I’ve been thinking a lot about my post yesterday.
I read back through some of my previous entries and it really cemented the fact that I have already been doing what I proclaimed yesterday. Not worrying about a format, just posting what feels right at the time. Isn’t that how it always goes? You announce to the world that you’re going to do something only to find out that you’ve kinda been doing it already? That the only reason you don’t do it more is because of the limitations you’ve set on yourself?
Our brains can be fickle and strange things.
I’ve also been thinking about how I used to write. I wrote every day when I was a kid. Stupid little stories about things I knew nothing about. I had never been exposed to the fact that writers should research their ideas and “dammit, make them factual!” I was just writing with the innocence and ignorance of a kid and not allowing any kind of rules get in the way of what I wanted to put down on paper. Was what I wrote any good? I’m sure it wasn’t. I don’t think any of it has survived to the present time, and that’s probably a very good thing. The exercise itself was what I loved and lived for.
I wrote any and everything. Fiction, mock articles, I was on my Junior High newspaper staff and had two front page articles on the same edition. I wrote poetry like it was going out of style and published some of it into a book. I carried notebooks for spontaneous ideas and had pipe dreams about getting a word processor or *gasp* a computer of some sort that I could write with and not have to decipher my chicken scrawl later on.
I thought I was a “writer.”
Then came later adolescence and “learning the rules.” You can’t do this, you can’t say that. Write out three instead of 3. Don’t overuse commas, but dammit, don’t forget any either! (I still struggle with this one) All of the minutiae that ends up being pound into our heads that “good writers do.” All so we can claim to communicate 900% more effectively than the average primate.
I’ve let myself become scared to death of “the rules.” Don’t cross the street against the light. Do not remove this mattress tag or the feds will come and bludgeon you to death with a rubber chicken. Yep. That’s me. So, when I learned “the rules of writing,” I took them to heart. I guess I put the fear in me that if I didn’t research everything, ensure that my grammar was impeccable and my punctuation was on spot, something terrible would happen. In adopting that mindset, something terrible *did* happen.
I stopped writing.
I started worrying that I hadn’t outlined my story properly. I worried hadn’t researched properly and someone could poke holes in my stories and theories. I then began to research what I wanted to write about to the point where I just didn’t care anymore. I blamed it on “writer’s block,” but I don’t think I’ve ever been out of ideas really, I’ve just been afraid of this process that I have perceived as “the law of writing.”
My sophomore year of High School has also bubbled to mind and the teacher that I had then.
I feel like I need to put a little backstory in at this point. Because of severe anxiety and depression issues that surfaced in adolescence, I was eventually granted acceptance to county sponsored home study. We’d tried switching schools, adjusting my classes, I just simply could not function “in school.” It was required that I have some sort of schooling, so we went through the processes of applying and having my doctors vouch that there was a real problem, and thankfully, it was approved. Each year, I had a one-on-one teacher that I met with for a few hours of class time three days a week and I thrived academically this way.
Sophomore year, I had a teacher that I really didn’t feel that I “clicked” with as much as some of the others. She was nice enough I suppose, but we butted heads on a lot of things. One thing that this teacher prided herself on was teaching language arts. At least the “rules” of it all. And she enforced those rules with an iron red pen. I learned the do’s and don’ts. But it was okay, because she encouraged me to write and I liked writing.
Every year, the county did a student publication-slash-competition for junior high and high school aged students. I had been published in it once before in seventh grade, but no prizes or accolades were awarded. Heck, I was happy just being published. I decided that I wanted to try again. I had written a story that I was proud of and I thought it had a shot. I stayed up late one night revising it, getting it typed up on our old manual typewriter and I proudly turned it in the next day for submission.
I’ve forgotten a lot of the story, but it was a folk tale. None of my characters had names, they didn’t need them. My main character spoke with Appalachian dialect (which I heard a lot of growing up amongst my family. I still use words and phrases today that I get odd looks over) and the story didn’t exactly end on the happiest of notes.
When I next had class, the teacher could not wait to return the story to me. At first, I thought she had been involved in some sort of horrific accident and my paper had been bled all over. Everything was red. So very red. Red ink slashing through words, phrases, making suggestions… nothing had been left untouched. She explained that she could not, in good conscious turn my story in as it was written.
I only half heard what she said as she explained how the dialog was “awkward,” how “nobody talked like that” (except that they do), how much better the story would be if we at least knew their names and for heaven’s sake- give them all a happier ending- it was so depressing! I was in shock looking over the revisions. I wasn’t even mad, I just wanted to cry.
Still, I wanted to have a submission, and a teacher knows best, right? That evening, I set about retyping the story. I made sure that I made every edit and change that she had issued forth. Characters got names, they spoke proper English and I found a way to make the end more positive. Finally, I had finished it and sat down to read the new and improved version.
It was no longer the story I wanted to tell.
These weren’t my words. I didn’t know these people I had written about. These characters hadn’t lived the same lives that brought them to the point I wanted to make. My voice was gone. It had been replaced with someone else’s. The teacher’s. This was her story. Not mine. Using her exact words, I decided I could not in good conscious turn this story in for submission.
It was late, but I sat back down at the typewriter. Aside from grammatical and punctuational errors I had made in the first draft, I made the decision to retype my story, as I had told it the first time. The dialect came back, the characters once again were anonymous, all of it all went back to the page.
The next day, I handed it back in to her and she began to read. The blood drained from her face and I could see the anger welling up as she realized what I had done. She spit and sputtered asking me what I was doing. That there was no time now to rewrite the story that it had to be submitted that afternoon! She began to panic. Why, this story was just as “awkward” and “badly written” as the first time! She demanded to know why I hadn’t used her “constructive criticism.” I shrugged and told her, “I liked it better this way.”
Finally, she conceded and said she would turn it in but to not be surprised and not to complain when it wasn’t even selected for publication, let alone winning anything.
A few days later, I read in the newspaper that I’d won second place in the short story division and was the only sophomore selected that year for publication.
Anxiety be damned, I accepted my invitation and went to the awards banquet where the judges congratulated me on my creativity and for writing something “completely different.” The first place winner couldn’t make it, so they asked me to read an excerpt of my story instead.
Oddly, the teacher never wanted to discuss any of this. Wonder why?
And yet, somehow, years later, I have lost that confidence. I have let rules and opinion and all of the “shoulds” override my creativity. I don’t tell the stories I have to tell, in the voice I want to use. Like my characters, people all speak in different ways, and none of them are wrong.
And sometimes, it’s good to have something a little different.