When I was in eighth grade, the school held a writing contest for students to go to a local Young Writer’s Conference. The topic we had to write a story on was Get the Lead Out. I didn’t have any preconceptions of the phrase, so interpreted it how I wanted. Since writing my story, I’ve used the phrase to remind myself to just write. Here’s my story:
Get the Lead Out
My favorite teacher in Jr. High must have been Mr. Horace D. Wallington, my English teacher. His favorite—and most often used—expression was “get the lead out”. At first it was only another way to say get out your pencil and start writing. At least that’s what it meant to me. Now I can see that it means more than that. Much, much, more . . .
“Mr. Wallington . . . Mr. Wallington!”
“Huh?” Mr. Wallington glanced up from the papers he was correcting and noticed Sarah standing beside his desk. “Is there anything I can help you with Sarah?”
“I’m having some trouble with that essay you asked us to write this morning.”
“You mean the one you’re supposed to write about your feelings on World War II.”
“Yea. That’s the one.”
“I’m surprised you even asked me about it. You’re usually so quiet in class that I never know whether you have any questions that need answering.”
“Well . . .”
“Why don’t you come in after school tomorrow and I’ll try to help you with it then.”
“Thanks a lot, Mr. Wallington.”
Sarah turned and headed towards the door. As she was about to leave, Mr. Wallington called out “Write down everything you know about World War II and bring the paper in with you tomorrow.”
“Okay . . . Anything else?”
“No. That’s all.”
The next day Sarah was right on time. As she went in, she saw that Mr. Wallington was alone in the classroom. When he noticed that she had come in, he pulled one of the desks closer to his own.
He asked her to sit down and then sat down himself, perching on the edge of his desk. “Did you write the paper like I asked you to?”
“Yes, I have it right here.” Sarah handed him a small pile of papers. He flipped through the papers then handed them back to her.
“I see that you have been listening in class. What I don’t understand is if you know so much about World War II, then why are you having so much trouble writing your paper?”
“Well, I’m not exactly sure how to write it all out.”
“But you wrote it all down right here.”
“I know. It’s just that . . .”
“I think what you’re trying to say is that you’re not quite sure what your feelings are on the subject.”
“I guess you could put it that way.”
“Well, in this situation, my main advice is to just ‘get the lead out,’ as I would always say.”
“But what exactly do you mean when you say that?” Sarah asked earnestly. “I always thought that it was a figure of speech to say get out your pencil and start working.”
“I suppose in a way it does mean that. Yet it means more. You know that lead compound could kill you. Don’t you?”
“And if you get some in your system, then it’s best to get it out right away, correct?”
“Of course. That’s the sensible thing to do.”
“Well, the lead is all that information stored up in you. It’s in there, somewhere, and you know you have to get it out.”
“So how am I to go about doing that?”
“ ‘Get the lead out.’ Get that pencil in your hands and just start writing. Let it go. Let it flow out of your system. Don’t force it; just let your hand do the talking. It will all come out, I promise.”
“It’s that easy?” the need for reassurance in her eyes.
Mr. Wallington smiled. “Why don’t you go home and find out for yourself.” He escorted her to the door and held it open for her. She started to walk down the hall, hesitated, and looked back.
“Thank you, Mr. Wallington. I’ll try my best to do as you said.”
“I expect to see that essay on my desk first thing in the morning.”
And it was. He was right. Once I just got down to it and let it all out, it was easy. Not only did I get an “A” on that paper, but my teacher entered it into a national contest, and it won. Here I am now, getting credit for it, but the award should go to him.
Thank you, Mr. Wallington, for the wonderful advice. And for explaining to me that simple phrase: “Get the Lead Out.”