What College Math Taught Me About Writing

May 3, 2017 | By | Reply More

I remember the first time I cried in the shower. It wasn’t over a boy. And it didn’t involve a falling out with a friend. It was about numbers—and one big, fat letter.

I had just finished my first semester at college and received my grades in the mail. This was, as you’ve already imagined, way before we could view grades on a website in all their pixelated glory. After opening the envelope, I stood there and stared at the grades. I’d failed miserably. Not freshman English or history. It was Math 101, which was taught at the crack of dawn. But, don’t worry; I won’t use that as a lame excuse. I just sucked at it—at the time.

I tucked the paper back in its envelope and jumped in the shower. And that’s where I cried, figuring the great water pressure we’d bragged about for years would drown out the noise of my weeping. Sure, I was crying because I was horrible at math and got a big, fat F. But more so, I was embarrassed—and nervous—to tell my mom.

About an hour later, I got up the courage to break the news. And do you know what she said? “Sweetie, don’t sweat it. You’ll retake the class next semester and do better.” All this time, I was scared she’d be mad at me and think I was stupid.

With her encouragement, I puffed myself up and retook the same math class the following semester. And guess what? I got a big, fat A. I went from an F to an A in four months and allowed my mom the opportunity to say, “See, I told you so!”

You might be thinking, what does failing and retaking math have to do with writing? For starters, as with anything, whether it involves math or metaphors, being good at something takes time. We can’t just jump in and expect to excel. We also need to study. We need to work harder on that sentence or that scene or those characters’ interactions, and not give up when times get tough. And most important, while working at something, we shouldn’t let anyone tell us that we didn’t work hard enough or belittle us. If my mom had called me a failure all those years ago, I might have believed her and, who knows, put off the class for much later—or never.

Proficiency is not an overnight endeavor. Sometimes, we first have to fail then push harder to succeed. As I’ve learned, writing and math may not be so different from each other. After all, finding answers to equations takes time. But, isn’t that really what life is all about?

About the Author:

Linda Smolkin always wanted to be a writer—ever since she saw her first TV commercial and wondered how to pen those clever ads. She got her degree in journalism and became a copywriter. Linda landed a job at an ad agency, where she worked for several years before joining the nonprofit world. When not in front of the computer, she’s behind the drums (slightly) annoying her husband, son, and their 70-pound dog. Her debut novel Among the Branded came out on May 2, 2017.

Find out more about her on her website https://lindasmolkin.com

Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lindasmolkin


 A letter from France, discovered 70 years later, connects a WWII survivor and an art director with a conscience. While attending Valor of the ’40s, art director Stephanie Britain stumbles upon a flea market selling letters from the war. She buys a handful, hoping they’ll inspire the redesign for a client’s website at her branding and design firm.

She’s at first drawn by the lost art of penmanship, but soon discovers a hidden treasure nestled inside declarations of love from homesick soldiers. Stephanie enlists a coworker to translate one and realizes it’s not a love letter after all. When a shocking discovery about a client causes Stephanie to question her principles and dedication to her firm’s business, she’s forced to make a difficult decision—one that could give her peace of mind, yet ruin her career in the process.

Contemporary fiction with a touch of suspense, Among the Branded explores family life, an unexpected friendship, and moral conflicts that make us wonder what’s more important: our livelihood or our beliefs.


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Category: On Writing

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