On to the 1st Place Winning essay…
When I was 11 years old, I was crushed by a cheeseburger. Now let’s be clear, I love a good burger. Add cheese and you’re about as close to heaven on earth as you’re ever going to get. But there was a time when a cheeseburger became a beacon of writing self-doubt.
In my first year at secondary school, desperate to impress my very cool English teacher, Miss H, I wrote a novella. In my 11 year old mind, The Diary of a Cheeseburger Kid was the book that was going to set the publishing world on fire.
I spent months detailing the exploits of Pete, cheeseburger gastronome, popular kid and super-spy. I even added illustrations, breaking out the expensive felt tips saved for the most special of occasions. I shared my book with my most trusted beta readers, i.e. my mates. They grunted by way of feedback. which in pre-teen world translates as, ‘This is the most amazing book I have ever read.’ As an adult I have since come to understand that the correct meaning is, ‘I looked at the pictures, but if you think I’m actually reading after that school bell has sounded, you are nuts.’
The day I handed over my masterpiece to Miss H, I felt a heady rush of anticipation and excitement. Surely she would appreciate it for the satin ribbon binding, lovingly laced through the punched holes, alone? Once she got to the actual story and the Quentin Blakeesque drawings, English lessons would never be the same. Forget Harriet the Spy, we would be studying my work next week.
Oh to be 11 and naive. That day I learnt how into every writing life, some rejection must fall. Miss H kindly thanked me for my efforts and swiftly shoved my manuscript into her drawer.
I gained a sympathy merit sticker for my ‘extra-curricular English endeavours’. Miss H even bestowed me with her dental advertisement smile. Once that would have been enough for me to write a sequel. Not now. Omnipotent doubt crashed in. If Miss H, the font of all English wisdom, had not validated my writing skills, what hope was there for me as a writer?
So The Diary of a Cheeseburger Kid, along with all future writing aspirations appeared to die that day. My shattered confidence and pride meant I didn’t dare to ask Miss H to return my book. I never wanted to see it again.
Trips to burger restaurants became awkward. The world taunted me with the 80s propensity for birthday parties in fast food joints. Ronald McDonald haunted my dreams, cheeseburger in hand, with ‘loser’ written on top as an extra layer. Let’s face it, clowns are downright scary anyway. Add them mocking your inability to write, and you’ve got a case for therapy right there.
When The Diary of a Wimpy Kid was released many years later, I questioned if Miss H had been secretly harbouring my manuscript as a work of genius; waiting to unleash it upon the world as her own. Indignant, I analysed the novel to gain evidence of this nefarious deed.
From my fact-finding mission, I gleaned two facts: (1) Jeff Kinney appears to have no connections with Miss H, unless this is a pseudonym. (2) The story is not actually based upon a teenager with a penchant for the local retro burger chain, that was deemed ‘posh’ because they provided plates and cutlery. A crisis had been averted. Doubt remained.
In time, the trauma of the existence of Pete and his crushing cheeseburgers faded, but the legacy of self-doubt in creating them lingered. Decisions were made; writing was not for me and I would never share my writing with anyone again.
Imagine if you will the day I began work as an English Teacher, teaching in the school of which I was once a pupil. Picture the Herculean effort it took to sit at my desk; the desk once used by Miss H. Of course I did it. I opened the drawer. A small glimmer of hope that my writing dreams remained there betrayed my exile from ‘writers’ world’. I foolishly needed to know if I could stoke the fires alive, via the words of my 11 year old self.
My dreams were no more stashed away in that drawer than the novella was. They were hidden and compressed by doubt. I resolved to do the next best thing; I taught young people how to write. I read their writing and actively encouraged their efforts. I entered them into competitions and delighted in their poems and stories being printed in anthologies. I never envied them because, through them, I could live an alternate life for my younger self, where writing was encouraged and praised. Let them have their moment.
Then it happened.
29 years after the humiliation, came a gentle nudge, a tap on the shoulder, followed by an almighty shove. You can attempt to ignore all this until it results in that final big boot up the nether regions. Then it gets uncomfortable. I knew had to try again. I had to write. I had to crush that cheeseburger, that doubt, and that teacher (albeit metaphorically) once and for all.
The laptop came out. My head said ‘no’. The ‘writery’ part inside said ‘yes’. This extra organ I never knew I had, won the fight.
So here I am; writing my first novel, scribbling short stories and blogging as fast as my fingers can fly over the keyboard. Doubt can ‘do one’. I have listened to its lies for far too long. Now is the time to really do this, and who knows, maybe Pete will have his day. Maybe one day we will all know the world of a boy, powered by cheeseburgers.
Just check the name of the author when that happens. Miss H, my solicitors are watching…
[callout]Writers Crushing Doubt Writing Course is now open. It’s an online course for anyone who has a sincere desire in becoming the accomplished writer they’re meant to be. The course will only be open for new sign-ups for a short period of time, so if you want to get in on the introductory price go check it out here.[/callout]