When Standing Out is Conformity

June 7, 2009
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I sat at the computer, attempting to proofread a paper. I read and reread the first paragraph. I had tried to make it sound like that ideal introduction, the kind the teacher reads every time as a good example, the kind that always sounds familiar and unique all at once. Mine sounded like a load of crap. My mothers’ voice called up the stairs.

“Em, I want to read that paper before you turn it in.”

I sighed, printed the paper, and carried it downstairs. I sat down next to my dog and reluctantly handed my mom the paper. I scratched my dog behind his ears and tried to figure out what made my paper sound so robotic. I looked at my mom. It was that awkward time of silence, when I knew that, any minute, she would begin criticizing me. I studied a fly that had landed on Mariska Hargitay’s paused face on my fathers new TV. My dog stared out the window, waiting for my dad to come home. My mom put down the paper and stared at me.

“You changed your writing style. It’s not you anymore.”

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “My history teacher read some good examples of papers yesterday in class,” I said, referring to that type of paper where, no matter how many times you hear it by however many, it sounds completely unique and smart. “I paid attention to the writing style. All the good ones sound the same. I want this to be good.”

“You’ve lost your creativity. What about your Odyssey paper you wrote last year? That was you.”

I rolled my eyes. “That’s different. That was a creative piece. We haven’t done to many in any of my classes this year.”

“It shouldn’t matter. You should be able to be creative whether your teacher tells you to or not. Don’t conform, it doesn’t suit you.”

That is my biggest fault when it comes to my writing; conforming to what I feel my teachers will like the most. It is that style of writing that captures your attention completely, no matter how boring the subject matter is. It is because of this conformity that my writing ability has deteriorated over the past year or so. I stopped writing for myself and began writing what I thought good writing was. But some styles suit some people and not others. This “perfect” style sounded terrible when I wrote it. Every time I write a paper, I try to give it that vibe that says “Hey, look at me! I’m special, I’m unique.” I want to be the paper the teacher reads to the class as a good example. I love writing, it’s one of my passions, and I love being acknowledged for my writing.

I am not, however, the only person trying to improve his or her writing skills by listening to good examples. The style that I cannot even pull off is becoming common, something everyone tries to write like. Thus, by my attempts to sound unique, I am conforming to a standard paper that my teacher will probably read several times and eventually become nauseated by. People eventually grow sick of big words and long sentences describing something that could be said in one short sentence. I write long sentences with large words that may or may not make sense. I do this thinking that I might sound smart. I don’t. I sound like I’m regurgitating something. I don’t take risks. I’m afraid to admit even to myself when what I’m writing is a piece of s***. Writing styles have become like all other styles. Everybody wants to sound unique and, therefore, becomes compliant with the standard, or conforms. If everybody stands out, their is nothing to stand out from. When I write papers now, they lose the creativity I gave papers when I was younger. In the words of my mother, at ten, I was writing like a high school student. At sixteen, I write like a ten year old.

When I think back to the best paper I’ve read, it is my friends “Who am I?” paper at the beginning of our sophomore year. She was blunt in every thing she said. Her opening line, “I was born at the age of zero.” originally struck me as odd, as something painfully obvious. What other age could a baby be born at? But reading her paper, I was totally intrigued by her brutal honesty on her opinions of life and the world. It was the basic brutality and quirkiness I wrote with when I was younger, that I had strayed away from. It is the best and most unique essay I have ever read. If I could go back and rewrite every essay I wrote this year, and add more Emily into them, I think my writing would be much better and my grades would reflect that.

I thought that good writing meant becoming that paper the teacher always reads aloud, but, in reality, the best way to be good is to stand out and make yourself heard. So, sitting here now, I’m not trying to sound unique and I’m only trying to sound as smart as I am, no more, no less. I simply want to tell my honest opinion of my writing and be as concise as I can. There’s no point of trying to sound unique, not only when are you not good at the style you desire, but when everyone else is unique in the exact same way.





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