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How Do We Evolve As Writers? [An Inward Look]

June 5, 2013

I recently enrolled in a Coursera course to refresh my writing skills and sharpen my technique.  The course focuses on how we as writers engage our audience and how we engage with the writer as an audience.  The first assignment was to tell the story of how we became a writer.  Unfortunately, I wrote this essay, submitted it, and withdrew from the class. (Sometimes life throws a wrench in the best laid plans, you know how it is!)  

I took to the written word like a slipper to a cold foot, warmly and comfortably.  My best friends were books and the characters that filled their pages.  The adventures and trials of the Boxcar children and the frightening, implausible tales of Goosebumps ultimately fueled my hand to the pen, and pen to paper.

Memories of my formative years of writing escape me, but begin to sharpen in my high school literature classes, particularly my sophomore year.  As an achiever, I started each school year setting my sights for straight A’s.  So when I forgot my very first writing assignment, anxiety of failure and receiving poor grades overwhelmed my thoughts.

Tears flooded my eyes as I told my sympathetic, grandmotherly teacher about my blunder.  If you saw me, you would’ve sworn that someone just told me something horrific happened, like I’d never be able to walk again.  The teacher, probably out of a need for a quick resolution to stop my preteen whining, moved the due date to the following day.  I gulped back my tears, squeaked out a “thank you,” and crept back to my desk, ashamed at my oversight and shameless over-reaction.   Looking back, I mark this as the first time my writing evolved to an instrument of approval-seeking, no longer an outlet of creativity and a need of expression.

High school, a tumultuous and at times isolating time period in a person’s life, was no different for me.  My family picked up its roots in a small, Ohio town, and moved into the heart of the fried-chicken eating, gospel preaching, and sweet-tea guzzling south.  To say it was a culture shock doesn’t even scratch the surface.  I had a hard time finding common ground with my peers, and my introverted tendencies held me back from making connections, even though my heart was desperately seeking friendship.

The efforts were too hard and the results not enough.  Books and writing were my fallback, my trusted companion that didn’t require an uncomfortable foray out of my shell.  My mother gave me a journal when I was 16, and from there began an obsessive and nearly codependent relationship between my thoughts and a pen and paper.

My first attempts at writing was religious-themed poetry, text heavily laden with ephemeral concepts and holier-than thou prose. I think my writing began when I first learned of Emily Dickinson and transcendentalism.  The overarching theme was that no-one understood me except God and that one day I will feel whole when I’m reunited with Him.  I don’t remember why these thoughts consumed my thinking, but I was writing them non-stop in inappropriate times and places: SAT class, at the dinner table, on cocktail napkins at my hostess job at Applebee’s.  I couldn’t stop.

As I continued forward on my faith-led, nearly isolated high school existence, certain relationships began to shift my thinking.  The first was Josephin, our German foreign exchange student.  She was well-versed in the language of boys, and was the first atheist that I met.  She opened my mind to new thinking and a different perspective other than my devout Christian leaning.  She told me I was attractive and that boys thought so too.  Halfway through the journal I can see a visible shift in my youthful pondering on life.  My writing began to emulate more of a secular 17 year old girl’s journal, pages riddle with profound conjectures of life’s purpose and who I thought was cute in school.  God, and my writing’s religious overtones, subsided to the background.

By the time my college life stage started, I found a new friend in alcohol.  My parents divorced, and any remnants of my childhood disappeared.  All of these circumstances, compounded with my confusion of my faith, led to something I thought only existed in prescription drug commercials: depression.

Depression hit me like a uncaring bus-driver, plowing my emotional state and leaving my heart, mind, and soul mangled, bloody victims.  My writing turned dark; I was churning out epics in economics and languishing over prose in art history.  While I may have created what I consider my best work, I knew that I couldn’t dwell in the squalor of sadness forever.  I got help, moved to Richmond, and started fresh.

With a new life came a new college. I chose advertising as my major at VCU under the premise that I could combine my creativity with my growing interest in business.  Copy writing classes proved to be the most challenging, as I was had to modify my stream-of-consciousness writing style to concise word styling.  I kicked butt in strategy classes, affirming that I made the right educational choice.  While looking for employment, my resume and cover letter were persuasive and compelling enough to land me two different internships, both heavily writing-based, and propelled me forward to working woman land.

I still keep a journal, with my most recent entries telling my story of my trip to Germany.  I no longer speak of the boys I chase after or the demons that haunt me.  My writing reflects how I now am; uplifted, high-energy, and reflective.

If you are a writer, what’s your story?  Can you relate at all to mine, or did you travel down a completely different path?  Let me know in the comments!

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 5, 2013 1:06 am

    You certainly share a compelling story. I can identify with your faith, your parents’ divorce, your lapse into alcohol and battle with depression. I’m glad to read of your journey and see where it has led you. I look forward to reading more.

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