In psychology, there’s a concept called “egocentrism.” Now before you start thinking of that stuck-up acquaintance you just can’t stand, know that in this context, it refers to young children who haven’t yet learned to think from other people’s perspectives. For example, a child who hasn’t progressed past egocentrism might nod when asked a question over the telephone. They assume that everyone has their knowledge and their view point.
Often, we do this in our writing. Remember that paper you wrote when the Muse spoke to your heart and the words just flowed? And then, your teacher looked at it and gave you a 72 percent. There are a number of reasons this may have happened. (Defiance of grammar laws is often a culprit.) But maybe the reason your brilliant essay didn’t click with your teacher is that it just didn’t make sense. Think about it. Did you organize your topic logically? Did you transition from one point to another smoothly? Was that stellar piece of reasoning as clear as you thought?
Your reader doesn’t have your perspective or your background. Something that’s as obvious to you as the school colors may be utter murk to your reader. So remember to ask, “How will my words sound to the reader?” Don’t nod on the telephone when you write.
I always loved reading as a child, but loving reading doesn’t make you a writer. Then I began to write down my own stories—journals of my fantastical tales of superheroes based off of my best friends and science fiction adventures about alien cows and radioactive corn. I wrote about anything and everything I could imagine, but my young self only saw writing as a fun pastime. It was my future goal—at that time, I couldn’t even comprehend the thought: I am a writer.
Still, I kept writing. When I made my way into high school, I faced the ultimate challenge of the casual fiction writer—non-fiction essays. I struggled with each essay, barely grazing the top of the C range for grades. I remember spending countless hours surrounded by several short stacks of flashcards—each covering a point I wanted to discuss. I would lie on my bed covered in books and rest my eyes while I thought about the topic again and again, waiting for the words to separate themselves from the darkness. They rarely did, but my persistence paid off in the Lord of the Flies paper when I received what I assumed would have won Most Backhanded Comment the Year. My teacher told the class, “I was surprised. This student”—because of course she wouldn’t say names—“wrote better than I thought he or she ever could.” When she handed my paper back after class, it had a lovely B- on it and red marks splattered across the text.
Her words shocked me, enraged me, caused the acute destruction of my pride—she praised the thing my perfectionism deemed a failure. My anger at this comment, at her nonchalance and even at my lack of skill in writing festered until I felt it would bubble the acid right out of my stomach, splashing her with violent bouts of word vomit—I remained silent. My only recognizable thought—I’ll show her.
I bottled up the rage, forced it into a small box in the back of my brain and fed from it each time I wrote a paper for her class, or any other. These words and their lack of hope in my future success—which I’m now sure she never meant in that way—fueled my motivation and my passion for writing. In that moment I remained silent and proclaimed my future success. To spite her doubts and despite my own, I became a writer.