Finding a Writer’s Voice

My earliest memories of writing are from grade school, tracing the forms of letters on perforated outlines before graduating to attempt them freehand; then, on to short sentences — See Dick Run sorts of things. At the time, penmanship was still a virtue, and we students had uncomfortable little rubber insets on our pencils to produce better writing posture in our fingers. I don’t remember a particular emotion, positive or negative, toward writing in those formative years. It was a task, like most things school-related. Writing exercises were like memorizing sums in their mundane repetitiousness. But they were expected, so my feelings remained rather neutral on the matter.

Sentences grew into paragraphs. Eventually we had to start assembling the monstrous things on our own. Transcribing transformed into regurgitating information: the short answer response to a prompt, such as why such-and-such happened a certain way. It was based on what one remembered from the assigned text, and was required, so I regurgitated.

It was not until middle school, somewhere between diagramming subjects and predicates, identifying gerunds and –ly words, that I was assigned a creation all my own. This had no prompt, involved no recollection of information. It was pure and sweet inspiration: creative writing.

I was assigned a short story, five to ten pages, with the presumption that no one would come close to the end of that limit. I remember feeling a little daunted, but I had recently thought of an idea and decided to try it out. The story was about a sleepwalking serial killer. A calm, quiet citizen and a good father, he had no idea of his heinous capacities upon entering slumber. He was caught, of course, and put on trial, and there was a moral question of whether a man could be rightfully convicted for crimes originating in a dream world. In the end the man was put to death by lethal injection. To be honest, it was a terrible story. The elements of potential were there, but I had no capacity to accomplish what I wanted. Ten pages were nowhere near enough, and I hurried the ending to meet the requirements of the assignment. I finished feeling it was okay at best. But my mother, who also happened to be my teacher, upon reading it, compared it to a thriller she’d been reading. She said she could not put my story down.

I wrote little outside school essays after that. I don’t recall another creative fiction assignment. I got great grades on papers and assumed I was a decent writer, but it was just a credit to my ability to complete tasks. I had ideas for a couple stories, and once wrote an opening chapter, only to realize I was in over my head.

But my freshman year of college, things changed. My Composition professor was a creative writer, a master of essays as well as fiction. I wrote several narrative essays, about baseball, summers working on a ranch, a horse dying in my arms. And he loved them. He would read them to the class and note the power of my personal insights. I was simply making sense of my high school years and how they formed me, but my professor was subtly telling me I had something worth saying. I was not recalling another’s ideas; they were all my own, my thoughts, and they were valuable. They were worth jotting down.

I have been compelled to write ever since. I focused on writing and journalism as a result of that Composition course, and a year or so later, I dared to jump off the high dive, and tackle one of the many fictional stories running circles through my brain. I took creative writing classes to keep me at it. It took me several years to figure out how to finish the beast known as the novel, but I managed it. I write almost daily in some form or another, though never as much as I would like. Be it the narrative essay or fiction, for me there is something beautiful about taking an idea from my head and seeing it come alive on the page, to see sense made out of the recollection of an experience from childhood. I write now because I love it, because it helps me make sense of the world and of myself. And I write because I must.

It is likely, without the praise of key individuals I might not have grown to love writing. It might have remained a task, neither good nor bad, just expected. First I had to write something. Then, someone had to tell me I had something worth writing about. Then, I had to keep at it.

The voice burns from within first. But I think it is always fueled by the breath of others. But once a voice is unveiled, it is a power unlike any other.

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