The worst thing I’ve ever written didn’t kill me

Revolver

© Brian Lary/sxc.hu

In the months leading up to my college graduation, I panicked. What the hell could you do with an English degree except teach or go to law school – neither of which I was very excited about?

I took the LSAT, but only because I watched a lot of Law & Order and wanted to work with a hot detective like Benjamin Bratt. Fortunately, I got lost on the way to the exam and didn’t have enough time to eat lunch, ensuring I got a mediocre score and gave up the thought of going to law school.

I’d make a terrible lawyer.

My best friend was panicking, too. She majored in world arts and cultures, an even less practical degree (though she does know how to do a traditional Indonesian dance). So she proposed we apply to teach English in Japan through the JET program.

The application required me to write an essay, which I did quickly and without much care. After all, I was an English major so I could write, right?

By the time I had my interview, I’d forgotten what I’d written. I walked into the room where three people sat behind a table. One of them was glaring at me already.

Not a great sign.

They took turns asking me questions. The angry woman went last, and she asked me something directly relevant to my essay. Turns out she didn’t like it. In fact, I’d written something she found incredibly offensive.

Without going into too much detail, because the experience still haunts me, I had apparently opened my essay with a provocative story. I’d wanted my essay to stand out, to be memorable.

Holy cow, was it ever memorable.

This one interviewer grabbed hold of the wrong end of the stick and battered me with it for the entire interview. But it was mostly my fault. I’d handed her the stick.

The experience taught me a couple of big lessons.

1.  Get other people to read over what you’ve written.

Do not be precious about what you write, unless it’s your own private diary that no one will ever read. No matter how much writing experience you have, there will be times when your words don’t convey what you actually mean. If we always expressed ourselves perfectly, editors wouldn’t exist.

2. There’s very little chance your writing will ever kill you.

Unless you offend someone so badly they become murderous, writing is a fairly safe activity. All the pain is emotional (except paper cuts – *wince*). As excruciating as that experience was – and I did leave the interview blinking back tears – it didn’t kill me. I was able to learn from it. I approached my writing more maturely because of it.

After being rejected by JET, I decided I’d spend a year teaching in Prague until I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life.

And that’s where I met my husband and stumbled into a career I love.

What’s the biggest lesson a bad writing experience has taught you?

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165 Comments

Filed under Thoughtfulness

165 responses to “The worst thing I’ve ever written didn’t kill me

  1. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that you HAVE to have someone else read over you material. In your mind, it always makes sense, but to someone else it may not at all lol

    • Katrina

      So true! No idea why thoughts get so jumbled on their journey between brain and mouth, but they certainly do!

      • T.F.Walsh

        I can totally relate. My mind even sees words that aren’t there:P

        • Boy don’t I know it. As a writer, producer, director, I once had to translate an entire script from English to Russian, obviously with the help of a Russian translator for an investor to assess the film project. I have to say, this was an eye opening experience for me. I suddenly found all those missing words, sentences and even entire scenes that were lost due to the mysterious workings of the mind. Somehow the brain has the capacity to fill in the logical gaps when reading incomplete text. Everything made sense to me when I read it but not to the translator.

      • yup! agree. there are thing we write that in our self it not offensive. but in the other way around it might be. but we didnt notice it.

  2. Prague is probably better anyway.

  3. I like your writing style! I work as an editor at a private publishing house, so I see a lot come through. Sticking out is definitely something you want to do.

    I loved how you saved the best for last and completely surprised everyone. Congrats on finding the person and career you love. I’m certain there isn’t a better feeling in life than having both simultaneously.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Katrina

      Thank you so much, Kristin! I’m truly flattered!

      Yes, it was a really magical time in my life, and a magical city for it to happen in!

      Hope I see you here again. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Ouch. What a horrid experience! At least you know your writing is strong enough to cause a reaction though. :-/

  5. I once enrolled in a childrens literature writing course and my papers were returned to me with more Red ink covering the page…It discouraged me from ever attempting to write anything profound…….

    so now I blog.

    Spread the humor: charlywalker.wordpress.com

  6. Well I hoped all goes well with my very personal reconsideration letter I’ve written to the Rector of my university. I’m appealing for admission to medical school. BS in Biology graduate. My family won’t say yes to any other field aside from medicine 😦

  7. Strangely enough, a VERY MEDIOCRE post to my blog was Freshly Pressed–so sometimes bad is good–at least according to WordPress. Or maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe I just don’t know good when I see it. Which I guess is not good!

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed yourself–hang on for the ride!
    Kathy

    • Katrina

      It’s definitely been quite a ride, Kathy! When I opened my email and saw how many people had ‘like’d my post, I thought there must be some sort of bug with WordPress!

      • melissakoski

        I had a similar experience as Kathy and had a blog I didn’t bother to flesh out and finish Freshly Pressed. Lesson learned!

        And oddly enough I started to follow Kathy’s blog shortly after.

        Love your writing!

  8. The Wrong Side of 25

    “There’s very little chance your writing will ever kill you.” I love this, I do. I’ve always loved writing since I was about 6 years old.
    Lesson learned (not necessarily in bad writing but writing in general) is consider who you’re writing for. I tend to write like I speak… slightly offensive and honest to the point of occasionally shocking people. I had a high school English teacher crucify my writing for being “inappropriate”. It didn’t kill me but killed my spirit as a writer for a couple of years until I got to college and found a professor who told me he “loved my voice” when I was writing. He said I wrote the only Shakespeare essay that had him laughing.
    Although your worst writing may not kill, it can leave some welting bruises on your ego. When writing and being graded (or considered for a job) over-think who will be reading it. Otherwise be true to yourself.

    • Katrina

      “When writing and being graded (or considered for a job) over-think who will be reading it. Otherwise be true to yourself.” – This is such fantastic advice. Everyone should have this engraved on their screen.

      And I’m with your professor. You’ve got a fantastic voice. And a great name. Thanks so much for leaving such a thoughtful comment!

    • I agree with you. Although it did not kill her it did batter her, as she herself said. We know the battering affected her chances of landing the dream job, we do not know if it had impacted on wrinting spirit. To conclude, I must say that I do really enjoy the style of the piece.

  9. The biggest lesson a bad writing experience ever taught me is that sometimes what feels brilliant to me can be mediocre at best to my reader–particularly when I have made the mistake of “drwriting”, i.e. committing to Microsoft Word or my Facebook Wall the aforementioned brilliance after a glass of wine or two. lol It’s often best to go back and re-read to make sure before hitting that send or post button, wine soaked or not. 🙂

    • Katrina

      Ah, the drunken post. Always such a mistake. And for some reason a mistake no one seems to learn from – considering how often we repeat it!

      • guilty, at least once or twice. And mobile uploads always seem so funny too . .till the next day. My best/worst writing – I never know which of my posts will generate a bunch of interest and responses and which will not . . .I’ve given up trying to figure it out. Posts I’ve agonized over have gotten very few views and others that I banged out in an hour got read over and over. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  10. Fellow English major here…I was burned by a non-english major class and the professor telling me I didn’t know how to write! Yes, I don’t know how to write psychology reports…that’s why I am a teacher! (although I didn’t start out that way- started in PR)

    • Katrina

      Sheesh, people should learn how to give criticism better! And not to see themselves as such experts. Glad you had a sense of humor about it!

  11. bellabeam

    Ah! Same here!
    I always fall for this trap. Haha. Sometimes I write what I don’t mean or want, And I try to re-read my (posts for example) a dozen times.
    What’s you career path right now?

  12. What you’ve written usually won’t kill you, but it might bring death threats, if you write in the capacity of a newspaper reporter.

    “Get other people to read over what you’ve written” is good advice. As a former copy editor, those words warm my heart.

    If anyone needs a read, or an edit, I’m available. I work cheap.

    • Katrina

      “What you’ve written usually won’t kill you, but it might bring death threats, if you write in the capacity of a newspaper reporter.” – Unfortunately, that’s very true, John. Tragically true.

  13. A bad writing experience? In my short career, I haven’t experienced anything I’d call bad. But I can say that I’ve learned a lot about better writing. When I look at the beginning, I can see the more amateurish side of my work. But as with any skill, craft, or art, that has improved with time. Everything that I write shows that growth. And for those who read my writing, they get a chance to experience it firsthand.

    • Katrina

      It’s wonderful to be able to see growth as a writer, and to have others who are able to point out areas where you’ve grown. My crit partners are great for this, and I’m so lucky to have them.

  14. I’m dying to know; what was so provocative that they were willing to interview you just to bludgeon you with it?

    It got you in the room, I guess!

    • Katrina

      I can only guess that the people reading the applications weren’t offended and that particular interviewer hadn’t done the shortlisting. And yeah, it seemed to half-way work!

  15. gsnewman

    yeah job interviews could be tricky sometimes,just because no two interviews are alike,or,something like that,I think,whatever.:)

  16. “No matter how much writing experience you have, there will be times when your words don’t convey what you actually mean. If we always expressed ourselves perfectly, editors wouldn’t exist.”

    I am too sensitive about scrutiny of what I write — the whole its-my-baby thing — but the above statements were helpful. Just wanted to say thanks!

    • Katrina

      I’m glad it was helpful, Elaine. Much easier said than done, though. It’s difficult growing a thick skin as a writer!

  17. I feel your pain as I’m a recent english grad myself. I’m still trying to find out where to go from here. Crazy, huh?

  18. So what did you write about that set her off, I’m dying to know . . .? Good blog…I’ve found even with e-mails there is a 24-hour cool off period, before sending, and if I have a queasy feeling in my stomach, have a good friend read a post first, there are times not to share too personal stories…believe me, lesson learned!

    • Katrina

      The 24-hour cool off is a great rule, as is knowing when not to over-share (a lesson I still haven’t learned yet!).

      Thanks for stopping by!

  19. Thanks for the post! As a wannabe writer I enjoyed your tips, and as a student completing my bachelor of arts I can relate to the feeling of not knowing what to do after studying! I have a burning question that I hope you don’t mind answering- what is the career that you stumbled onto and love?
    As for lessons I’ve learnt from my bad writing…hmm…
    All I have to share is that my basic formula to avoid bad writing is inspiration + lots of time.

    • Katrina

      That’s a great formula – thanks for sharing!

      The career I stumbled onto is working in communications for a humanitarian aid organization. Creative and inspiring, and I get to be surrounded by amazing people. I couldn’t ask for a better career – fits me perfectly!

  20. The Compulsive Writer

    I also felt like that after I got my degree (in History, minor in English)…. a little like…what now? I thought I HAD to enter a graduate program only to find out there were none in a 200 mile radius of my home. Plan 2, sit back and wait for inspiration? Thus…I became a writer. I am working on finishing my manuscript that just recently was requested by 2 agents. Now…I am really S**ting my pants. I loved reading your post because sometimes we don’t know where were going, but when your greeted with a stick wielding elder, you know…that is not that path. Seriously…you need to write a story around that. I need to know more….

    • Katrina

      Thank you! Maybe I will one day. Of course, I’ll disguise it as fiction because otherwise it’d be too humiliating to admit. 😉

      Best of luck with the agents! My fingers are crossed for you!

  21. howdoyouspellthat

    Hey, nice piece.

    The biggest lesson I learned was humility. As I was applying to graduate school I went back and looked over some of my papers from college and I was horrified by what I saw. Careless, poorly thought and even more poorly communicated, my papers were kind of the prototype underachiever’s work. Since then I learned that I need to be humble, and that I need to work hard to prevent being embarrassed in the future.

    • Katrina

      Humility’s a great (and difficult) lesson to learn. And it sounds like you’d grown a lot as a writer in between college and grad school. Imagine if you’d looked at those old papers and thought, “I wish I could still write like that.”

  22. my biggest lesson: writing, posting, and announcing said actions on various platforms is not a good idea at 4am, especially if you are returning from an establishment (or establishments) that serve the liquid fruits of fermentation.

  23. Miki

    The biggest lesson I’ve ever learned is that you can’t please everyone. From spelling and grammatical errors to offensive writing or not provactive enough – you’re going to find a critique at either side of the road. My solution is to write about… 🙂
    Prague’s way cooler – and besides didn’t Japan have a huge Tsunmai hit them? I’d say you have a fairy godmother or someone special looking out for you!

    • Katrina

      Yes, people will never agree about what’s good. I think about writers like Hemingway or Steinbeck who are passionately loved by many and loathed by many. Maybe that’s the secret to success. 😉

  24. The worst thing(s) I ever wrote were all in my diary, which was classically discovered by my little sister. It wanted to die, but it didn’t kill me. 🙂

    • Katrina

      Ha! I’m so lucky my little brother had no interest in reading. I would’ve been humiliated if he’d read my diary!

  25. My biggest bad writing experience is that whenever i write an article, and think that i have done a very bad job with it. 99 out of 100 times the work gets published. So far it has given me 17 bylines in Navbharat Times, the paper i worked in as an intern. 😛

    • Katrina

      Congratulations on so many bylines! That’s great work. And I’m just like you. The stories I think are strongest often don’t do as well as the ones I’m unsure of. Wish I knew why that was!

  26. I want to know the “offensive” story…

    • Katrina

      Sorry – I’ve learned my lesson well. Definitely won’t be sharing the story. I doubt my ability to tell it has improved. :/ I’ll just say the other two interviewers didn’t seem to find it offensive. Of course, that was just my impression from scrutinizing their faces, but that could’ve been wishful thinking, too.

  27. Thank you, this was an inspiring story! I’m graduating in May with a BS in Psychology and have no idea what I want to do and am starting to panic. It’s nice knowing others have been in the same boat.

    I’ve had one or two blog posts which one or more people found slightly offensive, and I learned to just take a step back and listen, respect their opinions (even if they don’t respect mine), don’t get defensive, and don’t take it personally.

    • Katrina

      Don’t panic! I’m sure you’ll find something you love if you stay open to different possibilities.

      And yes, taking a step back from criticism is hugely important. Probably easier to do when the criticism is online instead of to your face, but any criticism will be difficult if it isn’t delivered gently.

  28. Nice post, but what did you stumble into?

    • Katrina

      Charity work. I volunteered with Amnesty in Prague, then decided to get an MA in human rights in England, then got a job as a writer – and now a web editor – for a humanitarian aid organization.

  29. I say if it feels right…write it! Who cares what one persons opinion is? Because who is right?? Who are “they” and what makes “them” have the say so? I don’t know, the more I write, the less I care if it is politically correct. I just want to write like I write, what is me, not what someone else deems I should be. I sound mean today.. I promise I am not. I am just passionate about staying true to yourself. Congrats on FP!!

    • Katrina

      I don’t think that sounds mean at all. I think you’re right, unless there’s someone in a position of power deciding whether you’ll be able to do the thing you want to do (like publish your novel or get a job teaching English in Japan ;)) And sometimes other people’s opinions can help you find ways to improve your own skills.

      Stay passionate, onemom! (and good luck with those rugrats!)

  30. I loved this post! It’ll help me leap over the stumbling block I’ve been hiding behind in my writing. Thanks, Kat!

  31. realanonymousgirl2011

    I have a saying that applies to this “It was better in my head.”

  32. blp2

    Thank you for this post 🙂 I have the terrible habit of writing quickly and never giving it a second glance (causing many lower grades than I could have received). Typos, glitches, and beautiful misunderstandings occured frequently as I have been honing my writing skill. Hopefully one day I will overcome the laziness and just look at what I have written. Maybe.

  33. That is what is so great about writing a blog…instant feedback. But at the same time the bad part about writing and posting a blog is that it is out there for the world to see.

    Great Post!

    Blessings,

    Ava
    xox

    • Katrina

      Thanks, Ava!

      Yes, that part about a blog being out there for everyone to see has stopped me from hitting publish a few times. It reminds me to read over what I’ve written a few times and be careful. Because that instant feedback isn’t always positive. :/

  34. Abigail

    I never had anything nearly as haunting as you. Then again, I’ve never gotten that far either. I think perhaps the biggest thing I have learned from messing up is to go with my gut. I knew my story wasn’t good, and I knew it needed help, and I knew it was too long. HOWEVER, I still submitted it to the writing contest and lost terribly. (And was shamed that I even submitted it.)

    My bigger problem right now is that my current English teacher, for a class that requires a minimum of a 30 page research paper, thinks I should seriously pursue my research topic of mermaids for further serious study. I think I should just stop at the end of the semester. So we’ll see, but that’s a good thing I think.

    • Katrina

      I hope you at least got some valuable feedback from the contest, Abigail. For me, that’s one of the best things about contests.

      Good luck deciding whether to follow your English teacher’s advice. Like you said, go with your gut. You know what’s best for you, and you know what you’re interested in. That’s the first step in succeeding at what you do.

  35. As a writer of 28 years, I have learned a lot of things. First, “A good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader.” In other words, for everything you write, there will be at least one person who loves it and at least one person who hates it. Second, criticism will not kill you, but it will not necessarily make you a better writer either (see previous sentence). Third, the only thing that will ever make you a better writer is to practice, practice, practice! And lastly, I always have the final word on my creations regardless of what editors and publishers tell me. I spent the best years of my writing career listening to editors and publishers tell me what to write about & how to write until I completely lost my own writing style. I had been turned into something that would generate profits for them versus what was best for me as a writer. Since I chose to become an indie author, I have been happier and more receptive to suggestions. Which brings me to a final lesson: no one knows how to write my own storylines better than me; but they may just have some good suggestions on how to word it 😉

    The Wrong Way to Write Well – Live and Let Write!

  36. saltybi11

    I like to write, and draw, and even make up stories… I have always wanted to be a great writer, but I’m not sure that I am?!?
    saltybill blog

    What was it that you wrote that made her so mad anyway???

    I have a friend that always jokes. around and says “I’m offended” lol, because many people are always offended.

    • Katrina

      Not tellin’. 😉 Don’t want to go through that experience again!

      As far as knowing whether you’re a good writer, I’m not sure how anyone can tell. Think of all the incredibly successful (however you define that) writers who still feel insecure. I think that insecurity can push you to keep learning and growing, to keep improving. Do you enjoy writing? Would you keep doing it no matter what kind of feedback you got? To me, that’s a good writer.

  37. Writing about such a universal experience and doing so with a lovely voice has clearly touched a lot of folks. Congratulations!

    In the early 1970’s a female English major was often accused of getting an “Mrs.” degree. Discouraging when you’re passionate about writing. Criticism, often the projected and misplaced variety, has done so much to silence voices. Think of all the people you know who say they can’t sing because they once were asked to just mouth the words in a grade school choir.

    • Katrina

      Thanks for the compliment, Cheryl!

      I’m so glad no one accused me of going for my MRS when I studied English. I think I would’ve flipped. And you’re so right about how detrimental some kinds of criticism can be. I think it’s also up to us, though, to learn how to shovel through criticism and see how much of it we can use to fertilize our skills. Because even criticism that’s delivered in a horrible way can sometimes contain a nugget of usefulness.

  38. I love your lesson #2. There are so many times when I’ve held back handing someone my work, or hitting “Publish” on my blog. But the truth is, the worst that could happen isn’t usually very bad. In fact, holding it back can result in missed opportunities that are worse than any possible negative outcome from showing the work.

    • Katrina

      That’s such a good point about missing out on opportunities. I find I’m usually wrong when I think I know how people will react to a certain piece. “This one will be really popular” is almost a guarantee people won’t like it or engage with it, while “I’m not so sure about this one” often means it’ll be a hit and lead to unexpected, wonderful things.

      (I thought twice about publishing this post, mostly because the experience was so upsetting at the time, but look what happened!) So don’t hold back because of fear. But do hold back if you have a niggling feeling that something’s not right with it, and ask for another opinion.

  39. I’m really dying to know what field you ended up in.

    🙂

  40. well now it looks like you’re doing something great with your English degree! I need these types of tips…thanks!

  41. LOL at your experience, but thanks for sharing with us. Funny, I’d always thought superheroes and writers have a lot in common. That’s why I ended up naming my website UnderwearOutside. (Cuz they both put their insides on display for the public.) Even put up my first short story, FINALLY!

    @onemom4rugrats, I think the pastor who burned the Koran, causing UN workers to be killed, should have tempered his action/words. It’s fine to express truth all you want, so long as other people care to hear it.

    • Katrina

      “Underwear Outside” – that’s brilliant, James! Love the comparison. And best of luck with your short story. So scary sharing something for the first time!

  42. Wow, it’s so great that you ended up creating your life just how you wanted it! I’m still undecided for my major, so maybe something like this will happen for me 🙂
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Katrina

      Thanks! I found studying something I loved made a big difference, even if it didn’t seem like the most practical thing to do. Best of luck choosing a major!

  43. Delorfinde

    Oooh dear. For me, my writing probably would kill me – if I wrote anything too shocking and my parents read it, I’d be screwed. I think mother dear would eat me. Raw.

  44. I have to admit to being curious as to what kind of story you could have related that would have gotten her that mad. Wow.

  45. What if you’re so bad a writer that your bad writing hasn’t even taught you a lesson? LOL!!

    Love your writing style, by the way. I’m a first-timer to your blog, and I’ll certainly be back. It was a delightful read.

  46. worst experience…hmmm…well…hmm….i thik….hmmm….let me hmmmm more…
    nope! nothing that i kan mark as worse. Yet! 😛

  47. The biggest lesson writing has ever taught me is that if what you write is simply an outpouring of passionate emotions, it could be very therepeutic; but always think twice before you decide to publish it. Thanks for your post. Liked it.

    • Katrina

      Great distinction between writing for yourself and sharing it with others, Steve! Such a valuable lesson to learn. Hope you didn’t have to learn it the hard way!

  48. Great post. Brought back memories of searching for jobs. That arena is where one of my stupid-writing-tricks caught me. I was sending out job application letters to many, many schools–yes, I too am an English major who went into teaching. I had a great letter! Personalized to each school. Except when I forgot to change all the reference spots–so in writing to Best College Ever, I called them #2 Spot in the closing. Talk about not getting an interview! Well, one spot called me in to my amazement. In the interview, I knew it would come up, so I asked why? They laughed, understood and were curious to meet me. Lessons? As one person said already–the 24 hour wait rule and get others to read/edit. Ultimately what you say and how you say it are up to you the author, so do not compromise if you are committed to something–but the communication is only complete once someone else has read AND understood. So if others do not get it, then there is something that needs improvement in the message. I have written a lot in my job as teacher and dean for over 30 years, but I am new to this blog business. Most of the same rules apply, but the process seems to run at a quicker pace and definitely offers the potential for a more responsive audience.

    Thanks for sharing–you provoked an answer–a sign of a good writer!

    • Katrina

      Thanks, Patti!

      I’m so glad you got at least one interview. And I think that’s an important thing to learn – everyone makes little mistakes, and some people will be generous enough to overlook them and make a decision based on your whole application (or, if you’re trying to get published, on your whole story). I’ve seen job applications where the person said they really wanted to work for [different employer] doing [completely different job], and it was obvious they were applying widely and either overlooked those details or didn’t bother to check. To me, that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker because I’ve probably overlooked similar things.

  49. it breaks me of my pride a lot and keeps me bent on improving and revising constantly.

    • Katrina

      Sharing your writing with other people can definitely break one’s pride, and so can writing just for yourself. I know I often struggle to find the right way to express myself and get frustrated with my limitations.

      I’m glad you’re bent on improving and revising. Me too. Constantly.

      • also, it helps push aside my insecurity. i recapped Skins US for popmorsels.com and it was the first time in a while i had to write for someone on a deadline. my insecurity got in the way big time. all i could think was, this is crap. this is crap. NO ONE WILL WANT TO READ THIS. THIS IS CRAP. it made it difficult, for obvious reasons, to complete my posts on deadline. but they were expecting a post, good or not, so i had to finish it and click ‘send’. that’s hard to do.

  50. smilesndreams

    Good to know that! Apart from writing my personal essays while applying to graduate school (Engineering major), and those couple of odd communication/English classes I had throughout my educational life, I never really ‘wrote’ too much. And yeah, I do think getting things checked by someone else definitely helps. Oh well, of course – I then had my 150 page Masters thesis that I wrote as well 🙂

  51. A cautionary tale – and one that has provoked a great deal of empathetic response.
    I once wrote an essay daring to criticise Vladimir Propp. My tutor was not impressed and I fear it caused me to suppress youthful independent thought. Now am I older I care less about what others think. But then, my writing is for my pleasure and those who think similarly – and not graded!

    • Katrina

      I, too, am glad I’m no longer writing for grades! But I do hope to be published, so I still need to listen carefully to what other people think. Glad you found the freedom to release your thoughts from prison!

  52. Great post. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    I think my most traumatic writing experience was when my novel was accepted, then rejected a couple of weeks later after a new editor was hired. It had nothing to do with the quality of my story, just the “direction” that particular editor wanted to steer the line. This really helped me to stop taking criticism personally.

    The other bit of wisdom that has helped the most is to “kill my darlings.” You know them, those bits that absolutely *sing*. Well, I end up editing a story around those golden bits until the story deflates. Better to chop out the bling and make the whole story sing.

    • Katrina

      Oh, yikes, that’s a horrible experience! I’m so sorry. That must’ve been just awful for you.

      “Kill your darlings” is a great piece of advice. I do the same as you – kill my story by writing around the parts I think are best. I’m still trying to learn to kill my darlings before they kill my story.

  53. I agree with everyone who’s said that you need others to read over your writing before you send it out. One workshop group told me that I needed to provide translations for some sentences I’d written in another language — an idea that had completely slipped my mind, since I understood what I was writing.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Katrina

      Thanks, Rachael! Stepping back from our work and seeing it with fresh eyes is so difficult, isn’t it? Thank God for other writers, especially when they’re patient!

  54. I’m actually planning on becoming an English major, with a view to becoming a journalist. If that doesn’t work out, then teaching is my backup plan. I’ve done quite a bit of writing ever since I learned how, and I’ve been published in a few different venues. I don’t know if I’ve ever really had a bad writing experience (aside from those nasty paper cuts you mentioned), but I have found one thing that absolutely drives me crazy about it.

    I’ve written a bunch of poetry for various contests and just-for-fun anthologies. Most of it I’ve been pretty proud of. But there was one poem I absolutely hated. I had written it in twenty minutes, and I had used the phrase “I’m hitting the hay.” Bad, right? But it was for a grade in middle school, so it had to be done. Turns out, the anthology editors loved it. They put it in their book, forever preserved for me to look at and grimace. Maybe it was better than I thought. I guess the lesson I’ve learned about writing is that old cliche, “Your toughest critic is yourself.” Which sucks, because I can be pretty harsh.

  55. I have no bad writing experiences to share or learn from because I can’t get over my fear. Glad you found something worthwhile to do with your English degree. I’m still searching….

  56. oh man nothing like standing out. I guess you got their attention..which is good… and it didnt kill you and it is a good learning experience. I am also working on my English major…still not sure what im gonna do with it. i love to write..but i have learned that what i write might not kill me…but it does have an impact on others. you can make soo much change with your writing and the power of that is…amazing.. i guess i try to think of that any time i write something.

  57. I’ve learned to have thick skin and a soft heart. Writing makes you vulnerable. Even the bad pieces, still hold a piece of you. We all need to be edited (even the non-writers); that means we have to be tough enough to take the criticism, and tender enough to keep writing.

  58. Well ,thank you for that post, for someone that does not have an English degree and is trying to write your words of wisdom help!

  59. I’m also wondering what the experience shared was!!!

  60. http://gmomj.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/medical-school-essayapplication/
    I blogged this recently.
    The story is similar to yours.
    My son was applying to medical school and wrote 2 essays.
    The first everyone told him was outstanding, the second he liked but everyone felt was off topic and unsuitable.
    He sent the second and won a spot in Columbia Medical School on the strength of the essay.
    Go figure.
    There is no method to the madness.

  61. My worst experience was when I brought my first novel attempt to a writing group meeting and one of the members said my voice was immature and she would never keep reading what I was writing. It was my first ever bad review (I’d only been letting my best friend read it up until then) and I was heartbroken. I didn’t write for two months. But then a new idea struck me. I sat there for a long time, wondering if I wanted to start writing again. I did and I finally realized that if I wanted to become a better writer, I’d have to learn to take constructive criticism. Best hard lesson I ever learned.

    Great blog today, Kat!

  62. bevysthots

    I’m sure I have something to tell you – but I can’t remember what writing has almost killed me … 🙂 I do LOVE your writing style – so concise. I know that things I write offend people – but they don’t usually have a stick to beat me with…. I’m sure curious WHAT you wrote …. 🙂 Dang – I guess I’ll never know though.
    🙂

  63. Great post, Katrina! I agree, readers are key. So much so that I nearly made a huge error on a press release I’d written for my day job. I was announcing someone as “Pubic” Relations Director. And no, he was not a doctor. 😉

  64. Well glad it didn’t kill you, and at least retelling it got you FP’d. So are you going to share the story you wrote for your essay? You imply that it’s a bawdy tale, so maybe we’ll never get to see it here.

    Congrats.

  65. It’s amazing the way fate influences our lives, but goes to show you that everything has its place: even disappointment and frustration.
    Now I am waiting for a follow up post on the story you began your essay with – part 2, please!

  66. Funny you should post this after such a startling thing happened to one of my posts on a popular social network. I’d never written anything outrageously controversial and didn’t believe I had started until enraged replies began flooding my comment section. What did I learn from it? Know your audience. More importantly, know your audience’s bias towards what you are writing. Not everyone is as open-minded and on the same page as you are. While it is good to at times write with reckless abandon to a broad audience as a bold statement, if it falls on people who are unwilling to listen, sometimes has the opposite effect one intends. Sometimes the best way to drive a point home is to cater to an audience’s demands of the material, so that even if it isn’t put as bluntly or appropriately as you would like, it is not being read with blinded eyes. Tis my two cents.

  67. After a recent (and actually welcome) smackdown from a friend with a keen eye for editing, I learned to write more simply, tell it straight, and not avoid the necessary details in my stories — even if they’re personal and they hurt. Telling the emotional truth always works best for me.

  68. I bet your husband is grateful.

  69. Seems like your JET interview was a blessing in disguise… taught you a valuable “lesson” about writing and directly lead you to a path to your husband! Win-win I’d say… :o)

  70. I never thought about being a writer until some of my dreams started haunting me. When I share them with my friends, they tell me to write them down. So I do.

    It’s interesting, I often think of myself as an extremely optimistic, positive, happy person, but whenever I try to write anything creative- it turns out to be incredibly macabre. My eye caught this post because I rarely think about writing as an activity that has a major effect on me, the writer, until after I’m finished (when I can clearly feel rattled, anxious, accomplished, happy, or whatever- though usually it’s the first two)

    So when you ask the question about “bad writing experience” I’m not sure how to think about it. Emotional connection with something you write is ultimately therapeutic no?

    *Yes I have written some letters, emails, and FB messages that probably should have been completely obliterated…. but that’s not what we’re talking about, is it?

  71. Great post!The biggest lesson I learned was humility. I’ve always learning how to get well with others because none of us can live alone.

  72. Great story! I shared it with my friend! I hope she’ll learn few things from it too!

  73. lillsister

    Remember that you can say more in Norway than for instance in the U.S. We have a greater freedom of speech, maybe because we are the land of the Noble Peace Prize…. 🙂 Or, Americans are more aggressive, have thicker wollets, more war experience – and are more used to solving things by taking their problems to court. They do not speak with their neighbours “over the fence” (garden). I do not know how easy it is for the U.S. Government to come here and fetch the people they are upset with, like for instance Mullah Krekar. It is very difficult for them to just come here and pull us up in the air by grabbing hold of our ears. They have their own “ears”, across the fence, since they do have an Embassy here. And, because we are the “great nation of peace” we forgive them for spying on Norwegian citizens, because we have always been madly in love with America, we just don´t want them to know it. Norway is like a 54th (53.rd?) state of the U.S.A. I am not sure how many states you have, if you include for instance Sweden, Denmark… We all love Oprah, Dr. Phil, America´s Funniest Homevideos, a.s.o. God bless them all. So, strive for love and peace, and freedom of speech. Don´t take EVERYTHING to court. Grumpy people with guns. Lay down your burdens down by the riverside, like the Blind Boys of Alabama do. Much better.

  74. jule1

    And there you have it. Your fate led you to write an essay that the JET person hated, ultimately killing the teaching in Japan opportunity, so you decided to go to Prague instead, thus meeting your husband. Who says anything we do is a mistake? I love how your story so beautifully illustrates that something we might think, in our shortsighted way, is bad, ultimately leads to something wonderful.

  75. I always read through my material and make sure someone I trust does so too! It’s a good idea to have someone else’s view of it. 🙂

  76. Great story, thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely have a friend look over my essays in future, although doubt i’ll take notice of anything they say!

    “it sounded better in my head” is one of my most overused phrases.

    take care xx

  77. I am an English grad too but my work involves writing manuals for the corporate sector. I am caught in between because I’d love to work with books or magazines but it would reduce my hourly rate. I suppose you need to make sacrifices to indulge in passions.

  78. lagabbianellaeilgatto

    Really nice story.

  79. kristi

    This is probably the best thing for a college student to read. We’ve all written something embarassing at one point in life.

  80. If something’s troubling you. Take a break. Take an exile.
    In no time, refreshment can sometimes be a great thing.
    If you don’t know where you are going.
    Look back from where you came from.
    —-Nomad proverb, (From: Planet Ladder.) Currently out of print.

  81. The lesson is: know your audience. It probably was a good essay in LA ,NY or anywhere in the US. When in Rome….. Good story.

  82. Ooo! Now you’ve got me dying to know what was so provocative as to inspire such glares! Well played.

  83. Pingback: Four fantastic posts to inspire you | The Daily Post at WordPress.com

  84. You’re right to remind everyone that we all, always, need fresh eyes on our copy. I had five “first readers” — friends who are ambitious and talented writers as well as “civilians” on both of my non-fiction books and both times it was extremely helpful, in addition to my editors’ comments.

    You also need to remember that when one person hates it (i.e. that’s some powerful visceral response. At least they didn’t yawn), another may adore it. You have to go find them! I had an essay about my divorce sneeringly dismissed by an editor at Woman’s Day magazine….and it went on to win me a National Magazine Award, for humor, no less, from a Canadian women’s magazine. As we say in New York, go figure.

    Opinion about the quality and publishability of your work is, de facto, subjective.

  85. Looking back on many things I’ve written I can’t help but feel a bit embarrassed by what I perceive to be poor writing or logical missteps. When talking about specific pieces with friends I’ve discovered that many of my “mistakes” aren’t even noticed by others. Knowing this, I can strive to be better, but I also need to acknowledge that I am my own worst critic.

    You need someone to call you out on your poor writing, but it helps to get a pat on the back every once in a while, as long as it’s honest.

  86. Great post – really enjoyed it. You made me laugh and also helped me feel a bit better about the times I berate myself when I feel my writing is total cr*p. Then having decided to comment it’s taken me forever to scroll down. Well done …

  87. I enjoyed reading your post.

    The biggest lesson I’m learning is that technically incorrect is not necessarily bad writing, while technically correct is not always good. I’m slowly trying to come to terms with that!

    I also learned a long time ago that a person (uh… me) can know all the rules of writing, but that doesn’t mean said person can effectively utilize those rules in practice.

  88. Am I the only one who has never suffered papercuts?? 😐

    I keep eharing about them but why doesnt it ever happen around mee :S

  89. As a teenager(yeah that was a year ago) I rely on online journals to vent about my relationship with people. And my bestfriend read what I wrote about her. Its just about an immature, jealous me. I got pissed off by her attention seeking antics. It was pretty obvious that it was about her. We had a confrontation. Luckily I’m still her ‘best’ friend.

  90. This is definitely a great lesson. I have learned to get other people to read my writing because I’m insanely horrible at catching my own mistakes. Reading out loud is the only solution to that problem and even then it’s not fail proof.

    I’ve always had the fear that blog writing would keep me out of a good job. There are horror stories in every journalism department so my news blog is pretty much like the feeling you get before diving from a seven mile cliff. . . or so I imagine.

  91. I’ve been a scriptwriter for more than 20 years and find writing an incredibly inspiring process, even when you get wrong. I associate my words with the artist’s palette, the multitude of shades and colors, the bold expressive strokes full of passion, which create a kaleidoscope of emotion and help shape the canvas of the mind. Good or bad any artist canvas always draws attention if it has a soul. Congratulations on FP.

    http://thestufflegendsaremadeof.wordpress.com/

  92. callmefafi

    Challenge is the key to finding out your true desires and living your dreams. Without this experience and mistakes we don’t truly live…we are just here. I love your post and I am glad that I am not the only one who has trouble with my writing (being that I teach young children). Your story gives me hope for all things working out just as they should. Great job!

  93. I had an English teacher that covered our papers in blood, but everyone enjoyed seeing what we had done wrong.

  94. sowen7276

    I have learned not to contradict myself within the same few paragraphs. Hahahaha.

    Nice post.

    Symphony
    http://www.harmonyharper.wordpress.com

  95. The biggest lesson writing has ever taught me is that if what you write is simply an outpouring of passionate emotions, it could be very therepeutic; but always think twice before you decide to publish it. Thanks for your post. Liked it.

  96. Prague sounds awesome, though! A friend of mine taught English in Japan for awhile, and in Korea… she loved both but it sounds like the people/orgs she worked for weren’t great. She put together a couple of ebooks from her letters home if you want to check it out:

    http://deborah-bryan.com/letters-from-asia/

    Have you blogged about your time in Prague? Maybe with pictures? Because I would love that like crazy. 🙂 I’ve always wanted to visit there.

    • Katrina

      Prague’s a gorgeous city. In fact, the Czech Republic is amazing. Unfortunately I didn’t blog when I was living there. I’ll have to check out your friend’s blog. Thanks for sharing it!

  97. Pingback: Greatest hits of 2011 – thank you, readers! | Reader, I created him

  98. Pingback: What can you do with an English degree? | Reader, I created him

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