My Writing ‘origin Story’

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week.

The River Falls School District’s Twitter page challenged its followers to thank a teacher who’d influenced them.

I did not have enough space to thank all the teachers I’d like to thank in 140 characters.

From my preschool days through college, I’ve been blessed with so many teachers that deserve thanks, it would be hard to mention all of them in a column, let alone a tweet.

Also this week, I spoke with middle school student Jami Morrow, a new blogger on the Journal’s website.

Morrow told me how she got started writing.

It reminded me of my own writing “origin story.”

Both of our writing stories have something in common: teachers.

Morrow said she fell in love with writing during a poetry unit in seventh grade.

I had a similar realization through school writing assignments.

It started in sixth grade when my teacher, the late June Matteson, gave our class a creative writing prompt, and told us to spend our class period writing.

The prompt was about the lights blinking in school.

Inspiration struck me, and my pen flew across the page, pouring my ideas out into an almost-illegible scrawl, that would, nevertheless, have a huge impact on my life.

Once writing time was up, we were given a chance to read to the class.

Where the most prolific writers in the class had written say, an entire page, I’d written at least three.

I kept writing on it too, while the others were reading theirs.

When it was my turn, the class seemed stunned.

I read what I had of my story aloud (I’d kept writing, remember) to some eager classmates at recess.

It was the first time I’d written something and really shared it with a group like that. Seeing the reactions on my friends’ faces as they listened to the story was magic to me. It was amazing I could affect their emotions like that. They wanted to know what was going to happen next. I’d never experienced that before.

I have that story saved in my filing cabinet. It may have been fascinating to sixth graders, but to an adult, it’s terrible. I often call it “highly derivative,” which is really a nice way of saying I copied what I thought were the coolest elements of my favorite stories at the time, and mixed them all together into one. I called my atrocity “The Janitor’s Secret.”

It’s a terrible story. But it taught me a lot.

I learned the all-important lesson that, though it’s fun, writing can be hard. But I did eventually finish the story. At several pages long, it was the longest thing I’d ever written, then.

And when I finished, the sense of accomplishment I felt was worth the struggle it took to write the story.

It’s just a story — a very bad, little story. But it was also a milestone — one I didn’t realize I’d reached for years. It taught me that I could write something others would love, and it taught me to love writing.

Today, though I cringe every time I think of “The Janitor’s Secret,” I am also eternally grateful to it, and Mrs. Matteson’s story prompt for showing me something incredible about myself.

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