‘My Words Don’t Seem Right’

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?

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1bhaB-Gv

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Plot, Revision, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to ‘My Words Don’t Seem Right’

  1. yuvi says:

    I love this! If I kept a journal today, it would have the exact same emotional sentiments about the writing process 😉

    • Thanks, Yuvi! I agree! This is still so much like my writing process–trying different things because my words don’t seem right. Not very scientific, I know…

  2. That all sounds very familiar. 🙂

    I read a lot of science fiction in high school, so all my early efforts were scifi. All dismal failures. I am not a science fiction writer. I only started to make any progress when I stopped trying to write in a genre and just wrote things that made sense to me.

    “My words don’t seem right.” I still go by this. When the words seem right, it’s done.

    • My first novel was fantasy because that’s what I read, Anthony!

      Not seeming “right” is an excellent diagnostic tool. The trick to revisions (for me) is realizing that, then figuring out what’s wrong, why and how to fix it. I think that’s what I’ve been learning since this eighth grade epiphany!

      • This is sort of what I went through with Stevie One. I was reviewing the last two parts over the weekend, thinking that it would be nice if it was done by Sunday night, so I could post about it on the blog, but I wasn’t going to rush it. Mid-week, next weekend, whatever. But then, reading it through one time. it just felt done, like a big, satisfied sigh. So I figured it was finished (or I was so sick of reading it that any further changes would not be improvements 🙂 ).

  3. What an amazing record of your writing process! I did write then, not much but a few stories here and there. I traded chapters back and forth with my big sis in college, too.

  4. Laura, I was the drama-queen in middle school … the clueless one with the crooked feet who … you guessed it … tripped through life as hapless as Candide.

    Now? What I do now is take the random thoughts that have been stuffed in my brain, the thoughts that came out as verbal stories I entertained friends and family with … only now it’s much harder.

    Much harder to take those thoughts and make a cohesive story … but so worth the effort. Yeah, we all have days when the words just don’t sound right 🙂

    • Yes, it is worth the effort, isn’t it? Your transition from verbal to written stories is fascinating. Both have their challenges, I assume, and I wonder if there’s more pressure now because you can go back over your words and change them. On the other hand, there’s no pressure like a group of middle-schoolers listening to you and judging your words!

  5. Maggie says:

    Ah, trips down memory lane…

    I tried to write stories in middle school, but never finished them. I think deep down, I knew I was a terrible writer then. But my creative writing teacher thought I was a good writer, so he encouraged me.

    • Encouragement means so much! I have a post in my draft file that I’ll finish eventually about teacher comments on my work–culled from this same process of recycling old papers. I loved my teachers, but looking back now, I get an even stronger sense of how they helped me decide to pursue writing.

  6. NatalieNoel says:

    I’m only in 8th grade, so I can’t answer that questions yet 🙂

    • That’s so cool, Natalie Noel! It’s great you’re keeping a blog so you can go back when you’re an adult and look at how you changed and how your writing process changed. (See 4amWriter’s comment below about wishing for a journal from eighth grade!)

      • NatalieNoel says:

        I keep the blog to get my books out there, and my God out there too, but I guess that could be another nice thing to look on when I am an adult. I had a couple of things that I wrote when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, and those were fun to look back on too 🙂
        ~Natalie

  7. 4amWriter says:

    I had to chuckle at your teacher’s comment, “I still worry about a first person piece about the author’s death” and even more funny is your response.

    I don’t think I ever kept a journal of my writing progress, only a journal about writing inspiration or quotes that I stumble upon or pictures that might prompt me into writing. I actually think the kind of journal you kept is a great idea.

    Writing was a big thing in my middle school–I had creative-minded teachers thankfully. But I also wrote a lot in my spare time. I wish that I had kept a journal of my progress on a particular story–to remember what I thought of my work back then would be interesting and enlightening. Actually to remember what I thought of writing in general would be very, very cool.

    Thanks for bringing me back in time. 🙂

    • I’m so glad that gave you a laugh, 4amWriter! I was in tears from laughing at a few of those discoveries. I didn’t love that particular English teacher; in fact, this very same journal had a scholarly “oops.” She had been my math teacher and so I asked her if she had any experience with teaching English. I think she took that as a challenge and never really liked me. But I’m thrilled she made us keep these journals. I always wondered when my dying protagonist stint started, and I guess it was eighth grade! (It ended soon enough… to her point about POV, it’s hard to make stories like that work!)

  8. I have the same inner dialogue when I write. I don’t write the same stuff now that I did in middle school. I wrote short stories then. I feel like it was easier to come up with things back then, but I’m sure that the younger me would beg to differ. 😀

  9. Priceless… its always fun to peek back in time 🙂

  10. Janet says:

    This is hysterical. In fifth grade we had to write a story, and my proposed first line was “I woke up this morning and realized I was dead.” The teacher freaked out — “That is so morbid!! You can’t write that!!!” — and made me write about something else. I was so annoyed and didn’t understand what on earth she was so mad about (still don’t, actually). I’m glad your teacher was more supportive!

    • I love it, Janet! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one working on morbid stories. Yours sounds very Kafka-esque, and it’s too bad your teacher didn’t let you keep writing it! My teacher definitely kept nudging me against having protagonists die, but if I remember correctly, I kept doing stories like that despite her feedback–and she never prevented me.

  11. I wrote stories for sure, but I never thought about the process that much: when I was younger it was just a race to get the words down before I forgot them.
    🙂 I’m glad that’s different now!

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