Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Freeing the Writer in Me

I didn’t grow up with the natural gift of storytelling. I didn’t have the endearing habit from the day I was born of constantly telling stories to entertain people. I was just a kid with an imagination like any other. But I wanted to be a storyteller. But for most of my life, I didn’t know how. I assumed it was something you either had or didn’t have.

            I had stories in me (albeit terrible, rip-offs of my favorite movies) and the only way I knew how to get them out was by talking about them with my sister. We created worlds and characters, but never anything with a solid plot, which is kind of important when telling a story. My efforts to write stories down always failed miserably. I struggled to get one paragraph out, I didn’t know that multiple drafts were required (I thought writing was a magical creature that just… popped up and was complete).

What worked against me the most was that I lacked conviction in everything. I was too passive about life. I was the kid that no one remembered being in the same class with for ten years because I made a point of disappearing. I dressed like a boy, but hated sports and rough play, so I wasn’t really a “tomboy.” I didn’t fit into any stereotype of being a “brain” or a “bookworm” or a “nerd” of any kind. I was in the upper-level Gate Program for supposedly gifted kids because of my grades, but I failed all of the special assignments and could never keep up with what the other “smart kids” were talking about.

    As any writer who knows their business will tell you, you need to read if you’re going to write. Unfortunately for me, it was rare that I ever found any books that swept me away. While all the other kids my age always had their noses in books—Goosebumps, The Adventures of Mary Kate and Ashley, Animorphs, The Babysitters Club and Wishbone—I just daydreamed and maybe drew a random picture of a dragon or elephant. None of those books held any appeal to me. At 8 years old and I thought those books were lame. (If only I had appreciated the importance of reading in and of itself.)

Maybe I never read the right Goosebumps book, but they never scared me or gave me goosebumps.

            It wasn’t until I had barely hit my teens that a book finally smacked me and turned my world upside down. That book was Wuthering Heights. It was the first classic novel that I had read on my own, without it being some school assignment, from cover to cover. The complexity of it astounded me. Not just the writing style, which was older than I was used to, but the story itself. The plot and characters and setting were so unconventional that I needed more. I read as many classic novels as I could from then on, jumping from Wuthering Heights to Frankenstein to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to The Picture of Dorian Gray and Cyrano de Bergerac (which is technically a play, but I read it before seeing it). There are many others, but those were the firsts for me that will always hold a special place in my heart and bookshelf.

This is the edition that I first read and still own. 

            With these stories raging in my brain, I finally had the conviction I’d always needed. After reading a stack of classic novels, and even some poetry, I finally returned to writing. Suddenly the words poured out of me, paragraph after paragraph. It felt something like the generic scene of a superhero movie where the protagonist is discovering their newfound powers and seeing the world (and themselves) differently because of it. I suddenly had the ability to put my feelings and ambiguous ideas into words.

            It was reading books that opened that door for me. But I should emphasize that it was reading the right books for me. No two people read the same book. To people who think reading is boring, they either don’t know how to engage with what they’re reading or they haven’t found the right book. A majority of the world is in love with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, I’m not. I read The Goblet of Fire and enjoyed it, and I love the Wizarding World and how many people it’s encouraged to read. But it’s never been my cup of tea. Neither was Goosebumps twenty years ago when all the other kids in my first grade class were reading it. I craved something else and found it in a book that was written by a young woman 160 years ago on the English moors.

            I don’t really have any solid point to make in this post, to be honest. If anything, it’s just to talk about the fact that I feel like I’ve found my calling in writing, even though I never showed any of the so-called tell-tale signs growing up. It took a lot of searching through various genres of books, multiple failures at writing, and a lifetime of imagination for me to finally free the writer in me.

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