My Road to Writing
by Kristi Stone
As a second grader, I was told by my English teacher, "You have the writing ability of a dog." Perhaps not exactly in those words, but the idea was there. English teachers seem to assume that so much is understood, that all is clear, that instinctively, like animals, we are born with perfect perceptions of spelling and punctuation, a world of experience to write about, and the skill to do all of it well. ESP should be a prerequisite course to writing. I know this will be a shock, but I feel it's time to reveal a well-kept secret: I was not always as learned as I am now. I took the scenic route on the road to writing, and I began at the beginning.
On one of those wonderful sunny afternoons in second grade that makes you aware that school and sunshine don't mix, another writing hour was about to begin. At the grand old age of seven, I was sure my life as a writer was finished. I just couldn't spell. Whenever I handed in a paper with a misspelled word, my teacher gave me a look that made me feel like the Elephant Man in a beauty contest. In the corner of our classroom hung a bulletin board commending everyone with outstanding handwriting and no spelling errors. I was cursed on both counts. Hieroglyphics are easier to read than my handwriting, but at least in picture writing I'd have a chance at spelling.
That day Mrs. Scott stood before us and announced, "Class, there will be a film and writing hour will be cut in half. I will give a brief writing test, and when you are finished you may take a seat for the movie." But with all the warmth of a policeman reading you your rights, she went on. "You may not use erasers or dictionaries and must spell all words neatly and correctly without my help. I may ask for do-overs." Take away my eraser? Why not just cut off my arm!
Painstakingly I wrote the paper and raced to Mrs. Scott. "Too sloppy; misspelled words," she snapped. After a few tries, I was desperate. Aware of the rapidly emptying classroom, I begged for a look at the dictionary. She was unmoved. Finally the old hit-and-miss method narrowed the culprit words to one. It was one of those "ie" words. Even now I love to see an "ie" word about as much as I love to see a run in my pantyhose. Desperately I rubbed out the word with my finger and printed over it. I sped to Mrs. Scott's desk. "You erased," she hissed. She was such a treasure. But after a brief nasty glance, she let me go.
At last--movie time! Collapsing near a friend, I was just in time to watch the end of a dental hygiene promotion. Teeth! All that for teeth?
Scarred for life, I escaped second grade. Eventually they have to let you out. Writing wasn't out, though. In fourth grade I met Mrs. Poggense. Whenever I touched pen to paper, Mrs. Poggense could hardly contain herself. She was like a child in the middle of a candy store, seemingly unaware of my mistakes. At her constant urgings to preserve my genius for future generations, I began my first book, overwhelmed by her enthusiasm. I was a little unsure which of my worldly experiences to write about--taking the bus alone for the first time or learning to walk. With a marvelous lack of imagination, I ended up writing numerous stories about squirrel people. We had them in our back yard. My stories were also illustrated profusely by, you guessed it, yours truly. As I was in the pre-braces stage, I looked a lot like my star characters. "Squirrel people start a newspaper." "Squirrel people build a grocery store." A vastly interesting book, the publisher is still holding it for consideration. If nothing else, I can sell it as a cure for insomnia.
After a taste of success, writing became an obsession. I liked it almost as much as chocolate. As I moved from one grade to the next, the praise continued to follow. A little less explosive than fourth grade, but adequate. Eventually as the joy of expressing thought on paper palled a little, a new thought hit me: Honey, there's money in this.
One afternoon I spotted a sign announcing a writing contest. It was on "How the Freedom to Own Property Will Affect My Future," sponsored by the Blair County Board of Realtors. A topic made for me! It was all quite clear. I was freely entering so I would, in the future, own the property they were offering. Inspiration and the joy of writing had been replaced by capitalism. And that's what I wrote about, the privilege of living in a country where we get to work at anything we wish for our money. I decided to write a toned-down essay for second prize. Cold cash, fifty dollars, had a certain appeal for me. I tried to use all my second ideas but got caught up in the contest and forgot. With the guidance of my English teacher, Mr. Logue, my essay developed smoothly. When the results were announced, I found I had won the contest. Rats--first prize, a ten-speed bike. However, a brilliant thought hit me. I sold my old bike for fifty dollars and rode in triumph to my best friend's house.
I offer a little truth I've picked up along the writing road to riches, rewards, and rejections: if at first you don't succeed--buy erasable bond, the "mature" answer to mistakes. Thankfully, with age, I've also managed to broaden my subject matter. I can now compose a story on any animal you can name. But I still need a dictionary. With a lot of help, a little inspiration, and a pencil, I've come a long way since first grade. I haven't exactly become independently wealthy, but then again you are reading my story. Everything hasn't changed, though. To this day I still brush my teeth in little circles.