It was October 1997, and I had just turned thirteen. The red ink at the top of my English homework was life-changing in a way that Mrs. Padgett never could have known.
“Wow! … You have a talent with words!”
I don’t remember my first reaction when I read that statement. Reading it now, my eyes fill up and my ears buzz a little. I know her words were monumental in my life.
Her opinion meant so much to me that I still have my pile of 7th-grade creative writing papers, twenty-two years later. Her slanted handwriting fills the margins with occasional corrections, but it is mostly encouragement and feedback.
“Builds up suspense on this page really well!”
“You describe so well. I see him, and it’s a funny picture.”
“Very well-told from point of view. Reader sees it your way.”
“Your description is vivid.”
All of these little comments, and the longer feedback at the tops of the pages, were giant blinking neon signs, leading me toward a future in writing. They planted the thought in my head: “Hey, maybe I’m good at this.” Assignments for school turned into countless hours lost in my imagination, developing plots and characters and twisty turns. But, my passion stayed mostly secret. I spent most of my time behind the closed door of my bedroom writing poetry and chapter books that would never see the light of day.
My second home in high school was our newspaper room, and by senior year I was Editor in Chief. Everybody knew I wrote articles and columns, but I continued to keep my fiction writing hidden. I wrote some silly future-telling pieces for my high school friends, and I wrote some even sillier fairy tales for my college friends (which I would drop in campus mail back when students actually checked their snail mail). Other than that, I rarely told a soul about my notebooks full of charts, chapters, and scribbled ideas.
Some stories are completely handwritten on wide-ruled paper. Others are printed out from early word processors in fonts that I’m ashamed of (ha!) or saved on old disks that I can’t access anymore.
I had to put together a “Writing Portfolio” for an English class in high school. That binder became the place were I shoved all of these random papers, and now it is so fun to go back through this time capsule. Through fictional plots and characters, they tell the story of what I was experiencing, what I worried about, and what I hoped and dreamed. Many of the stories I don’t remember writing down.
But those oldest sheets of paper, from Mrs. Padgett’s class in 1997-98, were the beginning for me. She encouraged a love of expression through writing, and it is where I learned that words could be every bit as artistic as paint or clay.
When you are thirteen years old with “boy hair,” braces, and less-than-trendy fashion taste (aka: Queen of Awkward), it is life-changing to learn that you might be good at something. To have a beloved teacher believe in you is pure gold.
As I think ahead to the release of my book, my stomach churns at the thought of reviews from total strangers. What if everyone thinks it is total garbage? Humiliating. I might crawl into a hole and never speak to another human again.
But then I remember Mrs. Padgett’s words from over two decades ago.
“Great narrative style – you take readers through a real experience – suspense is terrific, especially when you get inside her desperate mind so well! It’s really believable.”
Thank you, Mrs. Padgett, for your words that continue to give me the confidence and courage to write and share my own.