The Writing Paradox
October 14, 2008

Despite the fact that English was one of my favourite school subjects, that I taught college writing classes for nine years, that I've had a blog for a bit over 3 years ... I shocked some friends last week by announcing that I hate writing and would not like to make a career in copywriting. (Oddly enough, technical writing is more interesting.)

I hated writing essays in school, and I think that was one of the things that made me an excellent writing teacher. I remembered where I used to get hung up, frustrated and what caused me to pull my hair out - and I did my damnedest to help my students find ways around those problems - or through them in a less painful manner.

The writing I enjoy is the writing I do for myself. This blog, the large directory on my hard drive called "Thinking" and writing stories.

I confused the hell out of who knows how many teachers in elementary school who knew how creative I could be ... until a creative writing assignment came up. One teacher told me years later that my first creative writing assignment for her just shocked her. Instead of the involved and creative story she had suspected I would write ... she got a typical elementary school paragraph of blah.

I just laughed ... there's a huge difference between making up your very own story ... and being given a paragraph of "starter story" and told to finish it.

It's the same in copywriting. There's a huge difference between writing a novel about a comic book writer and a video game developer who become self-appointed agents of karma ... and cobbling together the disparate ideas of the president and vice president of a start-up company (who, by the way, each has a different idea about the company's direction - president wants to market to average joe and veep wants to market to the already converted & knowledgeable audience).

Later on in elementary school, our language arts teachers began to give us more leeway on picking what to write about and only used writing prompts when we got stuck. My favourite project was also one that got me into the most trouble.

In sixth grade, I had Miss Bailey - the teacher we all loved and adored. (At the time, years later was a different story.) Every Thursday was creative writing day. But one week, on a Monday or Tuesday, she gathered us around for a new creative writing assignment.

"Since I will be gone on Thursday, I'm giving you your creative writing assignment now."

With those words, my fate was sealed.

You see, I was determined to do everything "right."

She went on, describing the project, which was due on Friday as usual. We'd have our standard amount of class time to work on it Thursday and a bit of bonus time to work on it the day she assigned it because it was a bigger assignment than normal.

We spent the next little while searching through newspapers for an article - we were to use the article we selected to write a "book" with at least two or three illustrations. I was excited - and I settled on a story about a plane crash. (What can I say, tragedy always makes for a great story! Actually, all of my early stories were about tragedy befalling kids - and kids pulling out of it despite the incompetent adults around them. But that's another story for another day.)

I dutifully cut out the article like we were told. I worked on the project during the time allotted on Monday. And then I didn't work on it again until Thursday's class. Now, I suddenly had to write a story, re-write it onto my booklet paper, illustrate it - and because I was as interested in realism and crafts as possible, create a cover cut from posterboard and then freaking SEW the thing together. (My idea. Damn over-achiever.)

Yeah, I didn't get close to finished in class. And so many of my friends told me they'd been working on it since it was assigned on Monday. I was shocked.

Thursday was creative writing day. Not Monday. Not Tuesday. They were all cheating! They started EARLY! That was cheating!

I was horrified.

I was even more depressed that evening as I stayed up later than ever before, frantically trying to complete the project to the specifications I had set myself. My mom asked why I hadn't started the project earlier in the week and I responded that we'd been assigned the project on Thursday and it was due Friday. It wasn't a lie - it was how I'd interpreted the week, since Miss Bailey claimed we were getting the assignment on Monday since she wouldn't be there Thursday.

I thought that like most teachers, she simply didn't think the substitute teacher would be able to explain the assignment adequately and address our questions. Hence, she gave us the assignment early, but we were not to start until Thursday as usual.

My mother was rather irked at Miss Bailey for assigning such a project in such a short amount of time.

And, when I was dragging and sleepy the next day, Miss Bailey asked what was wrong. I explained that I'd stayed up late - and confessed that mom was upset with me for staying up late and had asked why I hadn't started the assignment sooner. When I then added that we'd been given the assignment on Thursday and it was due Friday - Miss Bailey gave me that terribly disappointed look and tone as she said my name. We didn't speak of it further.

I was terribly confused and hurt.

I had done everything exactly right according to the rules and I had still gotten "in trouble" for doing things wrong. Everyone else in the class had cheated by starting early and here I was the one getting fussed at.

Today, were I taking a class where this happened, I would still assume the same thing. But, I would now ask the teacher "are we supposed to start on it now or on Thursday?"

I suppose this is another example of "rigid thinking." Despite the fact that I'm creative and very much a think-outside-the-box kind of person most of the time, there's a certain rigidity of thought that creeps into my life in strange ways. It's the same rigidity of thought which caused me to not study for the SAT exams - the SAT was supposed to measure what you already knew ... therefore, studying was cheating. Yeah, I know. I'm a dork.

Oh and the novel about the comic book writer and video game developer who become self-appointed agents of karma? Yeah, I've been working on that sucker since '04, so no stealing my grand concept, k?

Posted by Red Monkey at October 14, 2008 5:19 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

It's funny how people think "writing" and expect all writers to like or be skilled at all types of writing. I hate copywriting. You are so bound to the rules of accuracy, which often make the story SUCK. But then again, I'm a total cheater, but I would have procrastinated until Thursday late at night.

October 14, 2008 10:33 PM


Dawn said:

Rigid thinking indeed! Reminds me of the passage in (I think it was) Pretending to be Normal where Holliday writes of a serious altercation with a teacher in the early grades because she refuses to sit on her rug square. When her parents are finally brought in about this obstinate behavior and ask her why she won't sit on her rug, she says, "That's not a rug, that's a mat." "Well, then, will you sit on the mat?" asked her father. And so she did. No problems whatsoever :)

October 15, 2008 9:50 PM
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