Saturday, September 15, 2007
Writing in the Danger Zone
(High School Sports Editor, Cris Warren)
Everyday I hear from some struggling writer--some published, some not. They tell me stuff about the struggle, but sometimes I think they forget just how much they have already overcome. Reminds me of my bootcamp class I took a few years back. We had an ex-Navy S.E.A.L.-trained instructor and he would actually turn red telling us what he wanted us to accomplish. He took it as a personal affront anytime we said, "I can't," or in his view, "I won't." So far, no one is holding a gun to our heads here to write something. Where did we get that feeling that someone is? But I understand better these days why Instructor Brown turned red a lot. I feel like him sometimes.
How did you come into writing? Who encouraged you? (I hope some of you feel that I have encouraged you.)I'll tell you about some of my story in writing. Maybe you can encourage me by telling me what seems to be my best path in this business? I still haven't quite figured it out. I think in encouraging others, we often figure it for ourselves, so maybe this is how. (That giving-out-comes-back-to-you.)One thing I've noticed since starting this blog is that I see how the writer came to be by examining their past. My turn. Maybe it'll help you, too.
I probably had the most negative experiences in writing before high school. In elementary school I was a fabulous actress(I was also voted best actress of my high school,) good in art, an "A" student. I was often picked to tutor other kids or to monitor/encourage other kids to "be good." Something about my presence evidently was a good influence on other kids. I will never forget Mr. Rosen making me sit in the nest of bad boys of our class. There was Gene Cohen, Gene (why were all the "bad boys" named Gene?) Black and Miles Kendall*.(I'm sure they grew up to be model citizens.) Well, maybe this is another story. The point was, teachers recognized many things in me and I had much encouragement for those traits/gifts, but writing didn't seem to be one of them.
I was a great(you might can see why I'm not a successful writer--if I were judging this piece, great would have to go! That, and exclamation points) English student, but I was rejected over and over for writing "jobs." In junior high, though my English teachers adored me, even inviting me to their homes, I wasn't picked for the school newspaper or told "You should be a writer." I got so-so comments for everything I wrote except my "journal." And I held back in my journal. You should've seen my personal journal I kept at home! (You can't; I burned it just before going off to college in case I died.)My biggest gift was being a reader, summing up and criticizing already written stuff. And I could explain it to other kids.
My freshman year I wrote a poem that was published in a book. I can't even remember it except what it was about--something about God and the sea and how God commands the sea to toss waves that kill. Sheesh. I was a dark kid.
But finally, my big break came.
Mrs. Bragg, my teacher in my junior year HS journalism class picked me to be the sports editor for the weekly school newspaper (also the art editor--my main interest was art, but I was interested in teaching P.E., too.)No girl had ever been the sports editor before and she said I could handle it, because I was tenacious,stubborn and good at English.(Ha.) Lots of tough under that transparent skin and long blonde hair. I don't think she chose me for my writing skills. I think it was because I still had a way of controlling behaviors of other kids--especially boys.(All that previous experience with the Genes.)
So, I interviewed and wrote under major criticism from the guys and the male coaches,"she can't write about sports--she's a girl!" (This was back in the day.I also played on the first girls basketball team as that was the year they started organized girls basketball in Indiana.)
The football coach, "Crazy Joe" Gallo (really, his name was Paul)
probably was the worst.I can't even remember what he taught. Maybe auto shop or something. I kept up his scrapbook for him, too, in the library where I also worked in HS, and he never once said thank you.He did growl at me--a lot! (I didn't have him for class, however.)He would squint those black eyes at me and something gutteral would come out. His wife was the business teacher and our sponsor in booster club--and I was president. I figured if she was married to him, I was somewhat safe because I figured she was the only one keeping him from running amuck on kids.
About half-way through my senior year Mrs. Bragg came in with guidelines for a journalism scholarship at the university in the next county over. I had to take all of my articles and compile them into a portfolio to try out for the scholarship. I won the scholarship and that determined where I went to college, being a kid with no money.
Though Mrs. Bragg was the one who encouraged me to write(and write "under fire,") it was really those harsh critics (the coaches and the guys of my high school) who taught me the most about writing.I not only wrote, but was the only one who wrote under extreme criticism. I was breaking new ground, and I probably deserved some of the criticism (though not for being a girl writing about sports.)Criticism,as anyone who has spent any time churning out words for public consumption, is the main thing in writing. You can be Hemingway and still get criticism. (Gene Hemingway was probably mean. Thus, Mean Gene being a common nickname and if Ernie was named Gene, he probably changed to his pseudonym.)
That time as sports editor, however, cemented in me a "no fear" attitude. I used to think, "Hey,what can you do--kill me?" (And if not, I wrote and tried to prove to them I could do ok at it.)As a kid, I was always concerned about getting killed since every weekend I somehow survived my dad's down days. Getting to Monday alive was a major accomplishment for me. Maybe that was how I got so good at keeping mean boys in line--I already had practice every weekend. Writing a stupid article in a newspaper was non-threatening to me as I had already had a whole weekend of being told how worthless I was, but still seeing the truth was, I was not as bad as I was told.
I did wonder if Crazy Joe might smash me like a grape, though, when
I'd ask him what happened after a game. That year they had a 2-8
season, so I was probably flirting with the edges of his patience.Mrs. Gallo always smiled at me and even gave me a silver I.D. bracelet with my name on it. How bad could Crazy Joe be if he was married to an angel?
Mrs. Bragg, however, made me feel as if I could do anything,
and her confidence gave me a healthy check for my college education,
too. Bless her. She was short, but mighty. I always thought I won that writing scholarship for my writing. Years later, (like now) I have come to conclude that maybe it wasn't for my writing, afterall. Writing is a tough job and you can be a wonderful writer, but still not get published. So, how do you get published? You have to get tough.
I will have some posts on this topic in the coming days. Stay tuned.
*names have been slightly alterred