Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 18, 2014

The Childhood Edit

erikaphoto-45Hi there. Erika Wassall, Jersey Farm Scribe here.

Everyone has people in their lives that have encouraged their writing, whether it be through praise, presenting of information, or a wide variety of other means. In honor of father’s day, I wanted to talk about one of mine.

My dad is an English major.

And while yes, that was his major in college, it was more than that, he is an English major in his blood and in his heart. And it showed.

From a very young age, everything myself or my brother wrote for school was read over by my father.

And unwaveringly came back DRIPPING with red pen corrections.

My brother, would shrug or roll his eyes and say “okay.” He would go back, make most of the corrections, and move on with his day.

Me?… Not so much.

I would kick and scream about every change he had made.

Why is that any better?? 

But that’s not even what I meant!!! 

And of course, the infamous:

BUT THAT’S MY FAVORITE LINE!

My dad would calmly explain why he made the changes, strike-outs or “suggestions” that he did, and say things like:

There’s too many words here. 

You don’t need that line. 

What is this really adding?

And the more calm he was, the more upset I became.

Most of the time, this exercise ended with me crying, my dad frustrated and my mom stepping in and playing the mediator as she explained to me that Dad was just trying to help, and to my dad that I was only in second grade and didn’t necessarily need to write like a journalist.

As I got older and started to FEEL like a grownup, I stopped giving him my papers to read. Then when I got older and actually grew up, I took advantage of every opportunity I had to get his feedback on anything I wrote. And still do.

But it’s more than that.

I HEAR him when I write. 

I hadn’t realized that when we debated about my use of verbs, I was learning how to write for an audience, when he pulled words I didn’t need, he was showing me how to watch my word count. And when we inevitably fought tooth and nail over cutting out what always seemed to be my absolute favorite lines, he was teaching me the importance of killing my darlings.

Often when revising my work, I come to a line that I know COULD be better, I’m just not sure HOW. And I will consciously run through my mind the advise he gave me years ago sitting at our kitchen table.

Are my verbs not active enough? 

Am I repeating the same thought somewhere else? 

Do I even need that line?

Certainly there were extremes. Hand written Christmas cards don’t necessarily need grammatical corrections or comments about where I left out a comma. And I’m unquestionably grateful for the balance of my mother’s support, who thought everything I ever wrote was simply beautiful the way it was.

But tears and all, I don’t think there is anything in my life that has shaped my writing as much as those hours spent arguing with my dad about what words we could remove and how something could be made clearer to the reader.

I’m glad I didn’t just accept his corrections at face value. Questioning them and never giving up an inch without a fight, is where the learning crystallized for me.

I’m glad he didn’t give in, even when he knew the flood of tears were right around the corner. Hearing it so many times is what engrained it in my brain.

I’m glad to always have the voice of my father in my ear as I write.   The balance of that, combined with my own childhood voice is a constantly morphing mold of the writer I am today.

Who or what do you hear in the back of your mind as you write? Was there a parent, teacher, neighbor who helped you find your voice or build your confidence? I’d love to hear about those in your life who encouraged your writing along the way.

Thank you Erika. I love your post. It seems so fitting, since we just celebrated all our father’s (living and remembered). Makes me think Sunday with your Dad inspired you.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

 


Responses

  1. I love this post Erika, and I’m living this right now as my fifth grader wraps up the last writing project of the school year. I was pushing her to find stronger verbs and cut tangential thoughts. No tears – thankfully! – and finally a gruding admission that “It does read better now Mom.”

    • Thanks so much for the great comment Cathy. I think it’s great that you’re doing that for your daughter. Lucky girl! Sounds like she even appreciates it now! That’s impressive. I’m sure she’ll remember it in the future years as well.

  2. Reminds me of my own dad who was always correcting our spoken grammar. My sister and I used to say “ain’t” just to drive him crazy. He worked crosswords and often peppered his speech with “big” words. I’m sure we learned many vocabulary words from that. Thanks Erika.

    • Sounds like we both learned a lot growing up, more than we realized at the time I’m sure! (My grandpa was a crossword man too!) 🙂

  3. Wonderful post Erika! It’s not my parents who I think of when I write, although they were totally supportive of anything I wanted to do (mostly art), but the authors of books that I have devoured again and again that I keep in mind. I hope to convey that same feeling and excitement in my own writing for the children who read my stories (just my kids right now, but I love the feeling I get when they laugh at a line I was hoping would be funny!) Thanks for sharing such a wonderful piece about your father.

    • Oh what a great point!!! I agree whole heartedly. Authors definitely have their lasting effects!

      And I’m sure that someday, lots of children will read, hear and FEEL yours stories as well. 🙂

  4. Thanks, Kathy for bringing us Erika’s delightful story. I might borrow Erika’s Dad’s words for when I write from now on. My father’s main advice was ‘watch the corner’ which he said each morning as I rode off to the bus-stop.

    • Hehe.

      Thanks for the comment Kaye. I’m sure my Dad (and myself) will be honored to have his words passed on to others.

      I may just think of your dad too the next time I’m approaching an ominous corner! 😉

  5. I love hearing this and oh, how lucky you were🙂


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