I’ve never not been a writer.
But when I was a young writer, I didn’t have the same…voice. Maybe everyone goes through that — maybe voice isn’t natural, rather it is something that grows and changes; develops over time. For me, writing has always been personal and observational. My fiction is fine, but I don’t enjoy writing it nearly as much as I like to write about what I see.
However, when you’re afraid of seeing yourself, and of being Seen, it is much harder to write authentically from the point of view of the Observer.
Over the years, I’ve had a number of good-to-great teachers who took me and my writing seriously. They fed me books; they served as my editors and my champions. They wrote me notes and encouraged me when I was ready to abandon what I was doing.
I was, I think, in 8th grade, when I’d written another forgettable essay for an assignment. But even when I was not on the mark creatively, my work was typically technically good. I had always been an A student, and when the essay came back graded, this was what I found:
I’d had a close relationship with the teacher, who was fun, and funny, and quirky. She was generally well-liked by students. And she gave me a lot of room in which to be creative. I didn’t always take it — at least, as fully as I could’ve or should’ve.
At the time, I pulled her note off the corner of the assignment, unsure of what to make of it. She was saying what I knew was true about my work — but was she right about me? Was I beautiful, funny (and somewhere inside) truly caring and concerned?
So I analysed my feelings on the teacher’s message to me in my journal, followed up by this gem: Tomorrow is the 8th grade dance, and I really want to go, but I am pretending I don’t so I have something to complain about.
(If nothing else can be said about me, I am and always have been honest with myself.)
Many years have passed since I wrote that essay — I don’t even remember what the assignment was about. But I’ve kept the note close to my heart all this time. As a writer, I don’t think I ever forget the people who have pushed me; made me smoother or sharper; slicker; sleeker. And as a human being, there is no moment where I do not remember the people who have given me those fundamental bits of encouragement along the way.