During my first semester of community college, I was enrolled in a lower-division writing course similar to this class. I tried hard in that course, but ultimately failed. I eventually realized that I had two main problems with my writing. First, I expected a perfect first draft. Second, I expected to produce that draft in one sitting. Faced with a writing assignment, I would lie on my bed and stare at the Microsoft Word cursor blinking on the blank document. Thoughts would flood my head and buzz around like honeybees, but that is where the ideas would stay—my head. Overcome with the notion that I needed to produce perfect thoughts, perfect sentences, and a perfect paper, I crippled myself.
Eventually, I stumbled upon information that helped ease the maddening process. Having just marathon-ed our way through Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, X-Men, and The Matrix, my sister I felt qualified and inspired to write our own fantastical series. I immediately got to work by Googling: “How to write a novel.” The Internet provided me with a myriad of resources—mostly blogs from unheard-of writers who seemed to prescribe to the adage, If you can’t do, teach. However one article proved to be a diamond in the rough. The article is from the blog Cracked, written by Robert Brockway, and is entitled, “How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps.”
Brockway wrote with a sarcastic and slightly self-deprecating tone, which immediately drew me in. Of his 5 steps, numbers 2 and 3 resonated with me the most. Step number 3 emphasized research, and that the process of writing is hard. It is a painful, cumbersome journey that hurts. I found this slightly depressing truth to be refreshingly honest, and continued to read. Brockway said that during the writing process, every other word meant having to pause for research. Simply writing the word ‘steel’ meant having to wonder if steel is even strong enough for the job. Would something better than steel exist in the future? Where is the future of the steel industry heading? “Six hours later,” he said, “and you’re Googling ‘hardened mesh weaves’ and ‘nano-tubes’ just to finish the sentence: ‘Biff Largeblaster’s sculpted cyborg abs glistened in the afterglow of the imploding time-vortex like a gargantuan bunch of manly steel grapes.
It occurred to me then, how much research, effort, and time is put into a piece of writing. I realized my process for writing was all wrong. Simply staring at my computer screen and expecting the words to spring from my head, already mature and perfectly formed like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, was not going to work. I am not Zeus. I am a mere mortal whose ideas require a period of gestation. In not giving myself time to research, write, encounter problems, research more, and re-write, I was cheating myself.
Brockway’s second step also resonated with me. Brockway said that editing is essential, even though it is very difficult to do. He described the process as being just like writing, except that instead of birthing words, the writer “must murder them in cold blood.” I was horrified and enthralled. He explained that an emotional attachment exists with each word that gets cut; each word-elimination reminds the author of the preceding hours of research. For example, he may find that the sentence with the “steel” is actually irrelevant, and so too then, are the hours of research on the future of the steel industry. “But that can’t matter when you’re in editing mode,” Brockway wrote. “Something works or it doesn’t, and it has to go.”
I realized that I had been scared of the editing process. I didn’t want to have to cut the words I had birthed, which is why I struggled so hard to make them perfect on the first try. Brockway made me realize however, that this perilous process is simply an inevitable reality. I needed to accept this stage.
After reading Brockway’s article, my attitude towards writing changed. I realized why writing is process. Instead of setting unreasonable expectations and then falling into panic and despair when I could not meet them, I decided to just write start writing. I would allow myself the opportunity to come across obstacles, allow myself the time to remedy those obstacles, and I would force myself to edit mercilessly. Slowly, but surely, I started taking my writing more seriously and less seriously: more seriously because I was respecting the amount of work that needed to be done, and less seriously because I was no longer trying to create a perfect draft in my first attempt.
I enrolled for my second year in community college with renewed vigor, and a greater understanding of what my writing needed. Through a loophole in the system, I was able to bypass the lower division standard entirely using my high school AP English score of a “3”. I immediately signed up for the upper division writing class, determined that I could make it work. The class was definitely more difficult, but I was also more prepared. We wrote a total of 6 essays in that class, and for each essay I reminded myself of Brockway’s lesson: writing is a process.
The final essay for that class required us to read and reflect on Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink. It was worth a significant portion of our grade, but I wasn’t worried. I had read the book, I knew my prompt, and all I had to do was start writing. I encountered roadblocks and areas where I needed to go back and reread passages of Gladwell’s writing, but I now knew this was normal. It was good even. I had words on the page that reflected thinking and effort, and I had come a long way from sloppily spewing paragraphs in a last-ditch effort. And really, I reminded myself, it didn’t matter that the words weren’t perfect. I’d edit them later.
I received a 100% on that paper with high praise form my teacher. I felt so incredibly proud, and finally felt like I had a handle on this whole “college-writing” thing. Brockway’s article taught me the lessons I needed to transform my writing, and that second English class allowed me the opportunity to do so. My sister and I still haven’t written a novel, but considering the transformation that my writing has undertaken, I kind of feel like we could.