I was told this by my 10th grade high school English teacher. God bless Mr. Merrier. I have heard he has since passed away after battling cancer. He was a good guy. Just maybe not the best cheerleader for me and my shortcomings.
I remember vividly the essay we were writing on Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar. I struggled with it. He proofed a draft and I remember clearly standing at his desk when after so many red marks through the page he just said, “Geeze Rebecca, you’re a terrible writer.” Without a hint of irony in his voice, my heart sank. I think I looked at him and shrugged. Well, yeah. I’m 15 and clearly confused you idiot! But I didn’t say that. I just went about finishing my essay. I think I pulled out a C+ on that assignment.
This was most shameful as an honors student in a room full of A+ work.
It probably hit me harder than if someone told me I was ugly or I had awful hair. Ever since that day I convinced myself that I was a terrible writer.
I am 41 now. Twenty six years have passed, three published works, contributor to several websites, and I still think I’m a terrible writer.
Perhaps it’s the self-deprecater (or the fact that I make up words) in me. Believe me, I know when my writing sucks. I have 61 unfinished posts in my DRAFT folder in this blog’s website. Is that normal?
I get great ideas. I have crazy dialogues in my head that want to come on to the page. But somewhere between idea and execution there’s a chasm of dead space.
You’re reading this and thinking, ‘Uhm, that’s called writers block, Rebecca‘. Yeah, duh!
Maybe that is the lament of writers all the time.
It’s nothing new. I’m not the only one. Probably all artists and craftsmen feel like this.
But honestly, those words were so profoundly engrained in my frontal lobe (?) that it took me decades to get over it. I hated all writing assignments in college. I never let anyone read my work except the professor.
When I got my first ‘real’ job after college and I had to draft letters to environmental firms, or city officials, I would struggle and pine over them until my boss would read it and tell me they were fine. And they probably were fine. I mean, who cares? Just write the damn letter!
So many times we hear of success stories from the under dog. J.K. Rowling was homeless writing on napkins. She was turned down numerous times by publishers. The Help author, Kathryn Stocket, was turned down 14 times before her book was published.
My story is not uncommon. But I feel like it’s just another reminder to use your words carefully around the young and impressionable.
“You’re a terrible writer.” Them’s are fighting words. But I was too young and impressionable to know better. For some, a put down is what they need to stomp their foot in the sand, huff a big breath and stare down the target and charge like a bull. But for those like me, it can wilt us like a flower left in a car without water on a hot day.
I do not hate Mr. Merrier for what he said. I resented him for a long time though. Then I felt terrible learning he had passed after fighting a disease.
We all say things out of impulse without thought. Now I’m trying to think back if I’ve ever told my children they were bad at something. What if I have? Is it life changing for them?
When people ask me what I do or what I am, I do not answer with writer. Or I didn’t used to. But I’m slowly starting to call myself that.
Isn’t it true that anytime you are paid to do something, you are considered a professional? So I’m a professional writer. Hmm. Still seems strange.
I wish Mr. Merrier could read my works (well, some of them!) and see me now though. He might change his mind. I mean, I’m not THAT bad.
Join me in Baltimore for Blog University. If you’re a writer or blogger, you need this conference. Find your niche. Find your tribe. Get your tickets for an awesome weekend with me and several other faculty. You’ll get schooled in a good way.