At the impressionable age of 17, I enrolled myself in the what was rumoured to be the country’s foremost school of journalism and communications. I had a glorified notion that I was going to be a reporter – preferably one pounding out bi-weekly editorials for a medium circulation magazine focused on music, culture and design. I was never the most talented writer, but what came naturally always made the grade and I was confident that I could rise to the occasion.
Eight months later, the syndicated sensation that was Carleton University’s school of Journalism had me on my knees – I had spent two decades learning the simple pleasures of linking together words and phrases, concocting rhyme schemes, and eagerly penning the most trivial stories and observations, only to have the joy of the written word beaten out of me in less than a year.
Your first sentence may be no more than 28 words. Exceeding the word count will be penalized.
Punctuation is frowned upon, as are spirited modifiers, anecdotes, and words that are difficult to pronounce. Creativity will be penalized.
All text should be formatted according to the stylebook. Any unsanctioned designations will be penalized (see the Street versus St. debate).
Following the rules was exhausting. Each point deduction pounded down on my spirit, and I descended into an uninspired and desperate wreck, obsessively editing my thoughts before they hit the page. In June, I shakily opened my acceptance letter granting me the privilege of continuing into second year – an “honour” delivered to the top 100 students (axing 40% of the class). I tore it up. And it wasn’t because of the fear, or the pressure, or the competition – I had lost my passion, and I wasn’t going to fight just to spend the next 20 years censoring myself to satisfy others’ limits.
It’s been a long road back to the strange, independent, intoxicating world of writing. I spent too long trapped in a mindset of “why bother,” dismissing ideas and forgetting the quiet satisfaction that comes from crafting a passage, savouring the delicate interplay of fact and feeling, and neatly closing with love, sincerity, or a simple the end.