When I was in junior high school, I was an eager student. I had finally figured out how to get straight A's, and I worked hard to maintain that success. In ninth grade, I took an English class, confident that I could learn well and keep up with my peers. Then the teacher gave us an assignment to write a story or a poem. He explained that he would read them to the class.

I was horrified.

While I wanted to get a good grade in the class and I was OK with my teacher reading my writing for that purpose, I was terrified of my classmates hearing what I had written. It was just too much stress on my fragile confidence. So I simply skipped the assignment.

A few weeks after the assignment was due, the teacher called me to his desk. He knew I was generally a conscientious student and that I turned in my assignments on time. "Joe," he said, "I think I've misplaced your poem or short-story assignment. I'm really sorry about that. Would you mind redoing it? I'll give you a couple of extra weeks." I was a shy kid, and I wasn't about to explain why he really didn't have my assignments. So I just nodded and returned to my seat, never really intending to do the assignment.

A few weeks later, he called me to his desk again. "Joe," he apologized, shuffling through the papers on his desk, probably knowing by now what was going on, "I can't find your poem or short story assignment. I'm really sorry. I don't normally lose things. I'll give you a couple of weeks, if you want to redo it." I nodded and returned to my seat. By this time, the teacher had been reading the poems and short stories my classmates had written. Many of the assignments seemed so well-written. There was no way I was going to write something that they would all hear.

The school quarter continued, with the teacher calling me up and giving me extra time. Each time I nodded and returned to my seat, never really intending to do the assignment. And I kept my commitment. The result was that I didn't get an A that quarter in ninth-grade honors English. Being competitive, I didn't like getting something less than an A, but I liked even less having my classmates know what I had written.

Over time I gained enough confidence in my ability to learn to write. It took me a few years to get up the courage to share what I had written. But I learned several things to help me improve my writing skills:

  1. Read a lot.
  2. Write often.
  3. Share what you write.

When you share what you write, you discover that you have important and useful things to say. You can also often determine whether others are understanding what you have to say. If you can say something clearly enough so that someone else can understand, then you write well enough. Keep practicing. Whatever you do, don't delay your learning (like I did) by refusing to share what you've written.