Spring, 1991: I was finishing up the 6th grade at Cummings Elementary School. Mrs. Johnson had assigned us a creative writing post for our last paper of the year, so I got out my college-lined paper, and began writing the story to top all stories, in pencil, front and back. I must not have written more than 500 words, but those words were gold to me. As the last days of school came to a close, in the midst of saying good-byes and dreaming of what middle school would really be like and stealing the hat off the head of my current crush, I also waited for that creative writing piece back from her. It never came, so I did what any eager, aspiring 12-year-old author would do: a couple days after school let out, I marched back to my alma mater, down Menlo Drive and up Delight Street, to her classroom.
She was apologetic as she shooed me on to continue cleaning out her classroom: “Oh honey, I’m so sorry – that was just for fun. I already put it in the recycle bin, and that was taken out last week!”
[We Oregonians recycled before much of the world knew what the blue triangle meant – seriously, y’all need to get on with the program.]
I thanked her and walked down the steps, tears welling up in my eyes. It was my greatest work to date, and although I don’t remember the story’s content, I remember loving how I worded the last sentence. As a 6th grader.
Quaker author Parker Palmer writes in his book, Let Your Life Speak, that we can look back through the various chapters and seasons of our lives and see threads of the same story woven throughout its pages. As a young man, he recalls building and flying the paper airplanes of his childhood, just like all the other boys were doing – but he also then remembers that for him writing about the airplanes flying was what really gave him life.
So, what gives you life? What story can you see woven throughout the pages of your life that speaks to the depths of who you are and what you were created to do and be?
Like Palmer, writing gives me life – and so I don’t write because I narcissistically have something that the world must read or because we need another person filling the internet with musings, but I write because I must. I write because it’s at the core of my being, and it’s a part of who I am, and because I come to life in the process of telling stories.
So what, again, is it for you?
Regarding writing, here are a few beliefs I’ve picked up along the way, and tried to put into practice as much as possible:
1. I believe in shitty first drafts. Thank you, Annie Lamott, thank you.
2. I believe in not pushing the back space key.
3. I believe in 3 am revelations. Where do you think this list came from? Thank you, Baby Canon.
4. I believe in finding your voice.
5. I believe in reading, that it makes you a better writer.
6. I believe in writing, that it makes you a better writer.
7. I believe in following your heart and being real.
8. I believe in writing even if it’s just you who needs to hear it.
9. I believe in knowing your audience – or at least making an attempt to find it.
10. I believe in knowing the basics of grammar, and then letting yourself stray creatively from them.
11. I believe that less is more.
12. I believe in having people in your corner, who believe in your gifts and cheerlead you on accordingly.
Writers, what would you add to the list?
Here’s to writing in the new year!0