A note from the past

In culling and clearing out old files, I came upon an old scrapbook of college and post-college clippings, including this 1988 note from one Helen W. Powers, who was I believe senior lecturer at my alma mater at the time and who taught my college expository writing class:

As we discussed, your challenge in the future is that of keeping your own voice but experimenting beyond the types of writing you have done and do so well. You’re so successful a writer that the temptation will always be to re-do, to re-write, the same essay with different subjects. And of course you should not write in uncongenial manners. But I think you will enjoy more experimentation in the future, and I hope you will find situations in which you are free to experiment and free to work out ideas in ways which may be less elegant, but for you more interesting.

Or put another way: don’t let the things that come easily to you and that you’re already good at keep you from venturing into new and interesting and less-certain places that could keep you from deepening your work.

At the time, I remember finding this advice fascinating, because it was neither the praise I tended to generate easily from those who liked my writing, nor the entirely-critical responses I tended to generate from those who didn’t. It saw my strengths, genuinely appreciated them, and then said, don’t stop here, in this comfortable place where you’re doing okay: push harder, go farther. This is just a beginning. You have more in you.

Stumbling upon it now, I think it’s still a useful reminder.

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