“The first paper you ever write for my class will receive an F. I can guarantee you none of you know how to write. At best, one of you might be lucky enough to get a C or B paper once in the entire class. If you write an A paper—and you won’t—I’ll bring you a red rose.”
This was the pronouncement my first day of class for my required, upper division writing course, from an unsmiling, crotchety old tenured-to-the-millionth-year professor. Part of me wanted to grab my books and decide to take the course another semester with a friendlier looking guy in front of the class. But the stubborn, egotistical part of me just thought, Heh, buddy, I’ll show you. I’m badass writer with a capital ASS. So I sat through the rest of the class, listening to the blah blah blah syllabus blah blah blah stuff that goes on the very first day.
By the end of the first week our first paper was due. Typical me, I hashed it out quickly, with only some light editing for content. Barely a wisp of an outline. Down to the wire. Balls to the wall with the deadline closing in. When I was done, I thought I’d expounded on that sonnet like a literary deconstructing mofo. See this? I eat Billy Shakespeare for breakfast.
On Monday, we got our papers back. I heard the moans and groans from some of my other students, but I knew I’d shine above them all.
It felt like a serious punch in the face. I’d never in my life received such a low grade on anything I’d written.
What did I do? Did I drop the class?
Ego now deflated, I knew I’d have some serious work to do in order to prove to this asshole that I was a Writer. Yeah, capital W. My next paper I wrote down every idea, wrote a long outline, edited a couple of times, and read and re-read that Graham Greene shortie like a dozen times. Mr. Greene, you will be my bitch. I’ll show the world that I can do this—HARD CORE.
I’ve never felt quite as much tension as a writer as I did when we got our papers back that Monday. The Evil Professor came in baring a single red rose. Was it for me? Elated, I watched as he gave it to some know-it-all prick in the back of the room (you know those guys, there’s one in each class).
“Now,” he said. “Let’s read the only B paper yet so far this year. We’ll read it out loud and pick apart all of the reasons why this is a solid B.”
Then he asked who had written the paper. Tentatively, I raised my hand, afraid that this was some trick.
He proceeded to read the paper out loud. Then with his mighty red pen in hand, he’d stop the class and invite others to comment. Half way through my paper, he shook his head in disgust. “No, not quite a B paper. In fact, let’s discuss why this is only a C paper.”
Horrified, I sat there in the very front of the room, squirming, and feeling like I wanted to flee this persecution. Instead, I listened to each and every nitpick revealing my deficient writing skills. By the end of the hour, my paper was so thick with mark ups, I could hardly read my own text. And then the ultimate nail in the coffin. “Class, this is a solid C-.” And then he handed it back to me.
Feeling like I’d been bitch-slapped, I shuffled back to my dorm room and proceeded to tape the bad grade to my dorm room wall. It motivated me like I’d never been motivated. I showed up early for class. I read the material dozens of times. I wrote and re-wrote every successive paper. I even re-wrote my already graded papers.
What did I learn from the Evil Professor?
- Writing is hard work. You write. Then you re-write. Then you write some more.
- People will tear you down if you let them. You have to show them your best.
- Leave the ego at the door. You’re not as good as you think you are. Thinking you’re the best keeps you from improving your skills.
- Take constructive criticism. Ignore everything else.
Any stories about an evil archnemisis, my darlings?