I've been formulating this post in my mind for..quite some time. I've been thinking about my writing a lot; about why I write and why I don't, about where my writing comes from. My mom posted something about her own writing today and I guess it was the push I needed to write this.
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. It started with stories - lies and exaggerations - as a kid. I've mentioned before that there are parts of my past I don't remember the truth of because I made it something else in my mind. If you've ever read "And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street" by Dr. Seuss, you have an idea of what used to go on - except that I would actually tell the story with the elephants and giraffes and whatnot.
Later on in my childhood I began physically writing in a genre now called fan fiction. I didn't know really how to come up with stories of my own, so I borrowed elements from other things I'd read or watched and made those stories my own. That lasted throughout the rest of my life, though I stopped writing them down shortly after I had started. In my mind, the stories continue and I add myself in as keystone character to whatever plot I've just read.
In my teenage years I really took to writing. I loved to create things and I loved the idea that one day my name would be on the spines of the books that lined Barnes and Noble shelves. I had many teachers who encouraged me, despite the fact that they were - I'm sure - annoyed that I often favored my own stories over the homework they had issued. When I reached high school my teachers not only encouraged me, but helped me. They beta read my work, proofread for me, and suggested various self-publishing venues. All of my English and Language teachers loved my writing - except for one.
I don't remember his name. Let's call him John.
My relationship with John was a perfect example of how much you can devastate someone if you aren't careful of your words. He was my creative writing teacher, but I was not his favorite student. Looking back, I see two reasons for this: Firstly, I was a better writer than he was - grammatically speaking. I knew how to twist the words into a story much better than he did and whenever he slipped one of his works into the class partner-grading stack, I almost always failed him before knowing it was his work. The second is that John loved poetry much better than stories. We lingered only briefly on the creative writing and story building portion of the curriculum, but when we got to Poetry we stayed there all year.
I would like to point out, as a side note, that my Junior year poetry teacher was much better at teaching the dissecting, understanding, and creation of poetry than John was.
I did not favor poetry. I considered it - while John was teaching it - asinine and below the skills of someone who could actually write. I probably at one point even said "those who cannot write, write poetry." John insisted I turn in a quota of poetry, even though I was fully absorbed in what I still consider my best work of fiction yet. To motivate me, he told me that I wasn't good enough at fiction writing to have any future there, I didn't have the talent for it, but I might be able to manage poetry. To spite him I wrote 150 poems in the next few weeks and then continued to work on my book.
But the seed was planted. Even though I finished that book and completed another - along with various short stories - in the course of the next two years, that kernel of doubt was there. Was I a writer? Did I have what it took? I had several binders full to bursting with my writing and yet I still thought: "Can I actually write?"
Emotional tragedy struck my life in my Junior year and gave that seed a place to root. I switched to poetry, preferring the river-like movement of words to express my confused emotions over my stories. My teacher at the time, Mr. Jaggaditch, was amazing. He supported and encouraged me, and he helped me to make my writing - even my stories - better. But the seed was there, and the root had grown, and that summer I destroyed all of my best works. I started to review them, and I just heard John's voice in my head, telling me they were crap. A full novel with potential to become a series, a novella, several short stories, and many, many poems found fiery death in the grill in my driveway.
My emotional tragedy had hurt my heart deeply that past year, and it could not withstand his harsh criticisms because the truth of the matter is that every piece of writing I have ever produced - fiction, poetry, essays, everything - came from a place deep within my heart. A place that was connected to my soul. And with my heart already in battered condition, John's criticism which had been dormant for almost two whole years collapsed the connection.
Once I burned those writings it was like sealing off the entrance to a gold mine while there's still gold left. I knew there was potential there, I knew it was still in me somewhere, but I just couldn't reach it anymore. My heart, my soul, even my mind mourned the loss. I tried once in a while to pick the writing back up, but I never felt like it was good enough because it never quite came from the same place. That place was blocked, and I eventually gave up hope that it would ever re-open. Writing, which was once such a huge part of me, became something I used to do. It became a part of my past, like Barbie dolls or Playdough.
For years, it stayed that way. I would probe, once in a while, poking at the part of my soul my writing came from to see if anything would emerge. It didn't. My heart mourned the loss of my best works - and still does to this day.
I may never be an author. I may never have my name on the spine of a book, or my writing on a shelf in Barnes and Noble. I may never know the alternate joy and despair of reader's reviews or of trying to find a publisher that will take me on. But recently I've discovered that I am still, and always will be, a writer.
You see, being a writer isn't about whether you're published. It isn't even about whether anyone ever reads what you've written. It's about having that place, deep within your heart and connected to your soul, where your writing comes from. It's about having the story in you. It's about sitting down and - whether it's on a computer screen or a legal pad or a spiral notebook - creating that world where the story happens.
Writing is still very hard for me, I'm still working on the seal to that gold mine. Sometimes, I get so frustrated with my inability to know where things need to go next that I just stop. But for as long as I live, I will be writing. It's just too much a part of me for me to ignore it anymore. The stories are there, I just have to re-learn how to get them out.
Which means that in the next few months or years or however long it takes, you get to watch me try.
The real point when I actually stopped writing, when I just gave in and said "I cannot do this anymore" was when my best friend and biggest stick-it-all-out supporter died. I think I'll do a different blog on him, how much he meant to me, and why - for a time - my writing died with him.