Day 1: NYTimes Crossword in Ink

When I re-discovered the eraser, everything changed. You see, I’ve always hated the NYTimes crossword puzzle. This might seem surprising given that I’m quite the word maven and love linguistic puzzles. The Assistant Head of my old school used to have a standing date with his wife every Sunday morning when they’d do the crossword puzzle together at their local Starbucks. This seemed sweet, but also terrifying. Last year, I finally discovered the root of my crossword malaise: I always tried to fill it in by pen.

Using a pencil was a revelation and took a weight off my back. Now I could make educated guesses that turned out to be wrong and not face any consequences. The eraser–that grade school cornerstone–became my savior.

I’ve always had an irrational fear of failure. I shy away from new situations where I am not already an expert. I know and preach the value of a growth mindset, that “getting it wrong is part of getting it right,” that life is about “collecting failures.” But when the rubber hits the road, I retreat into the comfy straitjacket of my fixed mindset. As they say, “Physician, heal thyself!”

The ability to erase catalyzed in me a significant change. It gave me permission not to be perfect the first time. I used to pride myself on writing the final draft on my first attempt. But now I see how inaccurate this claim is. While it’s true that I usually write the final draft in one sitting, I edit the heck out of everything I write from a simple email to a college rec letter before I click send. Reading it aloud and then sending it to my mom for final edits is my preferred method. My crossword experience helped reinforce for me a truth: taking action, no matter how halting or misguided, pushes the ball forward. As Edison wrote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

This brings me to the primary purpose of this post. My greatest strength is my greatest fear: writing. All my life I’ve been told I’m a beautiful writer, and these accolades have often boosted my ego. But I’ve also always harbored a dark secret–I don’t like writing; I like having written. Whenever I actually sit down and force myself to put pen (or pencil) to paper, I proudly share the results with my network of muses. But it’s the sitting down that I avoid so assiduously.

So I have set myself a challenge. For the next month, I will endeavor to write one “college essay” in the time between returning from fajr at the masjid at 5:45am and leaving for school at 7:15am, ideally in 40 minutes or less. I’ll aim to keep them around the 650-word limit but won’t stress out if I exceed that length. I have been telling my students for years how easy these things are to write, but now I’ve got to walk the talk. Day one is now in the books. Now it’s time to touch it up with my eraser.

1,135 thoughts on “Day 1: NYTimes Crossword in Ink”

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