Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Post #1: My Truth about Stories

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.


  1. I liked your introduction, it's clever and gets your attention while introducing you almost immediately to what your piece is going to be discussing. I really enjoyed the detail you used to describe your childhood memory, it brought me back to my own grade 2 experiences and I haven't thought about that in forever! It was very relatable and funny that you mentioned being impressed/proud of the "good copy" paper because I remember the exact same thing. I also really liked the language you chose when describing your grade two self, words like "marched" back from the desk. I think that you did justice to your title because what you said rang very true and I think that most readers would be nodding their heads in agreement while reading (I was). You managed this while also keeping it an interesting and entertaining read. Thanks :)

  2. Whitney, reading your blog brought me back to those grade two days. I felt like I was reading something from my childhood. I remember the “good copy” process and how important you felt when you placed your good copy so very perfectly onto a colorful piece of construction paper. I like how your blog took me back through memory lane. As William Zinsser would say “You are writing for yourself” but you made it feel as if you were writing it specifically for me. Awesome job!

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  4. Hey Whit, I'm just following your blog for fun (and also to better my own writing!) You write so beautifully! Very simply, clearly and CREATIVELY. You've changed my perspective on writing totally and all week I've been thinking about "writing in layers", because I've always been a "step" person. To date, I've never really done a rough draft. Isn't that terrible?! I'm one of those people who sit at a computer working on one sentence for an hour "type, backspace, type, backspace" it's awful. It's comforting to know that even my fellow English majors find writing hard and that it's normal not to get it all out in one shot. I totally agree with Meghan up there, that you have good word choice, very active and concrete. Anyhow, I'm looking forward to reading more. I hope you don't mind!

  5. Whitney, I loved the opening paragraph. I can completely relate to your story and you do a phenomenal job telling it. Your writing is very clear and easy to follow. The post flowed very well because you varied up your sentence lengths. This made reading your story so easy to follow.

    The only thing I would suggest would be making the paragraphs shorter. It might just be preference, but I find varied paragraph length easier to read.

    Awesome post!

  6. Once again I am apolgizing for the delay, I have finally discovered how to post! I always enjoy your writing Whitney, your stories are very interesting and always amazing. I really liked the part about the eraser marks " If I made any mistakes, my paper would be scarred with a conspicuous eraser mark" I thought it was very clever. Good job, I can't wait to read your upcoming stories this year :)

  7. Hello Whitney!

    First of all, great work, this was an enjoyable read.

    Like the others, I also loved the joke at the beginning. However, the most impressive thing is that you are able to keep that level of play and levity throughout the entire piece. The tone was very conversational, like reminiscing with an old good friend about elementary school. Also, great use of the blogger medium by emphasizing the word “Wrong!” with a bright red coloured font. I could almost see it scrawled over your second grade paper.

    One minor detail. In the 3rd paragraph, near the bottom, you wrote “either way” as the last words of the one sentence and as the first words in the sentence after it. Sorry to “English Major” you :)

    Your passion (and skill) for writing stands out, I look forward to your next posts.

    - Jeremy