My English professor was the meanest professor on the college campus. When she walked in the room, her gaze weeded the unskilled students from the skilled ones. The shallow from the dedicated. The ones that would fail from the ones that had what it took. As an aspiring author, I trembled beneath her gaze.
This was my first chance to prove to anyone that my writing had potential. I'd been writing for five years, dreaming of a career in publishing. Now I wanted to know if I should keep dreaming, if my writing was good enough. If I had what it took.
On the one and only day in history that I lost my pencil, my professor snapped at me for failing to take notes, and I knew I'd been tagged for absolute failure. My writing dreams dimmed considerably.
My fellow students dropped like flies. Week after week, more and more desks stayed empty. I struggled through, meeting deadlines and biting my nails as the time came to turn in The Big Project. Required to write a persuasive research paper, I had spent hours in research and drafting. It was an election year, and I was profiling a candidate from the party I knew my professor hated.
After I turned it in, I wondered if I'd made a mistake. I should have chosen a candidate she liked. I should have chosen a target demographic closer to my own. I should have dropped the class. I should have chosen a different career. Not writing. Anything but writing.
The day came when she returned our papers. I waited with fifteen or so remaining students, diehards like me. Every paper was handed back with a list of errors and an order to rewrite the paper. My heart sank. I had done my best; I couldn't do any better. My writing dream had dwindled to nothing more than a fool's hope.
“Here.” She handed me the stapled pages and pointed out a few grammatical errors. Then she moved on. She didn't tell me to edit and turn it in again. She demanded no rewrite. My paper had passed...on the first try.
I was one of only two students in the room who went home with a finished paper. My heart soared. I had done it! I'd been sure of my impending failure, both in the class and in my career as an author. And while my professor hadn't exactly complimented my writing, she hadn't demanded a rewrite. I had what it took.
Since then, I've continued to write. There have been good days, and there have been days when I've cried, convinced that I'm not good enough. Even though I currently have twelve requests to read my novel from literary agents—the gatekeepers of the publishing world—I still doubt. I still ask myself, “Do I have what it takes?”
And the answer, proved by the meanest English professor on campus, is always, “Yes.”
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