How They Sucked all the Fun out of Writing: A Personal Journal

1977-1980.   Junior High School.   I’ve always been a math and science geek, but English class isn’t so bad.   We get to pick our own books for book reports.   We get to write our own stories, based on what we like and what we know.  We get good feedback from the teacher.   I’m starting to discover the joy of writing.   

1981.   Grade 11 High School.   Suddenly, the creative writing stops.   We’ve now graduated to “literary criticism”.  Which means that for half the year, we discuss Nineteen Eighty-Four and learn artsy words like “Oligarchial Collectivism”.  

The rest of the year, we painfully dissect Prince Hal in King Henry IV Part I.  Such “riveting” essay topics are the only thing we’re allowed to write about in class. 

“But what about grammar and writing compositions?”, I ask.  

“We no longer DO that in Grade 11.” , I’m told.

1982.   Grade 12 High School.  Oh joy, oh bliss.  I’m stuck with the same pretentious A-hole teacher from the year before.  Which means another year of navel-gazing books I can’t stand, and writing dry “Formal Essays” that make me want to gouge my own eyes out.   

I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything based on my own ideas.   All we do is critique books.  We spend three God-Awful months over-analyzing The Great Gatsby half to death.

Three months, for Chrissakes.  (…The book is ONLY 150 pages long!)

I reach an Epiphany, and can pinpoint the EXACT moment I start to despise English.  

This is when the teacher explains to us how the “Color Symbolism in Gatsby relates to the passing of the seasons from spring to fall.  Which itself is a metaphor for the decay of the American Dream, heralding the end of the Jazz Age before the onset of the Great Depression.      

Oh.  My.  God.  

“Do you HONESTLY believe this is what Fitzgerald meant when he sat at his typewriter?” I ask.  

“Yes, based on my expertise in literary criticism.” the teacher tells me.   And I still have to go write another essay on that F*&$ing book. I am so SICK of F. Scott Fitzgerald, that I haven’t read anything by him since.

(Way to introduce teenagers to literature, Mr. A-hole!)   

1982-1987.   Jump ahead to undergraduate engineering at university.   Between all the math and science, the only writing I get to do is formal lab reports.  It’s an important skill to learn, but it’s not exactly fun, is it?  But I’m too busy trying not to fail calculus and thermo to notice.

1991.  All those years of lab reports have paid off.   I enter the world of technical writing by publishing my first article in a refereed journal.  Hooray (sort of).  I discover what a soul-crushing process it is to have each and every word debated, and edited, and re-edited by my supervisor (not to mention the other reviewers).

1992-2004.    Grad school followed by full-time R&D work.   More scientific publications.  I continue to have each word micro-edited in a sea of red ink.   I begin to second-guess myself and no longer believe I can write.  It takes me 2 hours to write a 150 word abstract. 

My manuscripts get approved, but only after going through my supervisor, and THEIR supervisor, and the Prime Minster, and Pope John Paul himself.  I suspect the only parts of the manuscripts that are originally mine are short snippets like “the” and “but”.     

At least I’m listed as the ‘Author’, though.

2005 to 2007.    I have forsaken my PhD and have become a full-time Paper Engineer.  I plow through forms and issue formal procedures to meet artificial deadlines.  What I’m writing about is not exactly rocket science (installing a wall, anyone?).  But the work culture has reached a sub-quantum level of nano-editing that would make Stephen Hawking himself soil his drawers.     

Managers get into 20-minute discussions over using the word “shall” instead of “should”.   It takes an entire afternoon just to decide on the proper Microsoft Word template for the cover page.   This is insane!   This makes publishing scientific articles look like Archie Comics.

Writing has now gained the same level of pleasure as having wisdom teeth removed, or listening to Celine Dion caterwaul.  

Godammit, I hate writing.  Never EVER again.

 January 2008.  Discovered Blogging. 

 I get to pick the blogs I want to read.  I get to write my own stories about what I like and what I know. I get good feedback from other bloggers.  It’s like being a kid.

Hmmmm.  I may have re-discovered the joy of writing.  

(It’s been a while, hasn’t it?) 

 

 

 

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14 Comments on “How They Sucked all the Fun out of Writing: A Personal Journal”


  1. Bravo! Excellent run-down. I can relate on so many levels. May you always find (or make) a way to enjoy writing.

  2. Friar Says:

    Hi Bob

    Yeah, ain’t it the truth? We’ve all had a “Mr. A-Hole” at one point or another in our school careers. Wish I knew then what I know now, and I’d have stood up for msyelf and told him a few things.

    But that was long ago. Right now, I’m just so glad I “re-discovered” writing. It’s like finding a long-lost friend.

  3. Ellen Wilson Says:

    I like symbolism! But yeah, you can over do it. Do you think I over do it in my blog? My mind is always pulling everything together. The point is that you write what you want. I’m glad you got the dust out of your brain. I have felt that second guessing self also. It’s nto pleasant.

  4. Friar Says:

    I suspect that authors like Hemingway or Fitzgerald pounded back a few shots of liquor, sat at the typewriter while they were half-snapped and just WROTE.

    If they were still alive, I’d love to ask them what they REALLY thought about while writing (as compared to what the English PhD-Wannabees tell us what they PROBABLY thought).

    Chances are, the writers just wanted to tell a good story.

    Still trying to get the dust out of my head. (Right now I’m working on a document that’s not even 2500 words). I have ELEVEN reviewers. @#$%^*!

  5. Ellen Wilson Says:

    Yeah. Hemingway said it was the hardest thing he had ever done – to write one true sentence. But maybe it was because he was drunk. And he didn’t even have eleven reviewers. That is just insane to have the SHALL police everywhere. The word shall sounds too fluffy for a technical document. It sounds better in a romance novel.

  6. Friar Says:

    The type day I’m having, I need to get drunk too.

    I was just telling Brett. They just issued a 45 page Procedure describing “Formal Procedures”. And (if this isn’t enough) they issued an ADDITIONAL 26-page “Procedure” about how to WRITE a Formal Procedure.

    Holy crap.

    I coudln’t make stuff up like this is I tried.

    (Poor Canada.)

  7. Kelly Says:

    Friar,

    You are my kind of dude. Anyone who can use “caterwaul” in a sentence has not totally forgotten the joy of writing.

    🙂

    You have a wicked sense of humor. Do continue to use it on absolutely everything!

    Regards,

    Kelly

  8. Friar Says:

    @Kelly.

    Thanks…I WILL continue to inflict my sense of humor on the planet, especially whenever I get an appreciative audience like you guys.

    (Although the feedback I’ve gotten face-to-face with some people….well…methinks they’re not too crazy about what I write).

    Oh well, you can’t please everyone.

  9. Ellen Wilson Says:

    Hey prisoner in Widget Land. It’s a dirty little war.Take weapons up and begin to spread the word…let the long army of words bring you home.

    I have to say, I worked a job where we were ALWAYS going to conferences and other useless shit. Words upon useless words. Pile upon pile. One day I told my friend, when this shit is all over, I am burning all of their damn booklets.

    Yeah. So when you’re done you can have a big ASS bonfire.

    Words can be used to inspire, or to simply bury us. After all, they are only symbols.

    Maybe the Vikings had it right with their Runes. Or the Druids with only their Oral Tradition. I don’t know.

  10. Friar Says:

    Ellen

    One of these days…one of these days (after I’m safety retired and/or a sucessful author) the TRUE stories from Widget Land will come out. And oboy, I won’t be holding back, either.

    In the mean time I’m going to keep my nose clean, and continue to gather ammo for the “dirty little war” that’s coming down the road.

    Oh..and also I’m going to drink and feast, and burn things in big bonfires! And you will be there with me in spirit.

  11. Nicole Says:

    That.. was.. awesome! I love your humor and your take on things. I hadn’t really thought about how little actual writing I did in school (next to none), and if I never read The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter again it will be too soon. Thanks! 🙂

    Nicole

  12. Friar Says:

    @Nicole

    Yeah..that’s what I hated. We spent all our time ANALYZING everyone else’s writing. Why couldn’t we just write on our own?

    I didnt’ even like The Great Gatsy that much. It was average/okay, but not that great.

    I haven’t read Shakespeare outside of High School, either. (But then again, I’m a big dumb engineer, we’re not supposed to be literate!)

  13. Matt T Says:

    School is efficient at killing interest in writing, reading,…learning in general. That’s why I don’t teach anymore–couldn’t be party to it anymore.

  14. Friar Says:

    Hi Matt.

    That’s a shame, eh? When burnt-out teachers and a crappy curriculum kill your interest in a subject.

    Mr. W. totally turned me off literature. To this day, I think he’s an asshole.

    But, on the other hand, I had a great chemistry teacher, Mr. D. He encouraged me so much, I think he was partly responsible for me going into Chemical Engineering…I even ended up getting a Phd.

    It just goes to show you the power teachers can have (good and bad).


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