Two weekends ago, I traveled home to Watertown South Dakota for the All School Debate Reunion. Meaning everyone who has ever graduated from the Watertown High School Debate program was invited. Realize, this program is generations old with attendants who graduated before I was born. It was an incredible experience that I almost didn’t make. But in the end, I pulled it together. It seemed funny to me that, while reminiscing with my old team mates, we remembered so little. Like…who were my debate partners? My best friend swore that we debated policy together. I don’t remember it for the life of me. Our sophomore coach shared a story about a ride home from Pierre, SD during which one of our teammates became ill in the suburban. If you know the trip home from Pierre, there is nothing. You start with a full tank of gas. As Coach told it, we drove for a while until we found a little prairie bar where he cleaned up the mess with newspapers, still in his suit, and walked into the bar to throw it away.
None of us remembered. Except for him.
What I do remember from High School Debate were the lessons that affect my life to this day. I’ve always been a writer since I created stories listening to my Walkman on the front porch of grandma and grandpa’s farm at the age of five. But I just told stories. What one must realize is that writing is more than the simple telling of a story. It takes organization and word choice to have an impact. This…is what I learned from High School debate. Here are the tricks I still use.
1. Flow pad
For those of you with no High School Debate experience, this is what we debaters called a flow chart. Here, we charted points given in the speeches of the other team. Yes, it must be done on yellow legal pads. Not white or pink. Yellow. It is a simplified organization tool that I use to draft my novels, or short stories. Because all writing must have a system of organization. I still use one. Yellow legal pads, horizontally across the lines. There is no other way.
2. Index Cards
I’m sure this is old school, but it was a way of life in the 1990’s. We would find our evidence substantiating our claims and paste them on index cards, which would then be organized with dividers and carried in brief cases. There were cards both for and against the topic, organized by dividers. Most debaters carried several briefcases to every event. To my recollection, significant amounts of the evidence was never used, falling to the wayside for the stuff that evidence that proved effective. Therefore, I sustain that the majority of evidence was carried as a means of intimidation. And a nice seat in the middle of the overstuffed bus.
As a writer, I still rely on index cards. When I moved, I carried an entire stash. Sometimes, I write individual sentences on them to reorganize paragraphs. Sometimes, I paste pictures on them for inspiration. And most of them, I admit, I carry just because. Old habits die hard.
I wasn’t just a debater. In fact, my strongest area was in the individual event, Oratory. At the beginning of the year, I walked into my competition rounds with my oratory glued to black construction paper. After a few events, I’d have it memorized. I competed with success throughout my high school career.
And this is where Highlighters came in. Words on a page tend to blur into a smear of black and white for me. It made memorizing the pages and pages of Oratory that I wrote rather difficult. So, I had a trick. Highlight important phrases. The impact words, therefore breaking up the monotony of black and white. I still use highlighters in my writing. No story is ever finished until it’s been printed and read through with a highlighter. Anything that reads a little off, or serves as a pause causer, gets the swipe of orange. That’s the color I prefer.
Never, never underestimate the power of the Perfect Pen. The Precision shown above is, and always has been, my absolute favorite. I’ve been called a pen snob. I do not argue. I will continue to be a pen snob.
I keep these tricks and trades from my time in the Watertown High School Debate team, with so many more. Without the skills I learned, my writing would still read cluttered and chaotic. But there’s one more thing that I carry with me from my High School debate geek days. That’s confidence. The reunion gathered debaters who had walked many different paths of life. Lawyers, doctors, business men, teachers, among so many others. From our time in debate, we all learned confidence. To speak, to collaborate, and to share our opinions regardless of what others might think.
Me? I write.
And just to get this off my chest, among the other memories that seem to have slipped our minds, I can’t remember for the life of me how I ever was nominated “Clod of the Squad”.