Katherine Longshore: “Learning to Write”

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Today, I’m pleased to share an exclusive guest post from Brazen author Katherine Longshore, who stops by today to tell us about an educator that made an impact on her life!

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Katherine_Longshore_1589_CL_57_WBy the time I was in high school, I knew that writing was an important part of my life. I loved that it made me look at the world differently, that the very process of trying to describe what I saw and felt in a fresh and powerful way helped me to experience things more vividly. My teachers encouraged me, I wrote copy for the yearbook and published pieces in the school literary magazine.

Most of it was non-fiction. Descriptive essays and memoir. I didn’t feel confident enough to write fiction—to invent a world, a story, characters entirely of my own imagining. I knew I could write, I just didn’t think I understood how to construct a story.

Toward the end of my junior year, we were given the assignment to write a short story for AP English. My French class had been studying Paris—watching videos, reading essays, learning about art and architecture and cuisine—and it inspired me to write a story about two students at UC Berkeley (the college I wanted to attend) who magically travel to Paris for a day. I used all the research from French class and more to describe the streets, the way the rain sounded and the bakeries smelled, the vision of the Winged Victory in the Louvre and the specially-prepared and numbered canard a l’orange at the Tour d’Argent—the paper with the number printed upon it remaining in the girl’s pocket when they found themselves back in Berkeley.

My story was returned to me with a single question scrawled across the top in red ink:

What’s the point?

I was devastated. I’d thrown my heart and soul into this story. I’d created some of the best description I’d ever written. I loved the characters—the way the girl laughed and the boy’s effortless magic realism. But I couldn’t answer my teacher’s question. I was a failure at fiction.

A few months later, entries were requested for the annual county-wide writing contest. The year before, I had won the personal essay category, but had nothing I felt was ready to enter. I looked back at my short story. I fell in love again with the setting and the characters. I began to think—maybe the point is the journey.

I submitted it for the short story category, and in the next months almost forgot about it in the rush of entering my senior year, auditioning for the school play, applying for colleges and just remembering to breathe. So I was surprised to get the call that my story had won first place.

Surprised, and elated. Validated.

For years afterwards, though, I continued to believe that I didn’t really understand how to write fiction. I studied journalism. I wrote people pieces and travel essays. I learned how to write a great lead sentence, how to distill my thoughts into sharp descriptions, how to find the essence of a piece and make it shine.

I learned how to write.

So I thank my junior English teacher. For helping me to grow a thicker skin. For giving me the guts to seek another opinion in hopes that it would justify my own. For setting me on a path to become a better writer, and a writer determined to be a good storyteller.

For teaching me that the point is the journey itself.

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