The unwritten rules matter

The unwritten rules matter

A grade of a “C”! Not again!

A slight rush of panic courses over my body.
I’m sitting in my English class as a freshman in college. I’ve deemed to myself that this subject is one of my weakest. As such I was determined to work really hard in this class and do well.

As part of the course, we were required each week to write a short essay on various topics. Now, a few weeks into the class, I’ve just received my third sub-par grade.

I was so convinced that I couldn’t write that I took great pains to craft my previous weekly essays. I researched them; created draft after draft. Then for my final draft, I carefully wrote it down on paper using the neatest penmanship I could muster. The spelling and grammar was spot on.

The results weren’t.

Clearly my approach was not working.

What I didn’t understand at the time was why.

Now I was completely frustrated. Early on after the first essay, I spoke to the teacher. She was helpful with some tips and advice. I followed her recommendations. However, the grades didn’t improve.

My response was to take a less conventional style… and that is what saved the day.

For my next essay, I decided to take a completely different approach. I wrote one draft. Just one. If I didn’t like a sentence, I crossed it out and rewrote it. The same if I didn’t like a word. I didn’t over analyze my paragraphs or logic and flow of the paper. I thought about it and wrote. No final, neat draft. I used my typical slightly sloppy handwriting. I submitted my essay somewhat apathetically and expected a well-deserved poor grade. I was more convinced than ever that I was just not good at writing and that was that.

The next week, she passed back the graded papers. I looked down to see an “A-“.


This was, in fact, my paper. (It was hard to mistake the handwriting and cross out’s).

I went right up to the teacher after class searching for answers.

Her response was that this paper showed real emotion and passion. It showed that I had put in the effort. To her, my previous submissions were almost too neat. They didn’t show that I worked very hard. They didn’t indicate that I had an energy for writing or the topic at hand. It seemed to sterile to her.

After explaining to her that I did care and described what I put myself through for all of the previous drafts, she indicated that she would prefer a neat final going forward (it made them easier to read after all). In addition, please submit the drafts and notes as well.

For the rest of the semester, most of the remaining essays were high grades and I ended up getting a B+ in the class. She even once used one of my essays as an example of quality writing to the rest of the class.

What a turnaround indeed.

There are the rules and then there are the unwritten rules.

Understanding both helps go a long way towards achieving success.

It’s a lesson I try not to forget.

Be well.


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