I just love language… Hey, it’s the thing that enabled our species to outlive the Neanderthals! Instead of gesturing toward a hill and frantically shouting, “Ugh!” We could point and communicate, “Hey guys! Over that hill are a bunch of great animals we can hunt and eat. Grab your weapons! And look out for the flesh eating monsters off to right!” Complex methods of communication for survival of the species soon evolved into storytelling and song; ways to bond and celebrate our humanity.
Learning to preserve the spoken word in physical space via writing (or carving, sketching, drawing) would lead to further development as we could then learn from history. We could prevent past mistakes from reoccurring and we could build on past knowledge when inventing. We could observe how people have changed yet remained quite amazingly the same, spanning continents and generations of clans, kingdoms, dynasties, and countries. We could foster connections and we could heal ourselves.
My romantic fascination and deep appreciation for the power of the written word was the chisel that carved the path of my career (English teacher and then school librarian). Both positions gifted me the opportunity to read A LOT and then share magical literary journeys with students, both enthusiastic and reluctant (Converting these kids into avid readers has been most fulfilling!). I could take their hands and pull them into stories with settings past, present, future, or supernatural; with characters inspiring, courageous, frightening, or relatable; with plots exciting, entertaining, thought-provoking, or devastating. For me, sharing writing with students, whether during formal lessons or casual discussion, is not unlike passing through a mental portal to another dimension.
You likely share in my awe of authors’ ability to draw readers into an experience that is not their own; to use nothing but ink on a page (or pixels) to magically invoke sensory experience, alter thought, inform, and rouse emotion. But could I ever be capable of such a thing? For me, the idea of being able to write like the people who so inspire me seems absurd. I have relatively decent control over the conventions of English and a decent vocabulary (years of tutoring for the SAT). Does this mean my own purple gel pen could become a magic wand?
When I was a young girl I used to journal nightly. I would scrawl pages upon pages of experience without much thought or effort at all. Words would spew forth onto the page so fast my hand grasping the pencil would cramp. Crushes I saw in the hall at school, the fight I had with my sister, something disconcerting in the news, fears, hopes, dreams, desires… I wrote them out. Without the pressure of an audience I was completely uninhibited in my writing. Putting words on the page helped me to make sense of my own small history, humanity, and psychology.
Years later, as an adult, I reread those journals. Behind the bubbly, teeny boppery script and horrendous spelling was some pretty darn good writing! There were some clever analogies, imagery, humor, and wit. Coming into contact with the strange young girl was both entertaining and enlightening. Seeing the way my younger self puzzled out problems and grappled with difficulties made me wonder if the relatability could have helped others of that age. How nice it would have been to have something similar to read at that time so I could know I was not alone.
What I have concluded is that every being on Earth who is having a human experience has a story. We have the content. We ARE the content. A mastery over language is not as important as the effort and willingness to write and share. Writing can be seen as a tangible, priceless gift to future generations. Writing is magic.
What stops us? For me, it’s been a lack of confidence, plain and simple. My childhood journal entries spilled out of me with no effort at all. Why now, then, do I struggle to write? Why is it sometimes physically painful to turn on my computer? Why don’t I write? I certainly enjoy it when I get into a little something I call “the flow” or “the zone.” I have an idea and the outline literally writes itself.
For me, the largest hurdle to becoming a writer has been to clamor over my insecurities regarding my technique and content. Technique improves only with practice and feedback, hence the need to share what I write. The content is already in me simply because I am having a human experience. The content of my writing is only limited by the depths to which I am willing to delve and the truths I am willing to honestly convey.
If you are a fledgling writer yourself, I encourage you to continue your journey. Don’t let fears of inadequacy prevent you from forging meaningful connections with an audience, or leaving your tangible mark in history. I’m a fan of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 in which he describes how the poem itself gives his love immortality. After physical death, the written word lives on:
“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”