“When did you start writing?” one of the student actors asked me the other day.
“Well, I’ve been writing forever. But I only started trying to submit and commit to writing seriously a few years ago,” I said.
His question made me wonder why I didn’t start sooner, since I have been writing my entire life.
A friend of mine for longer years than I care to count posted this on Facebook yesterday after his parents unearthed it.
My life with words started with stories and poems in grade school; tales about mermaids and dragons, rainbows and magic, friendship and loneliness, puppet shows, plays, and songs. Or maybe it simply started because I began reading even before I went to school. I love the way letters and sounds come together to make meaning. I’ve carried that love over into my desire to learn and absorb languages of all types.
I wish I could write in many languages as well.
As I got older, I became one of those people who enjoyed writing papers. If given the option, I’d choose written projects over anything else. I loved crafting words and placing them on the page. In sixth grade I wrote a collection of short stories and poems as creative project, including hand copying each entry into a hard-covered journal and illustrating the pages. In junior high (I think) I had a poem published in a journal based off of a field trip to a museum–words inspired by art.
I loved reading and writing papers about books. I loved anything that asked me to put words down on a page, or think about someone else’s written words.
In high school, I (co)-wrote a script for a living chess tournament, and occasional articles for the school paper. I wrote a speech in an attempt to become the class valedictorian. I didn’t win the vote because people thought I would get too emotional. Funny thing is, my friend who won the vote started sobbing almost immediately when she started to speak.
I always knew I would be an English major in college, even though I also loved theatre. For me, the two were not mutually exclusive. Literature is the written version of story, theatre is words or story coming to life. In the end I became a double major, joining my love for literature with my love for literature come to life.
For at the base or root of my love of writing is my love of story. Whether fiction or non-fiction, written or oral, words are simply one means of sharing the stories that connect us all. They are not the only means, of course, but they are the one that I wield with the most power. As much as I would love to create music, I don’t have the talent. As much as I would love to dance, I don’t have the skill. I will, occasionally, share a story in some form of visual art, but I am shy about doing so.
So why, I wonder, didn’t I start pursuing writing more passionately until a few years ago. When I was younger, I once wanted to be a journalist, but that dream disappeared for some reason. When I was in college, I took a short story writing class, thinking that would jump-start me into my dream of writing fiction and non-fiction. The teacher in the class favored one student over all others (not me) and left me doubting my power and understanding of words. My stories, he said, weren’t short stories. They were the beginnings of novels.
Why couldn’t I write a short story?
Fear grew in me.
I’m not blaming that professor. I just know that without an encouraging word, and with the seed of doubt planted in me, I let my own personal fears and doubts stop me from trying. I’m always the hardest on myself, and its only in recent years that I have begun to be able to push aside the opinions of others to know that my work doesn’t have to be loved by all of them.
Many who read those first stories, thought they were good, but I clung to any negative comment because that gave me a reason not to try.
That doesn’t mean I stopped writing. I wrote in journals. I wrote poetry. While in Japan I began at least one novel, if not more.
All of those things still exist in piles at my house or tucked away in my files.
Then, of course, I found my way back into grad school, where I rediscovered my niche for writing academic papers (as well as my love for writing–because it is so closely connected with my love for learning).During my MFA program, I wrote a translation of a Japanese play, and I worked with a team to create a production called The Kabuki Mikado (based off of Gilbert and Sullivan’s, Mikado). That script won an award. I submitted my first journal article while getting my MFA, and received the nicest rejection any student had every gotten (encouraging me to resubmit to that journal in the future). Of course, I was too naive to realize that I should follow up right away, and that moment passed. When politics, a jealous woman, and an unjust system tried to place roadblocks on my road to my MFA, I wrote a 20 page document that made everything better and proved my worth. (Long story for another time).
Then, of course came my Ph.D. While my dissertation has never been published beyond the binding that happens for all completed dissertations, I consider that my first book. I feel good about those words. While it had the appropriate amount of academic speak, I took my time to craft something that would be interesting for others to read and didn’t stay mired in big words and jargon. Of course, the title might still scare people away, Theorizing Diversity in Three Professional Theatres for Young Audiences.
So even though I’ve successfully written so much, why have I still held back when it comes to submitting and becoming a “professional” writer?
It all comes down to one word:
I’ve been afraid of not being good enough. I’ve been afraid of trying and failing. But, as we all know, the only true failure is never to try at all.
I no longer want to be guided by fear, I want to be guided by my words.
I want to be guided by story.
I want to share my words.
I may never get rich off of my words, but I can continue to try and grow as a writer and a person. After all, the real roots of writing lie in my love of learning, and I still have a lot to learn.
I still have a story to tell.
What is your relationship with words? What was your path into the world of writing?