Articles for Teachers
Copyright 2004, Michael LaRocca
Here's something from my mailbag. "Dear Michael, do you need to
do good in school if you want to be a writer? I stink at school
and all my friends laugh at me when I tell them I want to write,
but I'm serious." Followed by a sentence or two of "I need your
words to encourage me" or some such nonsense.
Fortunately, a writing sample is rarely attached. If it is,
either it's excellent or it stinks like rancid yak butter.
There's a lot of middle ground in the writing world, of course,
but for some reason it never seems to accompany these emails.
The message is usually (but not always) so filled with errors
that I'm not gonna reprint them here or correct them when I reply
lest I destroy some sensitive soul like a jackhammer to an
eggshell. (It's ridiculous that I should even have such power,
being a stranger and all.) Let's move on to the relevant part,
the question, which actually contains several. This writer gets
bonus points for brevity.
Do you have to be good in school? Given what's passing for
English in some places, I'd certainly like to see more effort
given to school. If you're a student reading this, please try to
learn something while you can.
If you aspire to be an author and you did poorly in school, or if
you're just plain uneducated, don't let it stop you. What we do
as authors isn't taught in school. They teach grammar, and bless
them. I can't teach that subject. If you're very fortunate, as I
was, you'll stumble across some teachers who teach you how to
think. But thinking is the beginning of writing, not the end, and
grammar can be fixed later if you find some long-suffering editor
(like me) willing to do it.
In other words, school can help you with the first step or two of
your journey to be an author. Considering how many steps come
after those, don't be discouraged by test results and report
To distill what you think, feel and believe from all the trash
floating around in your head, and then to actually put that on
paper the way you mean to put it, is a skill that only comes from
years of practice. They don't teach it in school. At least, no
school I've ever attended. I struggled at this for 20 years or so
after I graduated from college. That's where I learned to write.
Not in a classroom.
In my travels through the Matrix, I've met blind authors, deaf
authors, dyslexic authors, authors writing in a second or third
language, authors suffering partial paralysis, authors with
various psychoses, authors who deal with more than one of these
obstacles. What they overcome makes my complaint, that I'm too
left-brained to be in this business, seem absolutely pathetic.
And yours, about doing poorly in school.
I could cite you a VERY long list of authors who did poorly in
school. If I did my job as an editor, you'll never know who they
are unless I call them out by name. And I won't. Probably because
I can't remember them all.
(I'm joking. Editor/author confidentiality protects them, even if
it exists only in my imagination.)
Our emailer then mentions that her friends laugh at her when she
tells them she intends to write. Why does she care? I've lost
count of how many projects I've undertaken despite criticism. Not
just writing, either. Life. But let me narrow my focus just so I
can end this rant.
You have a reason for writing. You know what it is, even if you
can't put it into words. I can't put it into words. ("It" can
mean your reason OR mine in that sentence.) But it's there. Why
do you give a rat's backside how many people tell you not to even
try? People who I doubt have even read your writing, I might add.
Your classmates won't understand why you write. Nor your friends.
Nor your family. You're lucky if you find ten non-writers in your
lifetime who have a clue. And you don't care. You just write.
If you're ever lucky enough to "arrive," then all the doubters
will claim to understand why you write. And they'll all be wrong.
Also, by the time someone out there is embracing your work,
you'll already be three books beyond it and sick of hearing about
your old trash. No, it won't be trash, but you'll think of it
that way. There's a big time lapse between creation and that
What I never write to those emailers is this. I shouldn't have to
tell you why you write. You don't need my vindication or anyone
else's. If those who haven't even read your work can discourage
you, maybe you should give up. Or do an Emily Dickinson and leave
it all for people to find after you die.
But I can tell you this. If you'll let something as silly as your
grades in school stop you from even beginning to write in the
first place, nothing you have to write is worth finding after you
die. And if you're angry at me for saying it, good. Prove me
wrong. Write a book.
About the Author
Michael LaRocca's website at http://www.chinarice.org was
chosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best Websites
For Writers in 2001 and 2002. His response was to throw it
out and start over again because he's insane. He teaches
English at a university in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province,
China, and publishes the free weekly newsletter WHO MOVED