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?)