Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice Makes Perfect is a short story I wrote for a children's writing class. I thought it a story any writer could relate to. I hope you enjoy this and it inspires you.

Sam was never great at anything. In everything she tried, she never came in higher than second, runner-up, the next best thing.

The day of the big track meet, her friend Craig, with his tall body and long legs came in first. Sam squeaked to the finish line shortly after Craig, barely able to breathe. Sam was bent over with her hands on her knees and sucking in air trying to get her wind back when the announcer came over the loud speaker.

“The winners is Craig Zeller.” Shouts and claps went up all over the stadium, and Craig bounded around as if he had just walked from his house to his mailbox and back.

“Coming in a close second is Sam Spenser.” Still bent over her knees, Sam waved a hand to fewer shouts and claps from the audience.

“Second again,” Sam mumbled and kicked the ground.

In the math contest at school, her brainiac friend Tom answered all the problems correctly on the chalkboard in five minutes while Sam struggled with the last two questions. She would never be best at math.

“How do you do that so fast?” she asked Tom.

He shrugged. “When I look at math equations the answers just appear to me, kinda like art does to an artist.”

Sam wrinkled her nose. Math as art? “Ew.”

When it came to art, Sam’s friend Andrea, was the best. It seemed to Sam that Andrea’s hand had an artist’s brush or pencil attached to it, like an extension of her arm. She won every contest she ever entered.

At the spring art festival, Andrea’s watercolor of a colorful chocolate fairy won first prize and was placed for display on an easel all by itself. Sam’s painting of a bunny rabbit riding a snowboard was hidden among all the other runner’s up.

There was nothing Sam was best at.

Sitting on the steps of her front porch, hands on knees, Sam sighed.

“What’s wrong, Sweet Cheeks?”

Sam smiled at her father and the use of her nickname he’d given her.

Her dad sat down next to her. “What’s got you so blue?”

Sam looked at her father dead in the eye. “I’m not good at anything.”

“What? You’re good at everything.”

She blew out a breath. “I mean I’m not the best at anything. I never come in first in any contest. How do I move past good and become the best?”

“First of all, just trying anything is good. A lot of people are too afraid to try. You’re not. And placing in a contest is fantastic. You don’t have to be first.”

“Dad,” she sighed, “I know all that, but I want to be the best at something.”

Her father wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulders and hugged. “Okay, no lecture. How about some advice?”

Sam nodded.

“If you want to be the best at anything you have to practice, not just the day of the contest, but regularly. The real key to being successful at something is doing something you love. If you love what you do then practicing is easier, and when you enter a contest your heart is in it.”

Sam thought about her dad’s words. Do what you love. Her friend Andrea loved to draw and paint, Craig wanted to run marathons and loved running, and Tom thought numbers were art, so he must love math.

Sam’s dad kissed her on the cheek and ruffled her hair. “Feel better?”

Jumping to her feet, Sam kissed her father back. “Much. Thanks, Dad.”

She started down the steps of the porch and her father yelled after her. “Good luck!”

In her treehouse, Sam pulled out a pen and paper and made a list. She wrote down the things she could do. On the paper, she wrote math, drawing, running, poetry, soccer, volleyball, and gardening. When she finished her list, Sam put the pen down, and reflected. Which of those things did she love?

Finger to her lips, brow furrowed, Sam thought. And thought. She liked all of them, but she didn’t love any of them. What did she love?

Excitement bubbled up inside her. Sam knew what she loved. She loved telling stories. She liked capturing an audience’s attention with her words. She loved seeing pieces when she described a different world to them and could see their minds picturing what her words described.

But how did she become a great storyteller? She’d never heard of any storytelling contests.

Elbows on knees, fists under chin, Sam considered. There had to be something she could do to become a great storyteller.

“Aha,” she said, holding a finger in the air. “Writing contests.”

Sam climbed down from her treehouse and went inside the house. There, she used the family computer to search the internet.

“Wow.” Sam couldn’t believe her eyes. There were tons of story writing contests.

She clicked on a few links to get ideas and found one that sounded interesting. She had to write two to five pages about a trip to see the circus.

“No problem. Piece of cake.” She could write that story. And she did. She wrote it right then and submitted it via email to the contest. When she was done and walked away to go play with her friends, Sam felt good about what she’d written.

A week later, Sam received an email from the contest telling her that as much as they liked her story it didn’t win, but she should try again next year. Depressed and dejected, Sam hung her head.

Sam’s father walked in. “What’s got you down?”

“They didn’t like my story.” Sam pointed to the computer monitor.

Her father came up behind her, bent over her shoulder, and read.

“They liked your story. It says so right there,” he pointed. “Did you read the attachment?”

Sam perked up, lifting her head and straightening her spine. “Attachment?” She clicked on the file and opened it. Inside there were red marks and comments showing her what she needed to fix. Lots of red marks, she saw, her eyes widening in disbelief.

“See, Sweet Cheeks, it wasn’t the story, it was your writing style. You can fix that and do better the next time.”

Next time? Was he crazy? She sucked. Sam stared at the computer screen and her heart beat fast, intimidated by all the red marks. She couldn’t do this, Sam thought, her shoulders slouching. She would never be good at anything.

“Keep trying. You’ll get it. One of these days I wouldn’t be surprised to see you published.” Her father kissed the top pf her head. “My very own author,” he said as he left Sam sitting in front of the computer feeling lower than pond scum.

“Author,” she murmured. “That would be so cool.” Yeah, she could do this. She would do this. She wouldn’t give up. She needed to do what her dad had said. Practice.
So she did.

Everyday Sam came home from school, and after her homework and chores were complete she would write a story. The next day Sam would take her story to her creative writing teacher, Ms. Kopera, and they’d go over it together.

“You see here, Sam.” Ms. Kopera pointed to a sentence on the paper with a red pen. “You missed a period between a list of items in the sentence. But you only missed one, that’s a great improvement.”

Sam smiled. “Thanks. What do you think about this sentence? Is it too long.”
Ms. Kopera looked at it, sat back in her chair, and rubbed her chin. “Hm. How many commas are there?”

Sam counted them. “Five.” She frowned and knew the answer herself as soon as she counted. “Yeah, it’s too long. General rule of thumb is no more than three commas for each sentence.”

Ms. Kopera gave Sam a pat on the back. “See, you answered your own question. You’re learning.”

Sam found out she was a good speller, but her grammar was a bit of a problem. Her story was good. It was just that she would forget commas, or she would mix past and present tense, or she would write a sentence in a different point of view. Sometimes she just wrote sentences that were too long.

All of those things could be fixed. It just took practice.

At every meeting with her teacher, Sam’s writing improved. There were less and less red marks as she learned and understood the different grammar concepts.

One day, after weeks of practice writing, her teacher encouraged her to try another contest.

“I think this one would be a perfect contest for you,” said Ms. Kopera. “You have to write a story on what you did to make yourself better.”

“Better at what?” Sam asked. Her face scrunched up.
Ms. Kopera smiled. “Better at anything. You choose.” Ms. Kopera handed Sam the entry form. “Go on, give it a try. The worst that can happen is that you don’t win, but you see how much you’ve improved, and you learn even more.”

Sam took the form from Ms. Kopera. “Thank you. I’ll think about it.”

On Sam’s walk home from school, she thought about it. What if she didn’t win? Could she take rejection again? She was just beginning to feel good about her writing and enjoying it.

Sam thought about the contest all day Saturday.

Then on Sunday morning, she woke up and was inspired to write. Before she even cleaned up and dressed, Sam was sitting in front of the computer typing her story. Overwhelmed by her need to write the story, she didn’t stop until her mom made her stop for lunch.

“You need food. It’ll give you fuel to finish your story,” her mother told her.
Just before bed on Sunday evening, Sam leaned back in her chair, and gazed at her final words. ‘If you want something bad enough you have to love it, practice it, and go for it.’

She thought she had written the best story she could. She had written the tale, then went back and edited the grammar remembering the techniques Ms. Kopera had taught her. On the last edit, Sam made certain the story was polished and ready to go.

Monday morning, Sam mailed her story and the entry form to the contest Ms. Kopera had recommended.

For weeks after Sam had sent in her story submission, she would check the mailbox. She kept on doing her practice writing with her teacher, and when she arrived home after school, the first thing Sam did was see if a letter came for her.

Finally, four weeks later, it arrived.

When Sam saw the envelope addressed to her, her hands shook, her heart skipped a beat, and her stomach dipped like on a roller coaster. She carried the letter into the house, sat it on the table, and stared at it, biting her lower lip.

“What if they hated it?” Sam murmured.

“You’ll never know unless you open it,” her father’s voice boomed from the kitchen doorway. “I’m sure it won’t bite. Go ahead,” he encouraged.
Sam nodded, took a deep breath, and ripped open the envelope. She slipped the letter out, unfolded it, and read it to herself.

When she was finished, she exhaled, and stared at the piece of paper in stunned silence. She couldn’t believe it.

Sam’s father took the letter from her hands and read it aloud.

“On behalf of Storytellers of America, we want to thank you for submitting ‘How I Became the Best Storyteller I Could Be’, and congratulate you on placing first in the contest. Your story was truly inspiring and your writing demonstrated your enthusiasm and hard work. The award for first place is to have your story published in our ‘Young Writers Anthology’ to be released next spring. Congratulations and keep up the great writing.”

Sam looked up at her father’s face, and saw unshed tears in his eyes. Then he smiled at her, and Sam’s eyes teared up.

“You did it, Sweet Cheeks,” he exclaimed as he grabbed her up in a bear hug. “I’m so proud of you.” He set her back on her feet. “I knew you could.”

Sam laughed. Yeah, her parents always supported her. “All because you told me to do what I love. And I practiced. Thank you, Dad.” Sam hugged her dad again.


Emma Leigh February 23, 2010 at 1:34 PM  

What a great story--one we can all learn from. But then again, you are a great storytelling, Denise.

Denise February 23, 2010 at 2:33 PM  

hehe. Thanks Emma Leigh.

April February 26, 2010 at 12:30 PM  

Awesome, Denise!!! I love it!

Denise March 1, 2010 at 4:16 PM  

Thanks April.
I'm going to post another one that I wrote for my neighbor's granddaughter.

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