06 September, 2012

Writing: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly or How to Be Successful in College


I have to confess that I have always had a penchant for words, so it seems reasonable that writing would also be simple for me.  I was the weird kid in junior high who would come home from school and READ the dictionary.  So when I look back at my public school experiences in Forsyth County and when I assess where I am now, what are the things that I see the helped me and what would I either add or ask for  a "do-over."

The first "success" I have concerning my success in college and in writing I need to attribute to my parents: they made sure there were lots of books in the house as I was growing up.  My mom took me to the public  library and read voraciously in elementary school.  By the time I was in 7th grade, I was reading Gone with the Wind--all 600+ pages!  I saved my money from birthdays and from my first part time job (when I was 12 years old, I sold cantaloupes door to door and earned $12 for my efforts) and then bought books at the school's "book fair" ( I still have a few of these books on my shelf: Dracula by Bram Stoker and The Mysterious Island, Verne's sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). I continued reading throughout junior high and high school and have to point to this experience as critical to my effectiveness in writing.

The second "success" was that I studied.  I know this seems strange but you need to remember a couple of things: I did not have a TV in my bedroom until I was in high school and they TV only picked up three channels: ABC, CBS, and NBC. So TV did not distract me like it certainly does my daughters today.  Also, my parents were working class: my mom worked until I was born and my dad was a POW in Germany in WW II and he was insistent that develop the skills to be successful in college because, "by god," I was going and I'd better do well! I remember sitting in my room for hours, listening to the radio and pouring over my books.  This habit, I believe, had a profound impact on my college-life and beyond.

A third "success" in high school was being encouraged by my teachers to write.  I still have the journal my senior English teacher required us to keep.  I was drafted in my senior year to write a parody of Chaucer's "Prologue," using the students in the English class as the "pilgrims" and revealing something about them as individuals and their direction after high school.  I was asked to write research papers from eighth grade on, and in the nineth grade--even with my arm in a cast from my hand pass my elbow--I had to produce a library research paper. The support and encouragement of the faculty certainly contributed to my college success.

On the other hand, there are some things that I wished I'd had access to which, I believe, would have sky-rocketed my academic performance at college.

First, if I'd had access to the resources of today: OMG what could I have done!  We still had to go to the library, take our notecards, match them with bibliography cards, and read and take notes.  Very labor intensive!  If I could have been in my room, with internet access and a computer, my writing would have improved exponentially!

If I'd had the option, I would certainly NOT spend lots of time reviewing grammar which is how ever year started in public school as far back as I can remember.  We were drilled on subject verb agreement, pronoun agreement, spelling and vocabulary development, punctuation drills (I still believe a writer can live a fully successful life and NEVER use a semicolon), and on, and on, and on!  I was a native speaker of English! Why did I need all this drill (I have sense learned why this practice is still in play today, but that would be another blog for me to post)?  I believe that this grammar experience is certainly something I could have lived without.

Speaking of grammar: the third thing that I believe was a waste of my time was diagramming sentences!  I remember agonizing over the process in junior high and in high school.  Having all the lines going in the correct direction.  Having the modifies subsumed under the correct part of speech on the baseline.  Having the dotted lines connecting coordinate conjunctions, while having sloped line with subordinate conjunctions. I never could fathom why we had to do this activity, particularly when it did not preserve the inherent quality of the sentence!

William Faulkner said, "Read, Read, Read. Read everything-- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it."  I certainly read everything I could: the dictionary, GWTW, Frankenstein, every Perry Mason novel I could find, Ian Fleming, Leon Uris. . . . the list goes on and on. So this message would be to any one planning on college: read, read, read and you will find college writing and college in general more likely a success for you.