person sitting outside writing in notebook

Was I a Better Writer in High School?

 March 31, 2021

Was I a better writer in high school than I am now? I know it may seem like the answer should be obvious. Of course I’m a better writer now than I was in high school. I’ve been at it for so long, have learned so much over the course of the years, not just about writing, but about life. How could I not be better? And yet I ponder this question – was I a better writer in high school than I am now?

High School

When I was in high school, I used to play with words. I would swish them around in my mouth and spit them out wondering what would happen. I wrote lines of alliteration, seeing what I would come up with and experimented with abandon, not worrying about whether I was breaking any rules. Pages of description filled my notebook just to see if I could do it.

College – All Things Hemmingway

Then came that college writing course taught by the professor who considered Hemingway to be the epitome of good writing. No excess description, no unnecessary words. I learned and learned it well so that to this day, forty years later, I’m still a minimalist. No lengthy descriptions, my writing is guided by plot and character. So much so that after writing each first draft, I have to go back and fill out my lines of action and dialogue with details and descriptions. I’m often critiqued about moving too fast and not including enough clues about a character’s appearance or the setting. I don’t indulge myself in these sweet little inessentials that flesh out and give life to a story.

Sometimes I read other writers and when they play with words, coming up with unusual phrases to describe an experience or place, I think – I used to do that to. Where did I go wrong?

My Writing Now and Then

I have a book composed of writing from my teens. A while ago I sought to put it into a novel as a way of having the main character look back at those years and remember them through what she had written. When I submitted the first fifteen pages for a critique, the present-day sections were met with a blah response. The part that excited the editor was the part from my teen years. Does that tell you something?

A writer I follow recently posted about looking back at a series she had written twenty years ago. With her current knowledge, there was a trick in her first book that she never would do now. Yet, she realized it was one of the best parts of the book, one others had loved. If she changed it, she would have destroyed the book.

“I am not one of those writers who tries to fix the flaws I had as an earlier writer. I’m a different writer now, sure, but not necessarily a better one,” she wrote.  (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)

So, I wonder, is it that I’m getting better, or just different? Can I gain back the sense of wonder and play that was part of writing in my youth? Can the young me get together with the old me and create something beautiful?

What about You? Are you a better writer now than you were in high school? I would love to hear from you.

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