40 – February 9
“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.”—William Feather
I was always a good student in high school English class, but I had heard terrible things about the low grades typically given to freshman English students. So when my teacher, Mr. Hathaway asked if anyone had questions, I raised my hand and said, “I’ve heard a nasty rumor that only Cs, Ds, and Fs are given in this class. Is that true?”
And he smiled and answered, “Yes.” Surprised that he would admit to it, I asked him “Why?” He replied that freshmen students usually didn’t write well enough to get a better grade than that.
The challenge was issued. I resolved then and there that I was going to get an A in this class.
I turned in my first paper and waited anxiously for my grade. “C+” slashed the mark at the top of the paper. Used to receiving “A”s, I stared at this low mark. I made an appointment to see Mr. Hathaway after class.
He smiled as I walked into his office for the meeting. “How can I help you?” he asked. I said, “I’m unhappy with my grade, and I want to know what’s wrong with my paper.” “It’s a very good paper,” he replied, “You got the highest grade in the class.” “That’s good,” I said quietly, “but not good enough. What makes this paper a ‘C’ instead of an ‘A’?” He looked somewhat surprised, but then got to work explaining in detail where my paper lacked power.
On the next paper, I got a “B.” “Good,” I thought, “I’m making progress.” At the end of the lecture, I walked over to Mr. Hathaway and said, “I’d like to make an appointment to see you after class.” “Why?” he said, “You got the highest grade in the class!” “That’s wonderful,” I replied, “But I want to write ‘A’ level papers, and it’s your job to teach me how to do that.” We made another appointment and he taught me more about writing.
I received an “A” on the next paper. And the next. And on nearly every paper from then on. I still have the postcard he sent me to notify me of my final grade in the class: “This is the only ‘A’ I have given in a group of forty-six students. You earned it: You performed well and you seemed to care about what you learned. I especially hope that I am right when I say you care about what you learn—I hope you believe there is meaning in all that you do. You can do very well in school; don’t ever work for an ‘A,’ however, when to do so would mean spending time doing something that won’t get you anywhere worthwhile.” I appreciated his final lesson: He wanted me to win the war, not just the battle.
Determination is everything. I got this “A” because I was determined to have it and I was going to do whatever it took to have it. Be determined about something today. Anything you want.
“I relish the challenges that lift me higher and make me better!”
I read an article in the Hollywood Reporter a while back which interviewed the screenwriters of the movies nominated for Best Picture for the 2011 Academy Awards. Michael Arndt, author of Toy Story 3 when asked, “What’s a typical workday like?” responded:
“I wake up late, have breakfast, read the paper, procrastinate until I hate myself, and then I just start writing.”
Don’t you love that “procrastinate until I hate myself”! I do that, too. If I never had a deadline, I’d probably procrastinate forever. But giving myself deadlines, like writing this blog every day, makes me do what I truly, deeply want to do anyway – express myself through writing.
When I was in college, I wrote all my term papers in my head on the 2 mile walk to campus. I had little pieces of paper in my pocket with a pen, and when I had an idea, I’d write it down. The night before the paper was due, I’d pull out all the little bits and organize them on the table in front of me, and then start writing.
I’d wait until I had a complete paragraph in mind before starting to type – this was in the days where there were no duplicating machines, no computers, only carbon paper, and if you made a mistake on page 2 you had to type all the pages after that all over again. I hated that so much I wanted to do each paper perfectly from the beginning so I didn’t have to waste time retyping. So I wrote the rough drafts in my head and turned in the first typewritten copy.
Now it’s so easy to edit, rearrange, and redo a manuscript, I can easily just start writing and go back and rework things later. But old habits die hard, so usually I am thinking throughout the day and scribbling notes to myself on bits of paper. By the time I start writing with my paper bits scattered on the desk, I’ve got most of the story written in my head already.