As I was cleaning out old school papers at my parents’ house in May, I came across my eighth grade reading and writing journal. That spring we studied prejudice through reading about South Africa and slavery, plus Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Most of my comments about the books begin “It’s so sad that…”
During our comprehensive unit on slavery, I wrote and revised a story called “The Moonlight.” Here are a few observations I made in my journal about the writing process:
- March 26: I have gotten a little farther, but not much. I am writing about a black girl who is kind of reflecting on her life.
- March 27 in class: It is so hard to write about prejudice. I have been trying, but when I write something down, I decide I don’t like it and I cross it out.
- March 27 at home: I am struggling to write this. It is harder than I thought. I have only written a paragraph, although most of my paper is filled with scribbling. MY TEACHER: What’s the hardest part? ME: Deciding what will happen, or what has happened.
- March 28 in class: I am not sure where this story is going. I do not know what will happen.
- March 28 at home: I have an idea of what may happen at the end, but I have a writers block at the moment. MY TEACHER: Considering the reaction at our table this a.m. I hope I’ll get to see a draft soon.
- April 2: I am so happy! I figured out how to end my story. I know what will happen. I just have to write it.
- April 3: Now that I have my idea, I thought it would be easy writing the rest. It is really challenging. My words don’t seem right. MY TEACHER: Does your title connect to the slave ship? ME: No. It takes place at night, with a full moon.
- April 4: The plot is developing now. I am beginning to like it.
- April 9 in class: Conference with Lissa. Lissa helped me a lot on my story.
- April 9 at home: I wrote the second draft of my paper. You can read it tomorrow. MY TEACHER: Thanks! At last…
- April 10: I didn’t get very far. I tried to fix up the “passive voice” where I had written it. I didn’t like it though. I have to write it a better way. MY TEACHER: I still worry about a first person piece about the author’s death. ME: It is the way I like to write.
- April 11: It does not sound right as a poem. You can read it.
- April 24: (Thinking about a new piece.) It is impossible to think of another story. Everything I think of is a first person story where the person kills themselves. MY TEACHER: I hope you’ll come up with something.
Apparently that was the dark phase of my life as a writer… I also remember penning stories where something scary but unnamed came out from the underbrush and pounced on my protagonist. One was called “And Then It Was Still.” Yeah. You guessed it. It was still because the protagonist died.
Nevertheless, my running commentary about my challenges, experiments and fears is similar to my current day writing process. I especially love that I looked at my story and thought, “My words don’t seem right.” I knew something was wrong, and although I wasn’t able to articulate the problem, I kept revising. That’s pretty much what I’m doing with my novel’s chapter three right now. I have to figure out what’s wrong, why and how to fix it. Only then will I move on to the next chapter.
Did you write stories in middle school? If so, do you write about the same things now or not?