I recently found a story I wrote in secondary school that’s made me rethink the way I write. Or don’t write, as is more often the case.
The story is called Prejudice. It’s the tale of a girl called Jo, who’s being bullied at school and decides to run away. (I know. Just… stop sniggering.) It hasn’t got a date on it, but it does have my class number, so I know it was written in the third year, when – as one of the youngest in my school year – I would have been 13. (Yes, you can read it in a minute. Just indulge me, please, by reading this first.)
I remember this assignment being set for us quite clearly. Our usual English teacher was away so we had a substitute; a young woman we hadn’t met before, who’d obviously been drafted in at the last minute. I don’t remember the lesson itself, but for the homework, she had simply asked us to write a 1000 word story on the subject of “prejudice”.
I can remember the joy I felt at this. After our usual lessons, which would involve reading and analysing set texts, perhaps writing an opinion piece or even a creative piece based on one of those, it was liberating to be given a vague theme and told to come up with whatever we liked.
I still work best when given a theme, a word count and a deadline. But usually I’m writing non-fiction, for work. Reading this story now has made me pine for the creative writer I was then.
Yes, there is plenty wrong with it – not least the knuckle-chewingly dreadful naivety of a young author writing on a subject she knows nothing about. But it’s what’s right about it is precisely what’s missing from any writing I do now: I didn’t worry about anything – I just wrote.
And what’s more, if you can ignore the haphazard punctuation, slippery spelling and terrible paragraph control, it’s actually quite well-structured. It’s (more or less) got a proper plot curve! The scene is set at the beginning, with some flashbacks to place the character and introduce some tension that will need resolving. The journey continues to a climax point, whereby a conflict enables the character to put her own problems into context. And so the tension is resolved.
Okay, you can read it now. I’ve copied it out exactly as it was written then, dodgy grammar and all.
So over the next few weeks I’m going to try and channel my blithely confident 13 year old self and try and write short stories the way I used to. I’m going to pretend that, once again, my standard sources are dad’s Daily Mail, mom’s Women’s Weekly and whichever books from Hall Green Library’s “young adult” aisle I am currently reading. Who cares? I’m going to try not to worry about a thing – and just write.