Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
I count myself fortunate that I actually love to write. As a grade school student I took great pleasure in writing letters to my grandmother–partly because I missed her, but I think also because I enjoyed the act of putting words on paper. I’ve strained my brain a bit trying to remember some early attempts and have been able to recall a piece I wrote in junior high regarding how to set up an aquarium. As I recall it, the basis was all of the mistakes one would make in the process. The teacher loved it. I remember her love of it more than I remember the actual piece.
I was also fortunate to have a number of teachers who encouraged my craft–and some who didn’t. During junior high I remember one scathing teacher comment on an essay I wrote. She was horribly upset that I’d mispelled the word “truly” several times in an essay. Her concern was that I’d repeated the mistake some seven or eight times in the piece. I wanted to suggest to her that I wasn’t sure I understood her criticism. If I thought I’d spelled it right the first time, why would I question in the next time? And, in retrospect, why didn’t she “wack” me for overusing the word? (This was, by the way, before word processing and spell-checkers.) I confess, however, that I learned how simple errors in grammar and spelling can detract from the message. I also never spelled truly wrong again.
During high school, Miss McQuestion was a bit obsessive about grammar and I’ve learned to love her for it. Mr. Russo probably more than any other teacher put an edge on my writing. I recall many of his scribblings in the margin… accusing me occasionally of dysentary of the pen and advising me to put my head “squarely on the chopping block for easy removal” when I took a controversial position.
Oddly, writing in college almost did me in… because it felt like we were too busy reading! I do owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Bailey who actually taught writing–and gave an assignment that was profoundly simple but also drove an ease of writing I enjoy. He made us keep a journal. We had to write a paragraph every day. The big disappointment at the time was that he never collected it. A number of years passed before I fully appreciated the magic of the assignment. I think it was in part, “Better to write for oneself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.”