Several people have asked me lately how I got into writing.  For me, this brings to mind the turning point—the moment the light bulb clicked on.  It brings to mind my sixth grade classroom and the contorted face of Mrs. Silvious who couldn’t figure out why I wouldn’t do my writing assignments.

“If you don’t do your work, I’m going to have to give you an F,” she reasoned.

“Okay.”  Please, my pre-teen mind already had no need or use for established societal expectations.

“Well, then I’ll have to make you spend recesses at your desk instead of going outside to play,” she shook her head, pulling out the big guns.

“Okay.”  There were, not one but two, bullies out there that I was growing tired of outsmarting—and, even worse, failing to outsmart.  I’m not sure if I actually said this next part out loud but it was definitely the sentiment I felt at that moment.  “Look, I hate to be causing you all this trouble.  I know this is your job and I’m making it very difficult for you—but there is no way I’m going to willingly torture myself!  You’re nice, and a pretty lady, but you’re insane to think that some subjective letter grading system—that, at most, might earn me some stupid sticker—is something that I want anything to do with.”

She huffed thoughtfully.  “Why won’t you do your work?”

“I don’t like writing.”

“I see.  Well, sometimes we have to do things we don’t like doing.  This is something you have to do.”

I thought about this for a moment.  “I don’t think so.  I don’t mind the F.  I don’t mind sitting in here.  I have to breathe.  I have to eat.  I don’t have to write.”

She nodded her head and swallowed a smile.  My logic was impenetrable!  “Well, no—I can see your point.  You know, writing could be something you enjoy though.”

Now I had to keep from laughing, but failed.  “I don’t think so,” I giggled.  She was clearly insane.

“What do you like to do?”

“I like to draw.”  At that point, I was drawing and making pictures for my classmates—Batman Keep Out! signs for doorknobs, video game characters rescuing princesses on little copier paper posters… stuff like that.  I was making 25¢ to $5 a pop!  Had loads of fun doing it, clear rewards, what wasn’t to love!?

“Ah, okay.  Well, you know, writing is a lot like drawing.  Writing is like painting with words.”  At this moment, Sue Silvious opened a rift in the space-time continuum.  Light poured out of the universe, flooding the classroom with energy from the first moments of time itself.  It was like an infinite star had exploded, washing away the world I knew and replacing it with a fresh one of exciting new possibilities.  The entirety of existence was suddenly larger than I’d ever imagined.  “You understand?  You just use the words to…”

“Got it.  We’re good.  Sorry about the trouble.  I’ll have it for you in the morning.”

The oldest copy of Beowulf

The oldest copy of Beowulf

 

That was the moment—my turning point.  I’ve been honing and working at it ever since—painting pictures, sculpting emotions and coloring characters.  It isn’t something that I expect can ever be fully mastered—but “chasing the dragon” is its own reward.

Some people may discover writing as a way to finally express themselves or to be understood.  Others may find its value as a time capsule to preserve moments and hurl them into the future.  Others still might embrace it as a vehicle to expand an event or idea around the world.  You’ll often find that writing, done well, makes use of the craft as many different tools at once.  Writing is not unlike a Swiss Army Knife the size of the Swiss Alps, it’s an implement that can change form based on the desires of the one who wields it.

Just a few examples of writing’s power:

    • The Turkish government has blocked Twitter from the country’s internet fearing that it may aid in inciting a shift of power—and people risked (and are risking at the time of this writing) federal offenses by hacking through the block just to share the vitality inherent in those 140 characters.
    • The epic Beowulf was written possibly as early as the 700’s A.D. and the Epic of Gilgamesh between 2250 and 2000 B.C.!—and they’ve traveled across millennia into the future!  Not only have they traveled through time but they provide a window into a world long gone.
    • One of the foremost physicists, maybe ever, Steven Hawking, is a prisoner of his ailing body.  His only means of communication is to write into a computer through slight movements like the twitch of an eyelid, at which point the computer reads his words and speaks for him.
    • And finally, just today, my heart broke as I learned of the story of Maira Nari.  Her father, Andrew was the Chief Steward aboard Flight 370, the flight that investigators say crashed into the South Indian Ocean leaving no survivors.  Since the flight lost contact on March 8th, Maira has been tweeting her father messages of hope and love, telling him to come home so they can watch the Liverpool games together.  Messages, it doesn’t seem, he will ever get to read.  Emotion is carved into every loving word and—set against the grim findings of so many countries working together—it’s one of the most moving expressions I have ever read.

Find what moves you, what excites you, what’s most important to you—that’s how you get into writing… that’s how you keep writing.

 

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