Dear Mr. Hagood,
In my first class with you some 12 years ago, you explained to us that we would be writing every day that year. That unlike math geniuses, greater writers are not born but made. That came as a relief to me because I had been terrible at math ever since two consecutive years of Ms. Owens as my math teacher. We wrote for 5ish minutes before each class started as well as on our own, one page per school night.
I still remember the first quote you had us write our thoughts about:
“Notice: Beach is closed after 10pm.”
I looked up after college and realized that writing is really my best skill. It’s what set me apart throughout college and stands as the one thing I can confidently point to when someone asks, “What can you do?” My motivation for this letter-a-day project spawned at least in part from the idea that if you write (or do anything) every day, you are destined to improve. If I fancy myself a writer, then I better strive to improve, daily.
What I’ve come to realize is that writing is just organized thinking. If you can express an idea in written words, it can be shared, improved on, and hopefully be worth something to someone. And as of today, I can call myself a copywriter (meaning I’m employed, at least partially through my ability to write). Back in 9th grade, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that writing would come to define a major part my professional life.
Every time I sit down to write, it is a challenge. A blank page is, and probably always will be, quite intimidating. So I start spewing broken thoughts onto the page, keeping some, reject most. I build from there until I have a direction and then it slowly comes together. Then someone *cough cough* with a red pen slashes it to pieces, which is frustrating but again part of the challenge. You pick up the (figurative) pieces and work from there. At the end of the process, you look at the finished work and almost forget how you got from that blank page to something worth ($?) reading.
I’ve come to thrive on that challenge and I thank you.
PS: I hope you still start your classes with a prompt/quote and make your students keep a journal. I’ve gone back and read some of my old thoughts and it’s a trip.
Thank you so much for the letter; it was totally unexpected!
I’m so glad to hear that you’re a writer, Hayden, even if you’re still on the first rung as a copy writer. I’ve had former students who started out the same way and one of them recently published an article in the on-line New Yorker over the recent book-banning controversy at Highland Park. Hang in there! You have all my encouragement and best wishes, Hayden, because, as you know, writing well is difficult, time-consuming, and the most intellectually challenging task you could ask for. You also have all my respect because sticking with something as hard as writing is rare.
It was such a treat to get your letter. Write back anytime, and let me know if I can do anything for you.
ps. As I no longer teach 8th and 9th grade, I do not do the journal, but the tradition is being carried on by Mr. Jennings.