Learning to Write Good

Paraphrasing of question from U. Chicago application:

Storytelling is an important part of every human society. Tell a story of your own.

(Submitted as supplemental essay to schools other than U. Chicago)

If one were to ask me to relate a story of what had most troubled me throughout my high school experience, I would likely tell of my trials and tribulations as an ambitious writer in the hands of my English teachers. I, like sculptor’s clay, was molded into a new shape, coated with a thin veneer to hide the crude interior, then subjected to intense stress to make me shine and reflect the beauty of all that had been put into me. Here follows the chronicle of my journey: In eighth grade, I was a good writer, and I was talented, and I always got A’s in English, like on the final, when I wrote a very good essay on Inherit the Wind, which we had read in class, and got a 100 that I was very proud of. My only problem was with run-on sentences, which I tended to use a lot without knowing it, and this somewhat detracted from my writing, but I was working at it, and I was slowly getting better. At any rate, I expected to do well in Honors English in ninth grade, which I had gotten into as a result of doing exceptionally well on the admission test, and I happily thought how, as such a good writer, I could look forward to all the A’s I would be getting, as I was reading the four books we had to read over the summer. Once I had arrived on the first day of school, I came to the discovery that we had to take an essay test requiring the whole period on the Old Man and the Sea during the first day of Honors English 9. This caused me a great bit of worry, as I had never had the experience of taking part in such a stressful activity on the first day that I was in a class. Nevertheless, I summoned my perseverance and succeeded in finishing the essay test, although I ended up writing with such fury that my hand came to hurt for the rest of the day. Once a weeklong period had passed, Mr. Miller handed the essays back to all the students, and I experienced horror as I found that I had received my first ever D on the essay test that he had assigned that first day during class. At the bottom of the page there was written in red ink and a short scrawl, “Give it the axe!” For some time, I didn’t quite come to understand what exactly that was supposed to mean, but finally I happened to have the chance to converse with Mr. Miller on the subject, and he informed me in so many words that I was writing down far too much excess verbiage in my essays and using far too many words to express simple ideas. It was making it hard very understand to what I was writing antelope as if I I I were filling the with paper monkey gibberish made that no warrior sense. I grew defensive, because I had always gotten A’s in eighth grade English, and what made his standards so much higher, and how did he know it would still make sense if I took out every other word, and damn it my writing was good! He told me if someone cut off both my hands, it would do the world a favor. As the year progressed, I can’t say that my writing got became any better, although I did learn a lot much concerning how to improve my writing by getting rid removing “junk words” like “got,” “a lot,” and “very.” I simply couldn’t unhesitantly abandon the very essence of how I had written through my every, bright, livelong day, and for some time I simply had no idea how to approach writing an analytical essay, as if it were some burden to be carried through a barren wasteland on a cold night with the moon on your back and a secret in your heart. Therefore, due to the overabundance of substantiating statements, it was difficult for the reader to understand. One can thereby conclude that the author had no idea what he was doing. As freshman year came to a close, I believe I finally began to understand that which Mr. Miller had been attempting to impart upon me. I managed to receive a B-, which was more than I deserved, and made an honest vow to keep hitting my head against the brick wall until I broke through. Broke through to proficient writing. In sophomore year, my writing slowly improved, although I encountered some difficulty trying to balance growing conciseness with a creative spark, which Mrs. Barnes said any good writer required. First I was too serious. My sentences became curt. I avoided verbosity. Because of this, my writing became abrupt. Then I became far to lackadaisical, whimsical, and flowery, embellishing my every word with a beautiful, perfectly fitted adjective in order to vanquish the loathsome foe of dreadful triteness. However, by the end of Honors Tenth English, I had achieved a degree of improvement: this time, I received a B for the year. Forsooth, my writing surely solidified in junior year, as I came to reassume confidence in my capabilities as an adept artist of prose. Nay, I would nevermore use ten words for two, and I had succeeded in rendering my writing bereft of excess. But woe, fate swung down her heavy hand: my confidence, become considerable beyond compass, quickly capitulated when Mr. Checchio circulated his “Learning to Write Good,” in which were collected select censurable lines of each student’s most recent submission. There, under “Avoid Pretension,” was recorded a line from my most contemporary composition. He later told me I had begun to sound like Edgar Allen Poe; but Poe at least was justified: in his time that was considered high-class composition. My confidence destroyed, I once again entered a state in which writing an essay became an insurmountable challenge for me. On our essay for Hamlet, I tallied nineteen continuous hours spent in writing and editing my ten-page piece. For my twelve-page research paper (page limit, 6-8), twenty-four hours. Needless to say, I didn’t go to school the next day, but soon after, he did inform me that it was the best essay I had ever written. Now here I sit, looking back on my journey. In Honors English 9, I received no higher than a C on any draft of an analytical essay. In AP English, my first two essays earned me an A- each; my most recent, an A. I have achieved in this year more than ever before, and I am pleased. However, pleasure does not describe my sentiments as accurately as pride. For me, learning to be an adept, concise, and thoughtful writer has posed more difficulty than anything else I have ever confronted. I look back upon my accomplishments as a writer, and see tangible improvements, new levels reached. Certainly, I have much room left to grow. Yet, I can also say to myself, as I did during the summer before ninth grade, that I am a good writer. This time, I can be certain of it. Believe me: my English teachers may jokingly say that they give me A’s to be rid of me. But I know better. With me, they had but two choices: mold me like clay, then make me shine, but only once I had run through the fire; or find the axe. Mr. Miller says he’s still looking, but I think this time the smile on his face does not disguise sinister intentions.

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