I now consider myself a writer.
This blows my mind. Growing up, despite occasionally enjoying my own self-assigned writing projects, I never in my wildest dreams believed that I would be a writer.
How did I, so obviously a writer at heart, not find and explore this passion until I was 33 years old?
Well, I hadn’t found my voice or the motivation to write. I didn’t think I had anything important to say. I was also afraid to speak my truth. That’s a whole other issue for a whole other blog post. But I believe a lot of it had to do with the way we teach writing to children.
I didn’t enjoy writing when I was in school. During high school and college I took only the minimum writing requirements that I needed to graduate. My writing assignments were mind-numbingly boring. I hated writing about books I had read, the history of the world or even worse, dissecting ancient philosophers views of life, death and society. By the end of my formal education, I would have poked my eyes out if I had to analyze one more dead person’s theory of the meaning of life. It seemed completely uninteresting and irrelevant to my life and the modern world.
I also didn’t like the feeling I got from how my teachers portrayed writing. Writing was taught to me as “literature.” My teachers and professors had turned the art of written communication into a formula, dissecting this art so that it could easily be mass produced. It seemed very pretentious to me – an elevated form of verbal mathematics where you had to use fancy words, long-winded arguments and convoluted sentences. I saw writing as something for only very intelligent people, which I did not relate to. I did not see myself as an intellectual.
Yet, I loved to read. As a kid, I devoured books of all kinds – fantasy, romance, non-fiction, memoir and historical fiction. If it was written down in words, I loved it. I also had a natural talent for words and language. I always scored very high on the national testing for children’s aptitudes in the verbal and language areas. I occasionally wrote short stories and a family newspaper documenting the goings on in my household, purely because I enjoyed writing and using my mother’s old keyboard. Later, I loved using the word processor and computer.
Recently a friend of mine who is a professional writer gave me an audio course about how to create good sentences. She heard I was writing and wanted to be helpful, so she gave me one of the courses that she liked and felt was valuable in her writing career. It was by a highly respected professor of writing that works at a prestigious university.
I couldn’t even listen to five minutes of it. The man seemed nice enough but what he was teaching was so mental. He mentioned all kinds of things like verb participles, dangling modifiers, sentence structure and many other terms I had never heard of. I was so overwhelmed with the mental energy of what he was trying to convey that I shut it off.
“Bleh!” I said out loud. “No wonder I never liked writing!”
Here’s my own truths that I’ve come to learn about writing:
1. If you can read, you can write – There is no need to make it more complicated than that. Yes, some people may have more of a natural talent with words compared to others but beyond that, it’s simple.
2. Writing is easy if you get out of your mind – The way I was taught to write in school was so mental that I hated it. It doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, there are some helpful tips to making your writing better or more clear but it doesn’t have to get complicated. Getting too in your head about what you think your writing should sound like was what turned me off in the first place. It doesn’t have to be that way.
3. Keep practicing – You know what sounds good to read. You know if your sentence is understandable or not. Just keep practicing. Keep writing and reading what you wrote and you’ll get better and better. Read other people’s writing, all different kinds of writing and your own writing will get better. It’s as simple as that.
One of the books about writing that I love (and one of the only books about writing I could ever stomach) is “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. His message is clear – anyone can write. He’s one of the best writers I’ve ever read and his books help you believe in yourself as a writer. He’s not mental whatsoever. His book about writing is so entertaining that it stands alone as a good, enjoyable read.
I have an idea for all you educators out there-
Let’s teach writing to children in a different way. Let’s drop all the curriculum that teaches children how to dissect and analyze other people’s writing. Let’s teach children (and adults) to write their voice, to write their truth. Let’s not make it more complicated than that. We can teach the classics of literature, but let’s make that optional and not hold it up as the paragon of all writing achievement. Let’s bring intuition and feeling back into writing and help a child like myself discover that they have a passion for writing – one that could never be discovered and nurtured in the clinical, mind-based classrooms of my youth.