An Evolving Writer

WritingFebruary 16, 2004

I first knew I wanted ‘to be a writer’ when I was five. Back then, my father had a Mac Plus computer and I would sit on his lap while he typed stories that I dictated to him. I remember thinking that computer was the best one in the world because it was a Mac Plus and I was such a big girl to be sitting in front of it. I based many of my stories on my favorite movies (Bambi, The Little Mermaid) and even wrote a mock screen play of The Land Before Time when I was eight. My father bound these stories in report covers and left room for me to illustrate them. Then he showed them off to his friends and colleagues. My father taught me the recreational value of writing and his early encouragement of my love for words fostered a lasting sense of literary confidence and identity in me. However, as I matured, my reasons for writing and the type of work I produced gradually evolved.

In the fifth grade, I realized that writing helps me find new meaning in thoughts that have previously been restricted to my mind. I had a severe episode of seizures (after my epilepsy had been in remission for four years) and lost a great deal of memory including my ability to read. While re-learning this essential skill, I expressed most of my fear and anger in my diary because the act of writing helped me give the words a personal definition. Years later, my mother confessed that she had been tempted to read my diary since she knew she could most accurately assess my real response to my situation by what I had said between two covers– not through any explanation I could give her across the kitchen table. Being my own audience makes my thoughts independent, since it can force me to find my own answers to whatever questions I am exploring, rather than leaving me to rely on other people to help find them for me.

The first time I understood that writing could serve a practical purpose outside of academics or recreation occurred when I was in high school.  I got into a horrible fight with my mother and after admitting to myself that I needed to take responsibility for my part in it, I wanted to apologize, but was too embarrassed. So I wrote her a letter and placed it on her desk before I left for school. She saved the letter which resided in her desk drawer up until the day she died. Through this epiphany I discovered that I am much more persuasive on the page, since I am not distracted by the peer pressure of a social situation and my reader can’t interrupt me mid-sentence as can a conversational companion.

As I got older and was told that I had a natural propensity for the written word, I began to care about producing my best work which made me focus more on the product rather than the creative process. I started to compare myself to my peers as I saw that there were other talented writers out there. During my introductory creative writing class at Hollins, I almost couldn’t bring myself to drop off my first poem in Bradley because I was afraid of how much better the other students’ work would be… and how that would impact the appraisal of my work. How many Annie Dillards and Lee Smiths were sitting across the table from me? By the time I had taken Advanced twice I was much more able to accept constructive criticism, which my mother always told me is one of the most essential qualities of any artist.

I increasingly end up writing for other people rather than myself. I have always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, but the only case where I’m able to find the time to write ‘for fun’ is when I’m enrolled in a class that provides structure and forces me to work on my craft. I relate to Annie Dillard’s advice on the writing process in her essay Schedules. Dillard explains how the timing and location of a writing session can create a sense of self imposed structure that makes it easier for the author to concentrate. “A schedule defends from chaos and whim… [it is] a mock up for reason and order”. Everything we write is to some extent manipulated by the direction of our experience and to believe otherwise is to deny the human need to extend a piece of ourselves into our creative product. On that note, I also write out of a need to defray mayhem and bring some sort of organization to my thoughts.

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