Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

My Writing Was CRUSHED BY A CHEESEBURGER

Today I am presenting the 1st place winner of the Writers Crushing Doubt Writing Contest, “Crushed by a Cheeseburger” by Lisa Sell. This is a delightful essay with a wonderful twist at the end. It’s a must read. Join me in congratulating Lisa in the comments. Stay tuned for the next contest and be sure to check out Writers Crushing Doubt!

On to the 1st Place Winning essay…

cheeseburgerkid

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.

m-not-lovin-it_o_1120139

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…

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.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

  • Alex Schuler

    Great essay Lisa! People say we’re too encouraging these days. That we give a prize to every kid and it’s creating an entitled and selfish generation. But your story (and my own experience) demonstrates that failing to encourage a kid can be just as bad. (And anyway there have always been many entitled and selfish people and older generations have complained about younger generations since the dawn of time.) Mixing that encouragement in with some kind advice on how to improve, that’s probably the key.

    I’m glad you crushed your doubt in the end! Keep rocking!

    • Lisa Sell

      Thanks Alex! A little encouragement, definitely goes a long way!

  • Sue

    I think there is definitely space for a food/thriller/graphic novel hybrid ☺ Congrats on getting past the doubt and I hope the encouragement of winning this comp fuels your fire even more ☺

    • Lisa Sell

      Now there’s a thought *frantically searches the attic for the novel*. Thanks Sue!

  • Congratulations Lisa! Great essay.

    • Lisa Sell

      Thanks Anne! I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

  • V. Ichizli-Bartels

    A great essay, Lisa!
    My guess is that many can relate. I also had a Miss H. But if not as a teacher than in form of another adult or an older kid we looked up to, we all had a Miss H. And we believed her or him. And didn’t believe that “writery” organ in us. We resisted it, until it’s desire grew so huge and unbearable that it simply swept us away and put us to write. It is just heavier than if it would be have we surrendered to it wholeheartedly in our school years. But it is never too late and the paths we made had to be made.
    How wonderful that you encourage young authors to write and go for their dreams!
    Wonderful! Congratulations on your 1st place, on helping others and surrendering to one of your greatest wishes! Happy writing wishes from Denmark.

    • Lisa Sell

      Thank you! I’m pleased that you proved your ‘Miss H’ wrong as well!

      • V. Ichizli-Bartels

        I used to think for a long time that my Miss H. was wrong, and this kept me in a self-pity space, far away from writing. After I have realised that all she did was what everyone did in the culture I grew up, and that is compare ourselves and others to somebody else. Consequently any aspiring writer was compared to writers we’ve been studying at school. In that she was completely right: I was never as good as them and never will be. What we both failed to see, and in that also most of people living and growing up in those times and culture, is that I didn’t have to write as anyone else by myself. And if my writing did sound naive to one person it didn’t have to sound like that to somebody else. My Miss H. had her many wonderful sides and her own story (a part of which is very hard and I wouldn’t wish it to anyone) and I have her in good memory, because there were many cases when she was utterly kind to me. At the same time I am immensely happy that the time and many cultures we live in today produce less and less Misses H. and more and more of encouraging and motivating teachers like yourself, Lisa. 🙂 I feel blessed living today and having found all these opportunities.
        Happy writing and thank for replying my comment. 🙂

  • Great story, well told. May your keep writing and sharing, Lisa. There are already many who appreciate your words. I’m inspired by your encouragement of your students and by your journey and handling of it.

    • Lisa Sell

      Thank you Elly, what lovely and encouraging words! I also wish you well with your endeavours.

  • Rachael M Colby

    Congratulations Lisa!

    I have a friend whose teacher told her she had no artistic ability and she should never attempt painting. She became a nurse. When she was 50 years old, one of her patients, an artist who owned a gallery, said they had been watching the way she did things, and they thought she was an artist. They gave her a few art lessons, and left her all their art supplies when they died. Rosemarie’s art work has been displayed in galleries all over the world. 🙂

    Kudos to you for overcoming! And we are twice blessed when we share our gifts and help others on their journey.

    I myself have been a writer in hiding until late fall of 2014, and answered the call that December. I have finally given myself permission to be who I am. I am a writer.

    • Lisa Sell

      Two wonderful inspiring stories right there. I confess, you made me get a little emotional there!

      I’ve always advocated that you’re never too old to have dreams and pursue them. I even wrote another blog post about it. Life isn’t over because we get older.

      I think when you have a creative ability, it niggles away at you. If you ignore it, life gets uncomfortable. You may not know why (like I didn’t for decades) but there is always a feeling of never quite being fully YOU.

      I wish you well and salute you for being what you know you should be.

  • Julie Mayerson Brown

    Just as I was off to bed last night, I checked my email and found a formulaic rejection notice. I had sent the short story in only two days earlier. I went to sleep grumpy and disappointed. I woke up, poured my coffee, and looked at the list of other contests and lit journals I’d compiled. My story will go out again. Giving up is so tempting. What could we do with all the hours we spend writing, rewriting, editing, submitting? Plenty. But at the heart of it, we writers love to write, need to write. Doubt rains down on us every day. We need hefty umbrellas to deflect it. “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Chuck Close, painter. Today is Sunday. I’m going to work. Thanks for an encouraging essay, Lisa!
    Julie Mayerson Brown, Author, Writer, and (sometimes) Dreamer

    • Lisa Sell

      Thanks Julie! Believe me, I know exactly what the rejection and self-doubt feels like. I fight it every day with writing my novel. As you say, writing has to happen. I can’t not do it any longer. Even if I churn out a paragraph a day whilst adopting strategies to remain positive, that is a victory for that day. I hope your work is going well today. You’ve got this!

  • Elizabeth Caroline

    Wow, your story really brought back some memories. I can remember an English assignment I did where I wrote a story about a girl who cut herself while attempting to open up a head and shoulders bottle, passed out and then regained consciousness on an alien planet where she found the solution to the aliens problem could be solved with the ingredients in head and shoulders. (Sidenote: This was almost 10 years prior to the movie Evolution and no other similarities were found ; ))
    Anyway, despite me pulling out all the stops for this novella I received a D!!
    Can you imagine how heart broken I was? I vowed never to submit a piece of literacy that took more than 30 minutes to produce and I kept true to it. That is until my new found fans (ahem, my children) convinced me to try writing again. I have to admit, I still tremble when ever I come to submit anything and the little experience I’ve had with agents hasn’t helped at all, but we’ll see how it goes.
    Congratulations on your win. I really enjoyed reading the post and good luck on the future.

    • Lisa Sell

      Thanks Elizabeth! When I was a teacher, I swore I would never discourage students no matter what their level of writing ability was, because I knew that sense of crushing defeat. I also never wrote another large piece again.

      I did well in English but I would not put myself ‘out there’ with creative writing because I thought I sucked!

      It scared me then, as it did when I was teaching, just how much power an educator’s praise, criticism or apathy can have!

      I’m heartened that you are writing now and have a very supportive fan club of your children!

  • Momo Wang

    Wow. This is great! I can so relate. 😛

    • Lisa Sell

      Thank you, then I have succeeded!

  • N K

    Congrats Lisa 🙂 !! Your story brought back school time memories. My Miss M though always, always encouraged me and motivated me to write. But once she left the school, I could not find any other mentor and my writing dreams faded off.
    Anyway… Almost 20 years later my dormant dreams have woken up and are tormenting me to pursue them & I think of my encouraging teacher a lot!

    Love how you always encourage your own students, even if the impact can’t be seen immediately, some of your students might always remember you and blossom into the writers they were meant to be later in life! All the best, make the most out of this course 🙂

    • Lisa Sell

      Thanks so much! It’s so important to have encouraging people in your life, no matter what age we are. We all need cheerleaders! Thanks for your well wishes – right back at you!

  • Liza

    Well done, Lisa! You have inspired me!

    • Lisa Sell

      Thanks Liza with a ‘z’, not Lisa with an ‘s’ (very old song)!

      • Liza

        Hello again;
        Really my name Lisa with a”S”, but I thought it would be fun for a change to call myself Liza. thanks Lisa and keep up the good work!

  • Kacey Bell

    Congrats Liza, well done!
    It is the little things that can impact the most on a child, I am so happy to hear how much encouragement you offer, I am sure they will be thankful and remember you for years to come 🙂

    • Lisa Sell

      Thanks Kacey! We all need encouragement every now and again. Thanks for yours!