When I was a sophomore in high school I received one of those comments about my writing that’s stuck with me as a weird motivation.
“Wow, your story was like a real book.”
But this odd compliment also stuck with me out of guilt because my story had an advantage that no one else’s did. I had revised.
I wrote constantly in high school. I wrote these horrible novel, three of which were about my desire to become a rock star. The other four would now be considered young adult. And one of them I might write. That’s for another day.
I wrote so much that everyone knew I wrote, and everyone knew that no one ever read my stories. But fall of my sophomore year, my English class had been tasked with writing a short story. I had just finished the opening chapter of my new novel. My teacher had no trouble with my tale of wannabe rock stars and death by drug overdose, but she did ask me to change a couple of things. They seemed fair editorial requests:
1- less swearing – I was 15 and writing for school. Three ‘fucks’ was fair.
2- a clearer ending – no longer the start of a novel, but a whole piece. I can do that.
3- changing my addict’s drug of choice from heroin to cocaine – I did it, but I still feel annoyed that I did. Heroin was the more accurate drug, but I was not about to argue that with my teacher who letting me write a pretty age inappropriate story for class.
A week later, when we got our stories back, my friend Cindy asked if she could read mine. I shrugged and tossed it over to her. She took it to lunch and when we met up again in sixth period, she said, “Wow, that was like a real book. It’s because you write all the time, isn’t it?”
I shrugged again because I did write all the time, and that had to give me some advantage. In the back of my head, I knew my story read differently than everyone else’s because I knew I didn’t take one pass at my idea, thinking I would up with something perfect.
I knew I needed to ask for critique and use those ideas to improve my work.
Hell, I even knew I could and should question those suggestions, even if at 15 I made all the changes.
My story wasn’t innately better. I just took the assignment serious enough to fix what was wrong. And that made all the difference between writing and real writing.