There are a lot of things I could say about writing. I’ve been writing almost as long as I’ve been reading, yet before this year I never really thought about what my writing meant to me. I just wrote. In that way it’s similar to my reading: I hadn’t thought so hard about what I read before this class, though I did think about my reading more than my writing. Honestly, I feel like there were less changes in my writing itself than there were changes in how I view it.
When I was little, I had this grand idea that I was going to write the next Great American Novel. I enjoyed reading novels and figured that I should write them, too, so I’d start writing about whatever I was most obsessed with at that moment (Joan of Arc in one instance, Vikings in another). I had little — if any — plan, and I barely ever got past the first chapter. After many failed attempts at this, I came to the conclusion that I was terrible at writing stories and from then on only wrote the ones I was required to for my classes — and sometimes not even those.
Over the next few years I went back and forth between deciding that I was a poet, or wasn’t, but for the most part I didn’t think about writing. There were other things I thought I was much better at, such as math and history, so being a good writer didn’t really cross my mind. Sure, I got decent grades on my English assignments, and I had already developed my tendency to nitpick spelling and grammar, but I thought I just wasn’t any good at putting ideas together. I knew what good writing was, but I didn’t believe that I could create it myself.
I was still within that frame of mind by the beginning of ninth grade. Other than a few poems and the odd journal entry, I hadn’t written much that I liked, and probably nothing that I really liked. I still thought that writing wasn’t really for me — just a hobby. However, I liked the fact that I could post my assignments on a blog, where plenty of people could read it — not just my teacher. It gave me a bit of motivation to try harder: what I wrote wasn’t just for a grade — it was a representation of who I was.
I still didn’t think I was that great of a writer, however, until the assignment to write a pastiche of The Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t like the assignment at first because I couldn’t decide what to write about, but once I finally got down to it and wrote something I was pretty happy with it — and by then it was already late, so I turned it in. I was disappointed to see that none of my classmates had anything to say about it, but I was surprised to see a comment from Mr. MacKnight saying that it was really good. So maybe a bunch of other teenagers didn’t think much about what I’d written, but wow! the teacher thought it was great. I must be a better writer than I had thought.
By no means is that the only significant event that affected my writing this past year. In fact, one of the events with the largest impact has little to do with English class. The thing is, I have a lot of interests that I want to develop — music, math, history, and so on — and I realized that if I give each of them equal attention, there wouldn’t be anything that I was truly great at. “Jack of all trades, master of none,” yes? Anyway, while I think I should be good at many things, I want to have an ability that I can consider my specialty, and as much as I enjoy those other things, I can’t see myself as a musician, or a mathematician, or a historian. I can, however, see myself as a writer — not necessarily a published author, but a writer nonetheless.
Still, I don’t think that I would have realized that much without the help of the English class. Perhaps I would have decided that I needed to concentrate more on my math or history.
I realize that I’m not a great writer yet, but I also know that I don’t have to be. I’m still young, and much of what I write will be terrible, but that doesn’t have to be a setback — knowing that you aren’t perfect means knowing where you can become better. That’s the ultimate goal in life: to become better. I know that everyone who became great at something started out small, and every great writer has written a good deal of terrible writing, but they kept writing.
Ultimately, the biggest change in my writing is less what words I put together and more the way they are put together. My vocabulary has expanded, sure, but I’ve mostly just figured out how to get my point across more clearly, and how to write more concisely. Perhaps this essay itself isn’t a great example of writing concisely, but if I look at my first Independent Reading post and compare it to my more recent ones, I can see a huge difference: my more recent ones are often less than a third the length of that first one. But the biggest change I see in my writing is in my opinion pieces; the “Who Will I Be?” post is a prime example. It’s hard for me to look back at it; not only has my writing significantly improved since then, but my thoughts have changed as well. If I were to rewrite that post now, it would be hardly the same.
My current writing goal is to get better at organizing my ideas. I have a lot of ideas, but I also have the hardest time deciding what to use and what not to use, and usually I end up not writing anything at all. I freeze up. What I want is to stop freezing up, or at least stop freezing up so much, and as part of my solution to this I am working to get into the habit of writing a little bit each day. Since my Personal Project is to write a novella, this makes it slightly easier for now — though I still plan on writing more even after the project is over.
All in all, I am very glad to have been in this class because it has taught me more than I expected to learn, and helped me to realize my talent and potential as a writer. Without it, I think I would still be at the state I was a year ago, knowing that I enjoyed writing somewhat but thinking that it just wasn’t for me. But that’s what a great class does: takes a student in and sends them out changed for the better. This was a great class.