Back in fifth grade, everyone in our class was required to write an essay about what we liked about living in the United States. Our teacher told us that the two best essays would receive prizes and the writers would read their paper out loud to the class.
My ten-year-old self was excited and anxious. There’s a prize!? I’m going to try my best to get whatever it is.
…Yeah, even as a fifth grader, I was a nerd.
Our class had a week to write our essays. While I knew little about outlining and writing multi-page essays, I tried thinking throughout the week about what I could talk about. I knew I would talk about freedom of speech and some of the wonderful people who live in America, but who should be focused on?
I remember typing the paper on the computer, one of the first papers I ever typed. I wrote about musicians and actors, like Bob Dylan and Bill Murray, why freedom of speech was important, and how American schools and education were great (note to all young kids in a similar situation: writing about how American education is great helps get your teacher on your side, even if your classmates roll their eyes).
When we got our papers back, I found out that I was in the top two. I did it! But what was the prize?
…It was a magnet.
Our teacher told us that the magnet would let us put our good work on the fridge. While at the time I was disappointed with the gift (We already had tons of magnets at home! Why couldn’t I get chocolate or something else?), I still have the magnet as a memento.
What the experience taught me is that unless you are a professional writer or must write for examination in a class, writing well is often a gift in and of itself. Magnet or no, it’s good to have perspective with what your accomplishments and successes mean. Even if you write something you are proud of, there is always room to write harder, better, faster and stronger (thanks Daft Punk).
Reflecting back on that paper, it made me think of how my ten-year-old self thought about my country, what I thought was important, and how I formulated the paper. If I wrote the same paper today, I probably wouldn’t focus on actors or musicians, nor would I be as super positive as I was in the paper. It’s interesting to see how you develop (whether it be in writing or a different subject) as you age.
Over time, our personal experiences, the things we read, the people we interact with, and many other things affect how we write and what we write. Some writers may prefer a certain genre, but their voice, style, and focus over time in that genre are dynamic factors. For example, Stephen King has written dozens of books that are primarily horror and fantasy. After his nearly deadly car accident in 1999, King wrote at a different pace and outlook for his 21st century output.
While winning a magnet is not quite as dramatic as a car accident, it was an early turning point for me; I realized that writing was a potential output for my creative energies. Maybe I could be alright at it!
What do you think about your development as a writer? Do you remember an early experience you had with writing? Let me know in the comments below.