Describe A Life Changing Event – English Essay
Many people have significant events that occur in their lives that provide a definite distinction between before and after: before the event, and after the event (respectively, B.E. and A.E.). If it merely changed the
way they did something, perceived something, or felt for something (or someone), or if it changed their entire lives, there’s always the notion of the before and after. For me, it was my writing…the before and after of my so-far career as a writer.
The event I am thinking of wasn’t really one event; it was an experience, spanning the course of a school year, the end of my sophomore and beginning of my junior years in college. More defined than that, it was a class. Well, two classes, but with one professor, and the second was merely a continuation of the first from the prior semester. The class was Literature and Law, although it should have been called ‘Literature and Law and Tons of Writing’. It involved reading pieces of literature that in some way involved the legal/justice system. Three papers were due during the course of the semester, the topic for each being chosen by the student from a pool of options concerning several different pieces of work.
Upon entering this class, I was fairly confident with my abilities as a writer. Comments from previous professors had encouraged this level of confidence, and my process leading up to and the eventual act of writing was relatively solidified to a particular pattern: construct an outline, plug in different ideas, write a hand-written rough draft and then finally sit down at the computer to begin typing.
Yet it goes farther back than that…third grade graduation, awards given out to each student, some of them random and an obvious stretch to find some award for those students who really had nothing awardable. “And for Gerry, the awards for best recess etiquette…” my teacher proclaimed. And then my name was announced. “For Stephanie Thomas, the awards for best creative writer”, she said with unmistaken enthusiasm. Even at the tender age of nine, I felt like I deserved it, that I was being rewarded for a skill I truly felt as though I possessed.
This routine seemed to work for me and my sometimes anal quirks about my schoolwork. I carried this routine with me for my first chunk of college, and it got me through with flying colors. It was a good routine.
No one likes change, or so the saying goes. But change I would the day I first walked in to David Larry’s class. I would change not only how I wrote, but also how I viewed the practice of putting words down on a page, and the power they can unexpectedly carry. He was one of the best to learn this skill from…he wasn’t really considered a “writer”. In addition to teaching a few classes, he is also the Assistant Attorney for Appalachian. He has amazing stories to tell of his years as an attorney in D.C., and also the many adventures of being engrossed in the political and social mayhem of the sixties. He even once ran for sheriff out in Oregon. He didn’t win, but managed to organize one of the largest protest rallies in Oregonian history. All in all, he’s an interesting person who never let class or the subjects discussed to become dull, and never lost the captivation of his students.
My first paper in his class was created using this comfortable and familiar process. Looking back, I can’t even remember what it was about, maybe ‘Puddin’head Wilson’ by Mark Twain. Handing it in I had a slightly smug feeling, assuming he would be surprisingly impressed by the natural writing abilities of an as-of-yet minimally trained and novice writer. The fact of the matter was, I had written a fine paper, but the importance of the knowledge taken from the experience wasn’t as cut-and-dry as being a good or bad writer. It was how to take a good piece and make it even better. How to trim out the excess, re-piece the loose ends, and create a beautiful little tight package of a paper: concise, to the point, yet an interesting read that conveyed the purpose and motivation of the writer.
Sitting in class the day papers were returned, I was turned around in my seat chatting with one of my friends. “Ugh, my paper sucked. It was, like, two pages and that was stretching it” they admitted to me, with a tone that seemed to me as if “oh well”. This was a far cry from my attitude about writing, especially when it was for a grade.
The distribution began, calling out each name, waiting for the hand to go up, and then delivering the paper to its owner. I received my own, and immediately flipped to the back page, the part with the summary evaluation of the entire paper. “A bit wordy; you can rewrite some parts to be clearer with fewer words used” was the gist of it. Through the paper, in the margins, was the abbreviation “awk”. Awkward, confusing, unclear. At the time, this flashed to me “Not good!”, or “I’ve seen much better”.
This wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. It was a learning experience in how to take criticism, realize it is constructive, and go from there. This is an important lesson for any writer to learn, especially those who have been on somewhat of a high horse with regards to their writing abilities, much like I was.
The lesson learned in this experience was one taken with me during the next few years, leading up to my internship. My internship involved a good deal of newspaper writing, where making your point and making it fast is the central idea. By now, I had improved my writing style enough that writing a sentence without fillers and fluff came as second nature. When a sentence did come out a bit too wordy, I immediately recognized it and pulled out my writing scissors.I will always appreciate the lesson taught to me by David Larry, even though it was one he probably didn’t realize he was teaching. Although the names of characters and their tangles with legal matters have long since faded from my memory, the gift of being a better writer will long remain.