Three Writing Lessons from High School

I learned some valuable writing lessons when I was in high school, and not all of them were in English class.  Here are three things that stuck with me and influenced me as a writer.

1. A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
This came from my favorite English teacher during my senior year of high school, and I think it applies to more than just poems.  She taught us to go back and take a second look, a third look, a fourth; keep revising, keep tweaking.  There is no such a thing as a perfect, finished work.  I might get to a point that I feel something is ready to be shared, where making major changes becomes minor tinkering, but there is always something that can be improved. 

2. Give me details!
Brevity may be the soul of wit, but there is such a thing as too brief in writing.  This is something that I learned (painfully) in two history classes.  I always struggled to reach the required number of pages for our papers, because I thought and wrote succinctly.  I also left out a lot of important stuff, as it turned out.  Unlike some authors, who decrease in word count on revision, my novels always get longer.  The details are often key, whether in a history paper or in a story!

3. Sometimes it’s a good to give the readers what they want, and sometimes it isn’t.
I learned this one from my high school best friend.  She started writing a fantasy story our junior year, building the initial character ideas from our group of friends.  At the time I read silly fluff (mostly romance novels) but she was starting to introduce me to fantasy.  There was a scene in her tale where the character based on me had a potential romantic entanglement. She wrote it to be a challenge to the characters, a problem they had to overcome.  I wanted it to be fluff!  (You’ll have to forgive my silliness; I was a teenage girl, after all.)  Somehow she managed to move the characters through the challenge and still weave in some legitimate romance for the vaguely Leigh character, but not in the way I originally requested.  (On top of that, another one of our friends took the initial problematic scene and ran in some ridiculous direction with it.  That story, with flaming oranges and mauve towels, became something of a legend in our group.)  In Dragon I knew I was going to irritate some people, but I stuck with my original plan.  It’s good to think of your readers, but don’t feel like you have to coddle them!

To be honest, I am many years removed from high school, so these memories may not be 100% accurate.  The key lessons still ring true today, though, and it’s fun to reflect on them from time to time!

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