“We went fishing and had bad luck” is one way to condense Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”. I think the man ought to have cut out a few hundred pages, maybe a bit more, and had a short story without all the details of things that really didn’t have a lot to do with the story, but in this case, perhaps it is the telling of the tale that matters. I liked the book but reading it was like walking one hundred miles to get a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk. Even if you are a master at describing the minutia, that doesn’t mean you ought to every single time. I would think that too much is nearly as bad as not enough.
For those who have never read “Moby Dick” the story is about a fishing expedition gone wrong, but getting there is apparently more than half the fun. Melville’s fish story doesn’t even get near The Great White Whale until the book is nearly finished. Moby plays a bit part in this and his character sits behind stage, smoking and rereading his lines, until he is nearly dead from boredom and a cast of other characters floats back and forth into action until the story plods along to his part in things. Plods may be too strong of a word, but it was the first that popped into my mind. Thousands of American Lit teachers can’t be wrong, can they? Okay, how many of them have produced good writers?
The American Public School system is a train wreck. It is day care with tenured employees. The odds of a good writer emerging unscathed from the public school system is pretty much the same as an armadillo emerging from the Interstate without some sort of religious conversion involving a near death experience. It is a quivering mass of jello shaken to and fro by the political will of parents who would rather see their children learn nothing yet receive a diploma than learn something and it cost them a moment of their time away from watching American Idle. Some school systems want to stop teaching science in favor of religion. Some schools systems cheat on tests so their teachers can keep getting raises. Some school systems have a higher pregnancy rate than graduation rate. But the bottom line here is the American Public School System is a train wreck, and it has been for a very long time.
Things started the slow and execrable decline when teachers began getting degrees in “education” rather than getting degrees in an exact field of study. Once upon a time a person who taught English had to know a few things about the subject, and actually have a love for it, rather than have a degree that allowed them to legally teach that subject. Yet a failed system of education can and will produce failed teachers just as surely as it will produce failed students, even if everyone is issued a degree.
I am here to tell you, people, you not only do not need the public school system to teach you how to write, you are likely better off without it.
If you would write what is stopping you? I have a very simple experiment for you, and you can put all your hopes and dreams into this, and by the end of the day you will know if you want to write, or you don’t. Take an index card, a three by five, or a five by eight, or whatever the hell size they come in, or for that matter, get a plain white envelope, get a pencil without an eraser, and write until all available space is filled up. It doesn’t matter what you write or how good it is or if no one else ever sees it. If you can do this you want to write. If you can write because you can, and because you want to write, and because you’ve been given the time to write, and you do write there is no force on earth, not even the American Public School System that can stand in your way.
You may have a teacher who is a good teacher, an honest sort, who knows writing. You will be able to tell if you have it in you, if this person speaks to your Muse. Fear has no place in writing. Hesitancy has no place in writing. If you have a good teacher, and this person speaks to your Muse, then you must, at all costs, tell this person you wish to write, and allow that person to guide you as they may. Be forewarned that writing is never taught, and never learned. You can learn grammar, and you must. You can and you must learn the way your language works. You can and you must learn to write in a manner that is readable to others, but as far as learning how this craft works that will only come if you love it. You must work for it. You have to earn your Muse. It will force you down upon your knees, in prayer or supplication, and from nothing at all but your own will, you must bring forth writing. A good teacher will give you the tools. A great teacher will make you earn them.
The only sure knowledge I had when I left High School with was I could not write. Two years plus the time I spent in the public school system had passed before I tried again. At thirty-two, I began to teach myself writing with no hope of ever anything ever coming of it. I taught myself because I wanted to write. I taught myself because I wanted to be better. I taught myself to write because I owed it to my craft to become a better writer, and I still carry that debt today. Pick up a pen, a pencil, or sit before a keyboard and you will incur that debt also. But know this one thing; no one owes you a damn thing.
You have to work for it.