Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Groom 'Em Early (Just Don't Tell Them), That's the Way to Take 'Em Down

Alternate Title: How to Laugh at Yourself and Embarrass Your Family at the Same Time

Not too long ago, I had a writing-related conversation with one of my sisters. The conversation somehow turned to things I had written when I was younger, and I learned something I had never ever known:

As a child, I was being groomed for the life of a superstar author.

Yes, it's true. Apparently everyone knew it. My parents, my siblings, my teachers, and my friends knew it. Some adults at church knew it. I'd be willing to bet that some random guy pulled off the street might have even known it. Unfortunately, all their hard work was for naught, because they forgot to let one very important person in on the secret.


You see, I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was a dang good writer according to all these people. I had no idea that anything I wrote was beyond ordinary. How was I supposed to know that my sixth grade creative writing assignment was head and shoulders above the rest, for example? I just remember thinking I was doing the same thing as everyone else.

So I skipped through elementary school, cruised through junior high school, and sailed through high school without doing much with my enormous talent. I squandered those years on journalism (the most uncreative of all writing out there, imo) (no offense, journalism people of the world) and went on to do so in college as well. So much for superstar author status.

Anyway, back to the conversation with my sister. She informed me--20 years later (okay, 24 years later--geesh, you're so particular about the exact dates)--about this failed grooming. The story she used to illustrate this was that sixth grade creative writing assignment I talked about earlier. Apparently, it was so good that my teacher passed it around the teacher's lounge.

No lie. True story.

How do we know this? Well, apparently someone in my family *cough cough* forgot about her own writing assignment and panicked, so she therefore plagiarized my paper, turned it into her teacher and got caught. "How did you know?" she cried when her teacher sent her to the principal's office and called my mother in.

"Because I've already read the original that your sister wrote," the teacher replied.* "It's made the rounds in the teacher's lounge."

Sigh. All that talent. Wasted! If I'd only known, I would be up there, right now, on the NYT Bestseller's list. I might have even supplanted J.K Rowling. To misquote a character in one of my favorite classics, "If I had ever learnt the truth, I should have been a great proficient."

Anyway, hearing this story made me think of that sixth-grade assignment. So I did some digging, and found the actual text, in its dot matrix glory. Here's an image of this greatness:

The first paragraph reads:

Once, on a misty morning, some boys were hiking on a main trail. They spotted a hidden side trail. They dicided [sic] to see what lay ahead on that trail.

Amazed, aren't you?! I knew you would be. If you could only read the rest of it, you would see the talent I had at such a young age.

The moral of this story is:

The best way to keep a great writer down is to never tell them how good they really are. Especially when they're young. It'll work every time. Promise. Try it for yourself, if you are the "let's ruin the hopes and dreams of the next generation" type of person, that is.

The other moral of the story is:

Don't steal your sister's paper and turn it in as your own. It'll come back to bite you, more than once most likely. Especially if that sister later becomes a writer who likes to blog and who will post this embarrassing story for the world to see, because she finds the entire tale incredibly funny. Love you, sis!

The real moral of the story is:

It's fun to laugh at yourself. And it's even more fun to laugh at yourself with others. So share your stories with me in the comments, or blog about them and send me a link. Let's all laugh together!

*No one remembers, verbatim, what the teacher actually said. I certainly don't, since I wasn't there or ever told about this story until last month, some twenty years later (okay, twenty-four years later). But I'm a writer, so I imagine this is something the teacher could have said. The point is, she told my sister that my teacher had passed my work around the school, so most of the teachers had read it.


  1. LOL! In fifth grade I wrote a mystery story for a school assignment in which a woman thought her purse had been stolen, only to find it hanging on her closet doorknob. Clever twist, no? My mother was embarrassed when she read it. She said, "Now your teacher will know I hang my purse on the closet doorknob!"

  2. That is funny, Ruth! I bet your teacher didn't even realize you got the idea from your mom, either!

    Thanks for sharing your story. Awesome.