Sherry Carr-Smith is a wife, mom, PR counselor, re-married widow, crafter and writer. She’s been writing online in some form or another since the 1990s and now blogs at Paper, Scissors, Keyboard. All her writing before the late 1990s is in angst-filled notebooks that are best left packed away. So much angst. Sherry now writes on very important topics such as her obsession with nail polish, mildly important topics such as the way she expected life to turn out, and actual important topics such as navigating life as a widow. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be convinced that she’s cray cray. And you’ll learn way more about her awesome sons than even their grandmothers want to know.
The first person to call bullshit on my writing was Mrs. Patterson. We had to write a book. A real book that would go in the school library after we’d written and illustrated it. A hard-covered book with an actual library card in the back where the little kids at Odem Elementary School could sign their names and take it home. The only drawback? I was an inattentive sixth grader. I charmed all the other teachers and got away with it while still getting good grades. But Mrs. Patterson was sneaky. She did that thing that good teachers do, where she let you know that it’s fine if you’re lazy — because decent writing can get an A — but, it’s not about the grade, it’s about doing your best. What was I supposed to do with that? I’d ripped off Goldilocks and The Three Bears with a perfectly acceptable story and stayed within the guidelines of the assignment. But I humored her and started over. Because I decided to, not because she made me doubt my ways. So I actually wrote a story (I kept the bears theme though, because they were already drawn). And my first book, “Let’s Go To The Dump,” was born. These two mischievous bear cubs accidentally left the zoo via garbage truck and had to navigate home. Not only was Mrs. Patterson proud of me, but I was proud of myself. I was never a bum in her class again.
The second person to challenge my writing work ethic was Professor Smith. She was the first professor I had to write for in college and I became indifferent again. Or maybe I just expected her to take my good-for-high-school writing as good enough for her class. And although this was a literature class and we focused on the analysis of the work, she nevertheless expected good writing. Expectations from an incredibly smart female professor are intimidating, especially for an inherently lazy person. Thank goodness she gave us three chances with each paper. She’d read it, give us her critique, and let us fix it. If she’d gone with the first version of the first three papers I’d turned in, I would’ve failed the class. When I turned in the third paper, she called me to her office. Which scared the shit out of me. The gist of the conversation was that she was waiting. Waiting? Waiting for me to be good. Because she saw good in bits and pieces, and she was tired of waiting for an entire paper of good. She was very matter-of-fact about it, and I think that was the key for me. If she’d yelled or failed me, it wouldn’t have been as impactful. But saying that she knew it was there and that it would be coming out soon made me believe her.
The third person to change my writing was Dr. Martha Saunders. She helped me hone my craft. Saunders was my first Public Relations professor and had the daunting task of making me see my writing as more than word count (I’ll never understand why a professor would *want* more words to read). She taught me that my writing needed to be “tight and bright.” I had her as a teacher almost 15 years ago, and I use that mantra every single day in both my professional and personal writing. Her tough love and high expectations were such a turning point for me. If you follow me on Twitter, you have Dr. Saunders to thank for the amazing conversation I provide. Heh.
I don’t know what kind of writer I’d be – or if I’d even be writing – if it weren’t for these people. Most of what I write is tighter and brighter because of them. I’m content with my first book being my only book, and I’m certain that the only writing I’ll do for the rest of my life will be for work and for myself. I’m glad I can be proud of myself for not being lazy (most of the time), for letting the good parts outweigh the bad, and for editing my words so that that ones I choose are more powerful. Thank goodness for teachers with high expectations!