Sonia Sotomayor: I got a C on my first paper, and I knew, this is when I knew I had to learn how to write. But my professor, Peter Winn, who is still teaching now, I remember the first words he circled, which were “dictatorship of authority.” Oh no, so “authority of dictatorship,” “authority of dictatorship.” And Professor Winn looked at me, and he said, “There are a lot of nouns in Spanish where an adjective is added with the preposition ‘of.'”

So you don’t, we don’t say in Spanish, “shirt, cotton.” In Spanish we say, “shirt of cotton,” not “cotton shirt.” So he said, “This should be ‘dictatorial authority.’ It’s an adjective, you put it before the noun.” And I went, “Oh.” He said, “Now go back and find all the places in the paper where you did that and fix it.” And so that’s what I do, and the next paper, with that lesson in mind, I would write out my essay.

I would go back and correct all of those errors. We did that paper after paper, error after error, and by the time I finished Princeton, after a lot of papers, I got an A from the reader on my senior thesis, who said that it was the best written thesis he had read that semester. That was a compliment that I thought I had earned.

But what I understood was that I had to work to get it. Nothing comes naturally. I had a roommate in college who is still a friend who would write her papers the night before they were due. I couldn’t do that. Because I have to read everything I write and edit it. So I’m not a natural writer. She’s more a natural writer than I am. But I can do what I need to do to give myself enough time to write papers, edit them, before I turn them in.  And that’s what I still do.