Beth didn’t understand why the other kids in her class always groaned on Friday mornings when it was time for their weekly spelling quiz. Especially if the quizzes had fun words in them, like the time their teacher had all rhyming words in the quiz – words like hairy, fairy, bury and marry. Beth giggled as the teacher called them out and carefully spelled each word correctly.
And why on earth did the other kids not like writing essays or poems about their summer vacation? It was awesome to think about all the fun things she had done during the summer, then crafting it into a good story; maybe even making it into a poem with rhyming words.
What could be possibly better than words? Beth loved looking at them on paper, sounding them out, writing them down and putting them together into poems and stories.
While Beth was an introvert, the one time at school she was never afraid to speak up was when her class had a spelling bee. Beth reveled in the fact that she was the best speller in her class, every single year. She figured she had gotten so good at it because she was constantly trying to keep up with her older sister, Greta.
“Ugh, Greta, this, Greta, that. Mom won’t stop bragging to all her friends about how smart Greta is and how she was already reading chapter books when she was just six-years-old,” Beth thought to herself as she dragged her heels on the sidewalk while shuffling home from school one Friday afternoon just after report cards were handed out. Beth knew the weekend ahead would be more of the same – Mom bragging to all her friends at church about how Greta got straight A’s on her report card (again).
“I get one A- and all the rest A’s but does she ever talk about me? No. Of course not,” Beth muttered under her breath.
But Beth couldn’t really be too mad at her sister about it, since Greta just rolled her eyes and walked away whenever their mom got all braggy about her. So, as far as Beth was concerned, Greta was still mostly alright.
While Greta was clearly the ‘favorite’ daughter, she still had to work at navigating their mom for the maximum possible advantage. If she didn’t feel like doing her homework, she’d lay it on thick, asking, “Mom, you’re so much better at math than I am. Could you please help me with my Algebra?” Their mother fell for it every time and practically did Greta’s homework for her fairly often. Greta just sat there acting like it was all so very confusing and thank goodness Mom was SO smart.
One day at their middle school, the teachers announced there was going to be a writing contest. Beth didn’t think too much about it and wasn’t all that interested in the topic of the contest. That is, until she heard Greta talking to their parents about how she wanted to enter it and how she would, “Really appreciate their smart ideas,” about how to write an essay on the theme, “My Birthright: Freedom.”
While Greta was sitting at the kitchen table, with their mom and dad helping her craft good sentences and paragraphs, Beth sat in the big squishy living room chair and decided she was going to enter the contest too and compete against her sister, without ‘cheating’ like she was doing by getting help from their parents. Beth grabbed a big book about America from her parent’s bookshelf and found a couple of good quotes about what it meant to be free in America. Then she crafted an essay incorporating those quotes.
Beth and Greta both turned in their essays that Monday morning but learned they’d have to wait an entire month for a committee of teachers to read all the essays and announce the winners. Beth wondered every single day if that would be the day when they would finally post the winners list.
Then the day finally came. The winner’s sheet was posted on the school’s main bulletin board in the front lobby. The eighth-grade results were at the top of the sheet. Of course, Greta was the winner of the eighth-grade contest. Ugh. As Beth’s eyes scanned down the list to the seventh-grade contest, someone named Billy got first place. What a disappointment. She kept scanning the list to see if she was even on it and found her name in 2nd place.
Even though she hadn’t technically been competing with her sister, it still felt like her sister had beat her at something, as usual, once again.
“Great, something else for Mom to brag to all her friends about,” Beth thought to herself as she quickly made her way to the bathroom in case the tears that were starting to well up in her eyes started rolling down her cheeks. She locked herself in a stall and sat down on the floor to cry. “It’s not even fair. Isn’t it cheating if Mom and Dad helped her come up with ideas and helped her write it?” she muttered to herself.
What happened exactly a month after that disappointment, was not at all what Beth could have anticipated. During the morning announcements over the school loudspeakers, the principal said that all the writing contest winners had been entered in a county-wide writing contest and there were two winners from their school.
“Oh great,” Beth thought to herself, “I’m sure Greta got first place in the county-wide contest too. And I’m sure I dropped way down the list since I only got second place for my school.”
But first the Principal announced that Greta had gotten second place in the eighth grade county-wide contest. Beth was a little shocked. Greta always got first place. Beth sighed. Greta still had won something.
What happened next, Beth was completely unprepared for. The Principal announced that Beth had won FIRST place in the seventh-grade contest. She thought she heard it wrong. But when the whole class turned to look at her and they were all smiling at her, she realized she had heard it accurately.
But how was that possible if she’d gotten second place at her school? But then it dawned on her. There were different judges. Those judges liked HER essay the best! For once, she’d finally beat Greta at something.
That was the very day that Beth knew there was nothing she wanted to do more than become a writer. And she practiced her craft all the time. More accolades came her way throughout high school and several times English teachers even read her essays out loud to the entire class, to show them an example of good writing.
By the time Beth was a senior in high school, she became a teacher’s assistant for the teacher who was feared by all – the toughest English teacher in the entire school. It wasn’t long before the teacher ceremoniously handed her red pen over to Beth and had her marking up papers and writing comments on them in order to make her job of grading the papers easier. Beth smiled when the teacher told her she had to keep Beth’s identity a secret because the students in her other classes did NOT like whoever was marking up their papers. Not one bit. Too many red marks. Soooo many red marks on their papers.
But Beth had developed other interests in addition to writing and editing. When she went off to college, she decided to major in marketing, with a minor in accounting, figuring those would be good, solid career choices. Her career kicked off nicely and she steadily bounced between marketing and accounting jobs as she moved up the career ladder.
Over the years, Beth got married and had a son. Between home, parenthood and her career, she had almost forgotten about her love of writing. She had little time to even consider pursuing hobbies. But by the time Beth’s son had left for college, and Beth’s marriage had sadly ended in a bitter divorce, she had a whole lot more free time than she was used to and realized she had to do something with her life that was more fulfilling than just hiring another advertising agency to produce print ads, providing feedback on yet another web page design, or micromanaging her son while he was away at college, trying to convince him that he still needed to eat his fruits and vegetables even if she wasn’t there supervising.
It finally came to her. Maybe now was the time to write the proverbial “Great American novel.” Beth came up with what she thought was a strong idea, outlined it, then tried working on it every night for a few months. But she kept getting stuck, realizing how rusty her writing skills had become. Figuring she could use some help, she looked online for writing groups in her town and joined one that sounded interesting. Each week she crafted a short story so she’d have something to share with the group that they could critique. And week after week, she learned something new from the many different perspectives of the wide variety of people in her group. They were all different ages, from twenty to eighty, and all came from very diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. Beth learned even more from listening to them read out loud what they had written that week. How they turned a phrase. How eloquently they described the beauty of the sunset’s glow or the sky filled with stars. How they put words together in ways that she’d never thought to combine them with the end result being so glorious that she often got chills.
Beth began to realize that, for her, the end game was never going to be about convincing a publishing house to publish her novel or even winning writing contests as she had in middle school. It was simply to find new and beautiful ways to put words together that might make someone go home from the writing group one night and say, “Beth’s writing was glorious this week. It gave me the chills.”