully transcribed every word like I was writing it for the first time ever. If I made any mistakes, my paper would be scarred with a conspicuous eraser mark. After the agonizing transcription process, the story was usually matted onto some colourful construction paper as a backdrop or stapled into a construction paper cover so that we felt like we’d written our very own books. It felt very official.
Now, writing is different. I feel like it has layers, rather than steps. I usually write everything out, really fast, to get words on the page as quickly as I can think them. I use placeholder words or even placeholder sentences to indicate that something better has to go there. It’s not like in grade two (or at midnight the night before its due), when the goal was to write everything perfect the first time. After everything is spilled out onto page or screen, I read it all. I change it, make it better, substitute the placeholders for what I really wanted to say. If I can, I will get someone to revise it and give me feedback. And then I edit and revise some more. I say it’s more about layers than steps because in grade two, it was rough draft and good copy. Now it’s a bunch of drafts before it gets good. Or maybe it sits for a while without even getting looked at or thought about. I still have a lot of goals about my own writing process. I would like to have more peer editing in my work. I would like to stop procrastinating so that my writing can have as many layers of revision as possible. But I do know that the past fourteen years have taught me that writing isn’t always about the end goal. Most of what it is about for me is the process, and that the process takes a lot longer than brainstorming and putting a few red marks on a piece of paper. Grade two helped me realize that writing can be fun, but the years in between have taught me that it’s a lot of work too.