Writing Our Name Upon the Strand

I have spent the last eight days at the 2018 Advanced Placement Reading.  For those of you not in the know, the AP exam for Language and Composition is a test students take at the end of the school year which (for those who pass it) will garner college credit for a test that costs under $100.  

That's a pretty good deal, if you ask me.

The AP exam is half multiple choice, but there are three essay questions on the exam as well and those exams all have to be scored.  What the College Board does is fly us all down to Tampa, Florida, put us up in a hotel, feed us, and train us to score one of the three different questions.  This week we scored over 1.7 million essays.  It was hard work, we treated each essay with respect, and scored them for the students.  

I read (personally) over 1000 essays this week, all on the same prompt, but I had a sad realization that I'll relate to you in a moment.

I'll have to say that I read some amazing essays.  Kids wrote about the question I scored, and we gave the scores from a 1 (a low score) to a 9 (the highest score).  Let's just say that a nine essay doesn't come along very often, but when it does it's so amazing because we know that the student wrote the essay in under 40 minutes time.  

But I read an amazing nine this week.  It was amazing.  It moved me.  It was beautifully crafted.  Test security doesn't allow me to write about it (or talk about it for that matter) but trust me: It was profound.

But I was the only person who read it unless a table leader back-checked it or the chief reader back-checked it (which happens for test integrity).  And that (at the most) is only three people.

This essay, however, needed to be shouted from the rooftops.  It needed to be published in a journal.  It needed an audience!

But it won't get one.

I had to turn the page and go to the next test booklet, to score another essay, and move on.  

I'll tell you, it was sad.  I was saddened that the words of this amazing student would never be heard.  It sits in a test booklet somewhere, deep inside a box on a pallet of boxes loaded on a truck to go back to wherever those tests are stored.   

Do you feel (O writer) like this student?  You write your novel, your short story, your poem and feel like you are writing to a void.  You feel like you have written and published your indie novel and nobody is reading it, nobody is buying it.  You pitch out a short story to various magazines and receive one rejection letter after another.  

I was reminded of an Edmund Spenser poem after reading this amazing student essay, an essay that will never be seen by another set of eyes:

Amoretti LXXV: One Day I Wrote her Name
One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
”Vain man,” said she, “that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.”
”Not so,” (quod I) “let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.”

If you feel like no one reads your prose or poetry, keep writing.  Keep putting your work out there because someone will read it.  Someone will find your writing and enjoy it.  What is success to you anyway?  To be a best-seller?  To have your name lauded by the masses?

That is just vanity.  Be humble, write your prose, work hard, and as Dave Grohl says, if your stuff is good, people will consume it.  People will want it.  They'll buy it.  They'll tell others about it.  They'll be rabid fans.