Wordy Wednesday: The High School English Teacher

v.s. The Literary Agent

In both cases, they are hard people to please, fighting for a spot on their client list, or subsequently fighting for a top grade is probably the hardest thing to do, until you’ve done it.

And I’m really referring to my high school english teachers, both of whom were very tough, and also gave us very boring books to read.

At sixteen, I couldn’t write an essay that pleased my teacher at all. She found my opinions narrow, my writing rushed, and even though my formatting and syntax were mostly correct, she often didn’t like my angle. I remember writing one essay on Oscar Wilde about vice and virtue and I can’t remember what I wrote, but I know I got a low grade on it because I didn’t take the angle that the other students were taking.

I always thought that it was rather unfair that she never accepted my work and always disagreed with my opinions.

It got me thinking again about Literary Agents and how it’s the same deal with them. Anyone can write something, but to write something that pleases the agents is difficult at best. They have a lot more to consider regarding the work, but the amount of bias they hold to their likes and dislikes is the same.

Nobody is going to pick you up if you write something they don’t want to read.

For me, “doing it” for my english teacher didn’t happen until grade 12, and it didn’t happen until I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and subsequently did an essay not only on the book but on the MK ULTRA project from the 60’s.

What I did differently in that class was research. I found things about my projects that couldn’t be found by looking on the surface. I impressed the teacher by drawing comparisons and connections to things she’d never thought of. Connections she could use with future students, things that stood out.

We had to present our essays to the class for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We had partnered off for the project, and my partner added the final touches, like using the overhead projector, and getting ketchup cups and jelly beans. It was dramatic, but our presentation began with telling everyone that the jelly beans were laced with LSD. That lead into a discussion on MK ULTRA, OFOC, and ultimately the author, who I also believe was on LSD when he wrote that book.

We got an A+ on the project, and were scolded for not telling the teacher exactly what we were doing. She really wanted prior knowledge of the whole thing, and we mislead her by saying we were discussing EST. We did discuss that too, but more so on the MK ULTRA thing.

When I look back on it, the only thing I did differently in that class was try harder. I got better marks because of it and that teacher actually liked me by the end of the semester. I’ll admit she didn’t give us boring books, but that’s not the point. I did the work, the work was good, and the teacher could therefore support me.

Same way it is with most agent/author relationships. You work, they work, and both of them hit their goals. You know my partner got an A+ on that project too, and we carried each other. Neither of us did more of the work or less of the work, it was a team effort.

And teams win, hard work wins, and finding that perfect person to appreciate that work, is what it’s all about.