Teen Column: The Red Pen
When I was younger, a stubborn fifth-grader schooler, I would dread The Red
Pen. The Red Pen would come out on every essay I wrote for school, every short story I
conjured, and every poem I playfully typed up. After marking my paper with long swaths
of red ballpoint gel, my mom would smile at me earnestly and give me a hug, telling me
how I should be a writer.
Why is she telling me I should be a writer if she has so many corrections for me?
I would ask myself as I half-heartedly smiled back, reaching out to take my paper back
with a wounded soul and bleeding pride.
As I got older and entered middle school, I strayed away from writing: I didn’t
want to be like my mom. Instead, I wanted to be my own person, and anything she
expressed fondness for, I found myself veering away from. I pushed myself to play
soccer, diving head-on into my athletic practices and games, rarely giving myself any
time between soccer and school.
Until my freshman year of high school.
Even though I had stopped creative writing a couple of years before, my mom
came into my room excited, asking if I wanted to resume the creative writing classes I’d
quit back in 6th grade because I’d decided soccer was more “my thing.” After much
pleading, I finally gave in, and she signed me up for online classes once a week. My
writing then took off: soon, I was writing ten-page short stories weekly, rediscovering my
love for story crafting. I soon entered contests my English teacher urged me to, only
letting my academic teachers read over my writing. I still held my mom at arm’s length
when it came to my craft.
I was hesitant to show my mom my writing, The Red Pen still fresh in my mind.
She begged and pleaded to see my work, but I held it close to myself willfully, and we
didn’t seem to bond over it until I took up a new strategy with her. When she wanted to
see my work, I would text it to her in a PDF.
It is the smallest difference, downloading a document as a .docx compared to a
.pdf, but that one space lower on the drop-down menu made all the difference. Now, my
mom couldn’t easily open my writing in a Google Doc and comment the way she used
to. My documents would remain clean of a million highlights and suggestions as now
she’d switched to online editing rather than by hand. The PDF relieved the stress of the
virtual Red Pen, and now she was just forced to enjoy the story rather than look to see if
I’d used the correct “your.”
I started to warm to her reading my writing more and more, allowing her to edit
only when I needed to cut a couple of words or prepare it for competition. I even grew to
appreciate The Red Pen, the editing skills my mom had cultivated and was so talented
at that I’d taken for granted before. While I never expressed all of this to her, we silently
rebuilt our writing relationship. We grew to mutually respect each other’s writing, and sometimes she even handed The Red Pen over, letting me read over her articles for once.
While she always makes the joke that I “want to be just like her,” I’ve come to
realize that I grew to love writing regardless of her writing. Still, I recognize the
advantage of having a mama writer in my life, able to connect with me on any writing-
related issue like writer’s block, rejection, and the pure frustration when you accidentally
delete the story you’ve been working on for three weeks. Most importantly, I’ve grown to
mature and connect with her on a different and more intellectual level than before,
taking inspiration from her tenacity as I’ve watched her find her own place in the writing
community and as I continue to search for mine.