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THH: Wreally Writing Wright
Books, and writing; that was easy stuff. I’d figured out the secret early. As far as I was concerned, the only way to write was to cram as many adjectives into one sentence as possible without sounding constipated. None of that one-word-one-sentence teen gunk, mind you. I figured it out. Flash secret to success? Mix in a little fantasy, throw in a princess, a few frogs, and name the fictional land: boom. Bestseller.
At least that was the technique I carried through middle school, writing whenever I was in the mood to mix in a little fantasy, thrown in a princess, a few frogs, and name the fictional land. My reading taste accommodated; so long as there was a fairy tale twist involved, the book was mine for inspection. And rarely did I go beyond this stolid doctrine, with the exceptions of Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
My bubble was a happy place to live in until popped. There were suddenly all these sturdy small-font classics I needed to read in order to seem respectable—and they all seemed to shatter my previous notions of what made writing good writing. Not to mention I also stumbled across How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, every English student’s dream assignment. I began to wonder what made a classic a classic, more or less in fears if I didn’t, someone would beat me to writing the next great American novel.
And that was not allowed to happen. With more or less deliberation, I tried to read everything. Peer bribery for a sci-fi marathon? Done. Reread The Giver. Done. All of the Chronicles of Narnia, done. Teen fads that celebrate early dying and etcetera dystopia—done, done, and done. I pocketed Fahrenheit 451. And with English class encouragement, I started to chew my way through the under-announced classics genre. Blink. Maus. Dandelion Wine. Of Mice and Men.
This generally left me confused, and a little dizzy. As far as I could tell, no writer-genius recipe existed. And no matter what, I always seemed a thousand books behind. Neither was there any evident correlation between classics. (Unless, naturally, you wish to argue Tolkien and Lewis.) Still, it’s the unspoken rule that the leathery paperbacks of The Great Gatsby, and 1984, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are unquestionably linked. So what was I missing?
Catch-22 and To Kill A Mockingbird boasted poker-face black humor in tremendously different ways; Harry Potter, a whole scheme of magical charm. Snowflower and the Secret Fan churned with masterful storytelling—and on the polar end of the spectrum, the biography Unbroken. Tolkien was synonymous with fantasy. Dandelion Wine spewed golden-drenched imagery. Ender’s Game and the Sherlock Holmes I read were absolutely, unbearably smart.
And despite the fact the previous paragraph exists only to utilize bragging rights, I wasn’t able to piece together much. As I mention before, good writing seemed to be literally…everywhere. You could be slaphappy funny or clair, or devious, or just outright smart, and the public awards you with eternal publication and everlasting good feelings.
I despaired. All these people were able to tap into this secret source of godly ability, and I might never be one of them.
It was a selfish realization, but I was convinced. I used schoolwork as an excuse to avoid big writing and reading, which worked, and poured my angry teenage thoughts into angry little poems. There was a general feeling of Great. Now I have to figure out accounting before I try to apply to college…
I claim this prolonged temper tantrum to be selfish. But it wasn’t that. It was one of those really dumb, full blown idiotic “realizations” that later embarrass you terribly. I had stooped myself in the spirit of extremity: If you can’t write a classic, then don’t bother writing at all.
Now you understand the really dumb and full blown idiotic part. Still it seemed I had every reason on my side; not only had I failed to find out the secret to good writing, I would likely also fail to land my books on every American bookshelf and shape millions of readers’ lives. The idea of writing without a legacy was overwhelming.
I received a few motivational talks after ranting to others, but as usual, the reform had to come from within. Only when I decided I might as well start intensive writing again did I see my writer’s voice had changed.
I wouldn’t compare it to flash puberty, but it was a steep drop. Over the last year especially, I had been learning about the human spirit while trying to read myself into enlightenment—and that meant my writing was getting better. I can see something deeper in it, now is taking form; a mild Frankenstein of my reading appetite as much as it is me.
And it’s worth being proud of, whether it will be one day crowned a “classic” of American literature. Which also explains why the seven-page “Pre-AP Reading List by Title” now resides on my desk.