My first 60 ~ Delilah S. Dawson

I didn't write my first book until I was 32, and I never dreamed I might one day be a published novelist, but I still spent most of my high school feeling like a writing badass. I had a long line of straight As in English and completed all of my papers the night before, gulping coffee and pounding chocolate covered espresso beans. I had poems in the school lit mag, I wrote brochure copy at my arts center job, and I had a way with words. It was smooth sailing.

And then I signed up for 11th grade AP English.

I assumed my badassery would continue. That I would be the star student, and that my unbroken line of great grades would automatically keep rolling out like a red carpet. Our first paper was short-- just two pages. I don't even remember what it was about. I only remember that I went through my usual ritual and felt confident that I was turning in another 98.

When it came back, it wore a red 60.

And it was splattered with ink blood, my weaknesses laid bare.

From the first sentence, I got everything wrong. Know what the first sentence was? Because I don't remember the topic of the paper, but I remember that first sentence.

"Since the dawn of time, man has struggled."

Just look at it. It says nothing. It applies to everything. It has a cocky grin that my teacher punched with the righteous fist of criticism.

At first, I was furious. The teacher was biased. She was just trying to teach us a lesson. She didn't like me. She did this to everyone. And, yes, there wasn't a paper in that batch with a grade higher than 80. But instead of whining (too much), I used that anger to drive my next paper. I studied it, pored over my mistakes, and made a list of what she did and didn't want to see. And I wrote that next paper like my life depended on it.

It earned an 84.

By the end of the year, I was getting As, and at Honors Night, I was totally flabbergasted when I won the Agnes Scott Book Award, given for achievement in literature. I still have that book, too. And I thanked that teacher in the Acknowledgments of my first novel.

That class taught me two things: One, that even the biggest badass has room to grow. And two, that instead of complaining or whining, it's always better to use the resources at hand, including your anger, to level up as a person and an artist.

Delilah S. Dawson is the author of HIT and Servants of the Storm
Find her online at


  1. YES. "Even the biggest badass has room to grow." I learned that over and over in '14...

  2. I love this post and I'm always relearning these lessons over and over again. <3


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