101: No One’s Words But My Own

101: No One’s Words But My Own

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

No One’s Words But My Own

Righteousness is easy in retrospect.

~Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

The classroom was packed with those of us who wanted to work on the school newspaper. I hadn’t written much before, other than the little newspapers I used to make up when I was home sick from grammar school. Still, working on the paper sounded like fun. I liked the idea of being a reporter, interviewing my friends, and covering middle school events.

To be considered, we had to turn in a sample of our writing. I had written a piece about the joys of summer. I showed the article to my father, a brilliant lawyer and poet. He read it, frown lines appearing between his brows.

“It’s okay,” my father said, taking out a pencil. “But how about if we change this sentence to...” And that was that. He rewrote the whole piece—not with me, for I never said a thing to stop him—but for me.

No surprise—his version was wonderful. He had a gift for language that I had yet to discover in myself. I remember the last line was something like “Once we see the convertible tops coming down, can summer be far behind?” I wished I could write like that. It was so much better than my original piece, that against my better judgment, I turned in his version instead of mine.

“Welcome to the Dundee School News,” my teacher said to me. But before I could be excited about the making the paper, he added: “Based on that terrific article you wrote about summer, I’m making you Second Page Editor.”

My lunch nearly leaped out of my stomach. Now I was expected to write a personal opinion column every week for the second page. I was no more equipped to write at that level than I was to be a rock star. I couldn’t confess the truth to the teacher who ran the paper, and I couldn’t ask my father to write a weekly column for me.

That semester working on the paper was nothing short of painful. My teacher was clearly disappointed.

“Can’t you write something more like that first piece you wrote?” he said, each time I turned in my column.

I couldn’t, because at that age, I was no match for a writer of my father’s ability and experience. Week after week, I struggled with my writing. My stomach was a pretzel; my nails, gnawed to the bone; my confidence non-existent. My columns never measured up to the one that got me the job.

Eventually, to my total humiliation, I was replaced as the Second Page Editor. Alone in my room, I railed against my father for taking over the assignment, instead of simply trying to help. But in my heart I knew the fault was mine for allowing him to do it. I wasn’t sure I’d ever write again.

I did go on to become a successful writer. On my own, I became an advertising copywriter with a national agency, and eventually found my true creative love—writing for children. Looking back, I realize that the pain and humiliation of that school experience had a positive side. It taught me to trust myself and not try to be anyone else. I would have been a fine reporter for that school paper. That’s where I belonged. I wasn’t ready to be an editor.

Every day, I struggle to use my own words, find my own style, be my own best self. And you know what? It feels great.

~Myra Sanderman

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