Story by Lynn Lombard
I’ve always heard that you are your own worst critic. Yet, in high school, my worst critic was my English teacher, Mr. Edgar. He not only rarely gave me A’s, but he would mark up whatever I wrote in red pen until it looked like a three year old had gotten a hold of it. At first, I thought it was because he didn’t like my work, but I soon realized that this balding short man, who could always find something wrong with what I wrote, would become the person I most credit with beginning my writing endeavors.
Both young and naive, I thought my writing didn’t need much sharpening. Each time I handed in a paper, I was confident of a job well done. Until, that is, I got the corrected version back with his repeated comments in the margin, “Tighten! Tighten! Tighten!” and “Never use two words when you can use one.” He would stand beside my desk, watching me read his revisions with a smirk on his face.
“I guess I have to tighten this up a bit?” I asked with a tone of sarcasm in my voice. Mr. Edgar would nod his head ever so slightly, straighten his smirk to a serious note and walk away. It came to a point where I would cringe each time he put a paper in front of me, telling me to delete half my story.
“Do you know how long this took me to write?” I’d tell him. “And now you want me to cut it in half?”
His only answer, “Yes.”
I didn’t like it one bit – dissecting my story as I cut word after word just seemed so wrong – but I did what was asked. “Wow!” I said shocked after getting back my second rewrite, with the words, “Good job!” and “Much more crisp and easier to read” written at the bottom of the page.
“You mean I did something right?”
“Yes,” he’d say with a hint of a smile. Maybe this man was on to something!
As the school year passed, I became increasingly aware that each assignment helped broaden my horizons. One real milestone came with his words, “I want you to write a poem. It can be about anything at all. There is only one guideline.” About anything at all? This will be easy, I thought as I waited for him to continue. “It cannot rhyme.” Can’t rhyme? Is this guy nuts? How am I, the rhymer of rhymes, going to pull this off? I remember sitting there in hard thought. He was doing this to torture me, I just knew it! He stopped at my desk, peering over my blank page, smiling as I struggled. That confirmed it. He was out to get me.
I never knew that the non-rhyming poem that I was about to write would be one of my finest. I never thought that I would actually like writing it. Finally, I began to see this man as the true mentor he was. His demanding ways were simply preparing me for the real world.
At the end of my senior year, he asked me if I ever thought about sending my writing out to get published.
“Published?” I said, beaming that he thought I had a chance. “I wouldn’t know where to begin.” He paved the road ahead of me, directing me to the Writer’s Market. And so began my pursuit of being published.
Many rejections later, my first poem was accepted by a small time newsletter, “Lines’N Rhymes” but the triumph I felt when I read the acceptance letter is a feeling I shall never forget. The first thing I did after wiping the joyous tears from my eyes was write to Mr. Edgar to tell him of my success. I was confident that there would be more of those acceptance letters in the future. And, I’m proud to say, there were.
Surprisingly, I have kept all those papers he marked up with his red pen and look at them often. (He would never believe that!) And though he has retired and I no longer see him anymore, I know he would be proud of how far I’ve come. (I send him every published clip I earn in the mail). What he taught me will long be remembered. For that, I will always feel blessed in a big way.