I used to love to write.
Words were my safe place.
In the peaceful solitude of the written word, I found comfort in my darkest moments. In the midst of chaos and upheaval, words grounded me. They allowed me to push through the hardest moments of my life.
Then something went horribly, awfully wrong.
My professors in college suggested that since I could express thoughts and emotions so beautifully in writing, I should consider pursuing a degree in writing.
Let me begin by saying that I do not regret exposing myself any of the valuable ideas and concepts I learned while pursuing this degree. Let me also say that I have utmost respect for my professors and I am grateful for everything they poured into me. I am absolutely grateful for them and for all of the things I learned.
There is always a “but.”
I want to continue by saying that everything I’m about to say is a “me” thing. It is my problem and I have to be responsible for solving it.
Emotionally, I was a wreck when I entered the program.
That’s ok. Things happen, but “things” don’t have to paralyze you. Even if you’re an emotional wreck, education is good. It is helpful. It is meant to be a growing experience.
But for me, it wasn’t.
I entered the program having only ever written privately. I wrote for myself, which means that 100% of the time, everyone who read what I wrote loved every word, every sentence, every punctuation mark. I’d never been critiqued or offered guidance on how to be better.
I took Freshman English Comp and I loved it. For the first time in my life, someone wanted to read what I had to say and my professor loved every word.
It was September 2002 and we were given the assignment to write a reflection regarding September 11, 2001. I wrote mine and turned it in and then we were told that each group would be given one random paper for each person in the group and we had to read them and choose one to read to the class and comment on why we chose that one.
My group consisted of myself and a bunch of teenage boys and I did not enjoy this part of the assignment because they insisted on reading the one in which every other word was an expletive. This rankled my sensitive spirit.
Really, fellas? Really?
But then…. someone read mine. They said they liked it because it was so different from everyone else’ experience and that they thought there were many striking things about it.
Afterward, the teacher asked me to stay after class and she invited me to enter the writing program.
It was a difficult decision for me because I was very religious and felt that everything I did should have some sort of spiritual meaning. How do you get spiritual meaning out of putting words on the page to make pretty sentences?
I put this idea on the back burner for a couple of years. I wanted to be a nurse and I was going to do everything I could to realize that dream. But then there was Microbiology. I didn’t have a good grasp of biology to begin with and the class was hard for even those who had done well in previous science classes.
It was finals week and I was supposed to be studying for the Microbiology final. I could not focus. I knew I wouldn’t do well enough on the final and I wasn’t going to be getting into a nursing program. I tried to study. I gave up and I prayed instead.
I remember exactly where I was, sitting in my dorm room, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do now.
God, what do I do? I have nowhere to go….
And then I heard an inaudible voice. A searing of my soul. The words “You have a story to tell….” etched in my spirit. And peace, because I finally knew what I was supposed to do.
A few weeks later, I began my writing career. The first few classes were terrific. I learned a lot. I enjoyed reading everyone else’ work and providing feedback.
The problem came when it was my turn to be critiqued. I don’t know how other programs work, but at my school, during each class period, one or two students would sign up to provide a piece for the class to read and critique. You produced 2-4 pieces each semester and then you had to take the information you got during your session and use it to rework your piece for your final portfolio.
I’m not saying that this is bad or wrong.
I’m saying it ought to be done with utmost care.
No matter what your genre, you write from your experience and everything you write is very, very personal.
The feedback process felt, to me, like I had produced a baby and it was being stabbed repeatedly by people who didn’t realize that it was a baby.
But it went deeper. The “baby” was part of my soul.
Every negative comment tore me apart.
After 4 semesters of writing workshops, I produced my final portfolio, I participated in my Senior Reading event (which was actually really fun!) and then I was done.
I was so done.
I couldn’t even write for myself anymore. My words were gone.
Prior to graduation, I told myself that I was going to write a memoir one day. I gave myself a timeline. I developed a title and a rough idea of what the cover would look like. Four years later, I started this blog as a way to get my creative side going again and to brainstorm my stories.
I wrote what I believe will become part of my book. But the thing about memoir is that you have to be ok with your story. If telling your story traumatizes you, you aren’t going to get very far, very fast.
I hit a brick wall when I got to the part about going off to college. My story really begins in college and I didn’t have words for it. So, I gave up.
I have not written at all for the past several years. Not in this format, nor in any other. I haven’t been able to bring myself to do so because it doesn’t feel safe.
You have a story to tell….
It echoes in my soul in a tortuous way. The story is there, but it won’t come out.