I entered the classroom, palms wet with sweat and stomach in knots. I took my seat and glanced at the enemy, the overhead projector, standing ready to aid in my total humiliation. The teacher entered the room without a word, and flipped the switch. The enemy sprang to life.
“Today we begin with a short story by Pat…”
A loud buzzing filled my ears, blocking the drone of her voice. I closed my eyes, too, so I could not see my paper, projected in what seemed like letters ten feet high, slashed and savaged by the ruthless attack of her red pencil. I only wished the ground to open up and swallow me. My anxiety about sharing my writing began that day.
My biggest regret is letting the comments of a high school English teacher keep me from writing seriously for such a long time. Her unkind comments and the slash of her vicious red pencil alone were enough to make me swear off writing for life. Then when she started using an overhead projector to beam my savaged papers on the classroom wall, I wanted nothing more than being as far away from this killer of dreams as I could get.
There are ways to critique and there are ways to cripple and this person embraced the latter approach. Happy was the day I graduated from high school and pushed her into the farthest reaches of my mind, but so insistent was her voice, and so deep the trauma, that even though I received an A on every paper I wrote in college, the niggling feeling that I could never be a real writer persisted.
I wrote for myself. Even my nemesis could not still my need to write. I wrote poetry, and kept travel journals, and a personal journal, and then, one day, when my children were young, my husband and I were discussing his ideas on politics, the space program, life in outer space, and being science fiction fans, we decided to take some of his ideas and write a science fiction novel. We sketched out an outline and I was ready to go.
The next day I dropped my son off at preschool, drove to the library, pulled out my newly sharpened pencils and a legal pad and began to write. The floodgates opened then, and when I left the library I had a prologue and the first chapter completed. When I gave them to my husband to read, he was pretty amazed. I wrote that entire book out in longhand. I initially planned to include the book in a trilogy but life intervened and I never did finish the saga. We had various people read the book when it was finished, all of whom really enjoyed it, but still that niggling voice would break through now and again. I sent out a few queries and sample chapters, but lost my momentum after a while as work and motherhood took over my time.
Where I did find my niche as a writer is in writing essays. I have had several published over the years in newspapers and magazines. My first published piece is on my blog, listed on the right side of the heading. And now, with this essay, I will have published 184 posts on WordPress. I think I’ve finally silenced the voice, but I still regret not finishing that trilogy. The book needs a lot of revising now, as science has progressed and theories come and go, and the Soviet Union in no more, but I really should finish it, if nothing more than for closure, not for me so much as for my poor characters, left battling aliens in space for all these years…
In the end, however, I really have no time for regrets because I’m too busy writing!