Photo by Robert Hruzek on Flickr
When I talk to people about my writing I inevitably find one person who expresses a desire to write, but are convinced they can’t because they failed or hated English class in school. This is usually accompanied by spiteful words regarding sentence diagrams, as well.
I have never diagrammed a sentence in my entire life. I would also fail an English test if you gave me one right now.
The thing is, taking an English class will not teach you how to write or write well, not in the sense of writing stories. An English class will show you how to put our language together, sure, and you can learn valuable tidbits about structuring sentences and paragraphs correctly, but even that you can learn on your own. I did.
Okay, back story time. My mother homeschooled me from 5th grade through high school. We lived in Texas and the laws concerning our schooling were so relaxed. We chose our own curriculum, we were not required to take any standardized test, and we did not have to report to the local school district for anything. Because we also homesteaded at the time (seriously, we had a shit ton of animals. Plus we gardened. And took care of someone else’s cattle and horses. And fixed/maintained fences. And did almost everything from scratch) our days were jam packed and my Mom eventually turned over the responsibility of my schoolwork to me. In essence, I had all the books and resources, so I chose what and when and how much I studied. Mom was there when I had questions, but it was up to me to get the work done on my schedule, and I did. I learned so much more that way than I had when the control was in someone else’s hands.
As far as English and writing go, I was terrible at the English workbooks I had. It pissed me off, because I loved storytelling and had been writing since kindergarten. The way the English workbooks set up lessons felt like reading Greek because I could not keep the terms and functions straight. (I found out in my 20’s that I’m mildly dyslexic, so I’m sure that played a big part). But I loved writing, so I kept trying.
One day I decided to chuck the English book. I literally chucked it, right against a wall where there is still a dent (made bigger later because I did the same with with A Song of Ice and Fire. Damn you, George R. R. Martin!) and picked up a novel instead. I started at chapter one and worked my way through the book, ignoring the story itself and focusing on how the writer put their sentences and paragraphs together. Those were my biggest hurdles. A look back at my early writing shows pages upon pages of straight text with no breaks except for new chapters. Oy vey, I’m cringing just thinking about it. I have to hand it to my Mom, she braved those terrible, terrible early pages to give me critiques and they were headache inducing. You rock, Mom!
It took time and patience and practice, but I learned. I can’t tell you about how and where to insert verbs and nouns or specifics on punctuation, and don’t even think about having me analyze sentences and explain how to fix it in proper terms, but I can look at something and figure out how to make it flow smooth and fix most of the punctuation mistakes. I can take a stilted piece of writing and make it blossom, and I can exchange vocabulary to lend a professional tone to a piece. I can write stories that people like. All of that I learned by studying novels and practicing on my own.
My Mom call my grasp of writing instinctive, but it’s more muscle memory. I worked and trained for every milestone I conquered. Even though I would fail a written test, I can ace practical writing with soaring harps and confetti cannons because I put in the time and effort to learn on my own.
So, to recap, never think that you cannot be a writer just because you are terrible at English. You do not have to major in it, and you definitely do not have to be up to a graded standard. You just have to be willing to look at what is out there and learn from it.