The worst thing I’ve ever written didn’t kill me

© Brian Lary/

In the months leading up to my college graduation, I panicked. What the hell could you do with an English degree except teach or go to law school – neither of which I was very excited about?

I took the LSAT, but only because I watched a lot of Law & Order and wanted to work with a hot detective like Benjamin Bratt. Fortunately, I got lost on the way to the exam and didn’t have enough time to eat lunch, ensuring I got a mediocre score and gave up the thought of going to law school.

I’d make a terrible lawyer.

My best friend was panicking, too. She majored in world arts and cultures, an even less practical degree (though she does know how to do a traditional Indonesian dance). So she proposed we apply to teach English in Japan through the JET program.

The application required me to write an essay, which I did quickly and without much care. After all, I was an English major so I could write, right?

By the time I had my interview, I’d forgotten what I’d written. I walked into the room where three people sat behind a table. One of them was glaring at me already.

Not a great sign.

They took turns asking me questions. The angry woman went last, and she asked me something directly relevant to my essay. Turns out she didn’t like it. In fact, I’d written something she found incredibly offensive.

Without going into too much detail, because the experience still haunts me, I had apparently opened my essay with a provocative story. I’d wanted my essay to stand out, to be memorable.

Holy cow, was it ever memorable.

This one interviewer grabbed hold of the wrong end of the stick and battered me with it for the entire interview. But it was mostly my fault. I’d handed her the stick.

The experience taught me a couple of big lessons.

1.  Get other people to read over what you’ve written.

Do not be precious about what you write, unless it’s your own private diary that no one will ever read. No matter how much writing experience you have, there will be times when your words don’t convey what you actually mean. If we always expressed ourselves perfectly, editors wouldn’t exist.

2. There’s very little chance your writing will ever kill you.

Unless you offend someone so badly they become murderous, writing is a fairly safe activity. All the pain is emotional (except paper cuts – *wince*). As excruciating as that experience was – and I did leave the interview blinking back tears – it didn’t kill me. I was able to learn from it. I approached my writing more maturely because of it.

After being rejected by JET, I decided I’d spend a year teaching in Prague until I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life.

And that’s where I met my husband and stumbled into a career I love.

What’s the biggest lesson a bad writing experience has taught you?


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