I honestly thought that I was a terrible writer when I was growing up. I would pick up a few college-rule-lined binder-paper and scribble down whatever popped into my head with a dulled number two pencil, and then hand it in several minutes before class began. The problem with that was that the short five paragraph essay was riddled with so many grammar and spelling mistakes that it was genuinely difficult to even understand what I was trying to say, and I knew this—I just didn’t care. “Why reread and correct my mistakes? Isn’t that what the teacher is getting paid for?” I figured if the assignment was completed, and I had words on a page, that it didn’t matter if it made since or if it was interesting or not. I didn’t see the importance of looking over your work before submitting it, until after a mandatory essay contest gave me a wake-up call, and it didn’t occur to me that my mother’s suggestions, for me to actually read my essays and make sure they made sense, wasn’t her just nagging about my half-hearted attempt at doing my homework.
“You know, every well-known and successful writer rereads and rewrites everything that they initially produce,” my mom would say after seeing a page of blotted up computer paper ready to be turned into class the next day. “You’re not going to turn this in to the teacher like this are you? At least have me read it first.” I would absolutely dread handing over my first draft (that was really my final draft) over to my mom who was known to be able to write well in all styles of writing, because an hour later my once only black and white piece of paper had bloodied looking red marks all over it. “Jasmine, if you just reread your work out loud to yourself then you would have realized that it sounds awkward and that this doesn’t make sense.” I had to bite my tongue from saying “you don’t make sense,” to my mother (even back then), and then I would quickly reprint a clean uncorrected copy of my essay and turn it in the next day to my teacher.
It wasn’t until my sixth grade class was mandated by our teacher to enter into the D.A.R.E. program’s essay contest, run by officer what’s-his-face, when my attitude about proofreading and rewriting took a hard right turn to avoid the coming brick wall that I was about to hit with my face. After a few days or so of waiting for the results of the contest, my class and I gathered outside in an assembly place for our graduation for the D.A.R.E. program. We sat around in our oversized D.A.R.E. shirts and certificates in front of all of our parents and friends, and were excited for our day trip to the youth center for pizza and candy. Then officer what’s-his-face grabbed the microphone again to announce the winner of the essay contest, to which everyone knew it was going to be the one blonde chick that had moved here, not long ago from Wisconsin, and grabbed the winning paper.
“I judged these papers by the messages that they tried to send, the ability to show their progression in the D.A.R.E. program, and how they articulated what they gained from taking the course,” he said while looking out into the crowd of twelve-year-olds and their photo-snap-happy parents. “I didn’t look at how well they spelled certain words or their correct use of grammar. I picked someone whose essay spoke the most to me, and that is why the D.A.R.E. essay contest winner is Jasmine Lowe.” Umm, what now? I hesitated for a full thirty seconds before standing up to go and receive my plastic gold metal and giant D.A.R.E. themed teddy bear. I was sure at the time that either officer what’s-his-face was either on crack or out of his mind before I remembered, that this was the D.A.R.E. program, and that he probably wasn’t on drugs. I mean, why else would he choose my essay that was knowingly flooded with so many grammatical mistakes and spelling errors, and of course, my parents and the parents of the blonde chick from Wisconsin knew that too.
I knew that that blondie had the better written essay, and I was completely embarrassed when both my mom and her mom stood piecing through my terribly written essay. “Why on earth would police officer what’s-his-face do this to me?! I was a terrible writer!” That’s when I knew something had to give. I had the potential to be a better writer. It was obvious now, but now I had to perfect it by writing multiple drafts of my essays and recognizing when something doesn’t sound right, or when it just didn’t make any sense, and it was then that my writing changed for the better. I had always been able to create fictional places and retell stories out loud, and through the written media, ever since I figured out that the alphabet of letters posted on my preschool wall could be rearranged into different words, and I had always loved reading as well. That wasn’t the problem, but writing effectively was. I realized that I needed to take this passion for writing and turn it into something greater, and that I had to do this by rewriting. I knew I had to find a quiet place to write when I could, and try writing whenever and wherever I felt like it, so that the writing didn’t sound forced or rushed. I would have to stop beginning to write all my assignments right before they were due, and I had to take my time and except the fact that sometimes I’m just not in the mood to write. Most of all, I had to reread and rewrite what I had originally written down on the screen, or on the page, and realized that maybe even rereading or rewriting it a second time isn’t even enough.
I was still able to keep the rush of fluidic language spilling out through my writing utensil, and onto the page, in my usual sarcastic and heavily saturated graphic forms of imagery, but I knew now that sometimes I had to hold back the surge of word vomit and rearrange the language in a way that, the readers of my stories and essays, would find it delicious. I felt more confident handing in papers to my teachers from then on, now knowing that it wasn’t a complete pile of trash I was trying to pass off as an essay. I was able to express all the things that I wanted to talk about, through my writing in a clear and concise way, that was legible as well as interesting and amusing, and it was because of this new awareness of revision after the first draft, that I was also able to now comfortably write down all the wonderful swirling thoughts, that constantly comes crashing into my mind, with the assurance that I would be able to properly polish it till it reaches its greatest potential in the end.