Writers are sometimes temperamental creatures, as artists go, and I was sometimes temperamental and a little over confident in my skills, since it takes a fairly strong ego to think that that you can write something that someone else is going to want to read what you have written. It takes a lot of nerve to be a writer and to withstand all the rejection that we ARE going to get. But I personally had a little lesson in humility in the classroom early in my ongoing quest to gain these skills.
It was the first day of school at Honolulu Community College when my first college level English teacher gave us an assignment to go out and look for something interesting to describe, and then write an essay about it. This kind of lesson is always the first standard lesson of any entry level English class in America, and the teacher read us an example out of a textbook from a writer who described a shade of blue as being “as blue as the blue butt of the blue butted orangutan.” I thought to myself “Wow, that must really be blue and I’ve got this. I know I can write at least that well, and I am going to really impress that English teacher with my first essay. Easy A. Wrong!
Well off I went on a walk on a local beach looking for something interesting to describe. And surly I can find something interesting to write about in Hawaii I thought, and then I spotted it: a magnificent Navy air craft carrier off in the distance docked at nearby Pearl Harbor, So I wrote my essay, and boy did I lavish on the adjectives as I was writing to impress. I described the ship as being like a queen and the aircraft as being like the jewels on her robe. What I didn’t realize was that I was actually overwriting the thing. I didn’t yet know that Mark Twain advised young writers to be sparing with the adjectives.
So on the morning when we were to receive our critiques and grade, the teacher called me up to her desk first and with a slight smirk on her face, asked me who I thought I was and wrote a big red C on my paper. Well, in retrospect, I am just grateful that she didn’t completely destroy me by giving me an F, and the lesson here is that that writers should by and large be invisible to the reader in deference to the subject he is writing about. In other words, if you are writing about the leaf on a tree, you should be specific about the shape, color, size etc. but be careful not to overwrite your work because you want your reader to be impressed with the leaf, not your writing style. Keep it simple. Keep it elegant.
Mark Twain also said at the end of his life, “I have only been a writer for twenty years of my life, I was an asshole for the first fifty.” So there is always room for improvement regardless of how good you are,