A few months ago, I submitted my first blog post The Start to Play on Words, an organization described as “a collaborative literary performance series in San Jose that pairs performers with up-and-coming and already established writers, resulting in a live performance.” The piece got accepted into their upcoming show “New Terrains” and will be performed this Sunday.
This has gotten me thinking about my long relationship with writing.
Read before you write
My mom taught me to read and write well before going into kindergarten. As an elementary school student, my reading list mostly consisted of things like The Babysitter’s Club or Goosebumps but also included classics like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Julie of the Wolves. But outside of reading (I would never have called myself a big reader), it was my penchant for playing dress-up and make-believe that really spurred my interest in storytelling.
And then one day — I want to say I was in junior high — I found a box of my dad’s old college books, including some from a literature class. Among that dusty pile of forgotten pages was a copy Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I devoured the witty dialogue and suddenly my eyes were open to the amazing power of words.
Writing for school
I saw some success with writing in junior high. I wrote an essay that secured me a spot on a coveted trip to the state capitol. And I was a finalist in a speech competition. But it was really in high school that I was forced to develop my writing. It was also at this point that my love/hate relationship with writing began.
My high school was notorious for having a very strong but tough English program. We read a lot and were assigned essays for each book, among other writing assignments. And these essays were sliced and diced and put through a meat grinder. For a perfectionist, straight-A student like myself, I was appalled in sophomore year when I was suddenly getting B’s on my paper. What was I doing wrong?
I was actually so disenchanted with writing after that year that instead of continuing on into AP English junior and senior year, I went down into college prep, where we were still pushed to be good writers, but suddenly, I had my A’s back.
Looking back, of course, I know where I was struggling. Yes, I made good points in my essays and my grammar was correct, but I lacked sentence variety and other elements that take a paper from a dry read to a pleasurable one.
I left high school feeling like a solid writer but by no means extraordinary. And I definitely did not identify writing as something I enjoyed. Yet, in college, I was drawn to humanities classes which, of course, involved a lot of writing! I was nervous that once again, my writing would not be up to snuff. But much to my surprise (and still to this day, slight horror), one of my first college professors was blown away by the fact that I actually knew how to use a semicolon correctly.
Oh ok. I guess I do have a talent for this writing thing.
As a double major in Art History and Communication, I wrote countless papers and essays. I researched, analyzed, laid out my points and made arguments. It was also during this time that the idea of being a writer — particularly a newspaper or magazine writer — piqued my interest. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Sex and the City, but I fell in love with the idea of setting my own schedule and not being stuck in an office. I looked into volunteering for the school paper but I never followed through on it.
What I realize now is that it wasn’t the writing part that interested me. It was the lifestyle. Cafes would be my office. I could meet friends for lunch. I would explore the city at my leisure and set my own hours. Maybe that’s why I never truly followed through on exploring this path. It wasn’t the core of the job that interested me. At least, not yet.
Writing for work
My career path — for lack of a better word — has been quite a winding one, but most of my jobs have included some type of writing.
There was the online fundraising agency, where we managed email campaigns for national and global non-profits. I wrote countless fundraising emails and website copy.
There was the digital advertising agency, where I wrote long client emails explaining our capabilities and answering questions.
In my most recent position, I wrote long web articles about Facebook’s advertising products and how small businesses could best use them.
For all of these assignments, I was satisfied with the final product, but I found the writing process arduous and draining. I took me forever to get start and I obsessed over the perfect wording. It just went to solidify my previous assumption that while I had a talent for writing, it wasn’t something I found fulfilling.
Writing for me
However, during this same time, there were also a few instances where I wrote for personal reasons.
For one, there were my wedding vows, which to this day is probably the piece of writing I’m most proud of. It took a while to get them started. But I began by just jotting down notes and phrases that came to mind on Post-it notes. Suddenly, it all came together. I knew exactly the structure I was going for and the words just came forward.
There was also the speech I wrote for my sister’s graduation. I had major writer’s block. But once again, I started by just writing down unedited thoughts of what I might say. And in that drive between her graduation and the celebration dinner, I had the speech put together in no time.
There are the scripts I’ve written recently, where I can’t seem to type fast enough to keep up with the ideas swirling around. There are even the fictional backstories I craft for the roles I’ve originated on-stage or the characters I’ve created for Dungeons & Dragons (that’s right, I play D&D!).
And then there’s been this blog. I find that for a lot of my posts, particularly the reflections pieces, the words just spill out. I don’t worry too much about the wording or structure. I just let these thoughts make their way onto the page.
In short, I get into what’s known as flow.
According to Wikipedia, flow is defined as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”
It’s been surprising, illuminating, and exciting to find this new love for writing.
Writing in the Future
I’m at this point where I want to continue to explore my interest in writing. What formats do I like? What’s my ideal process? How do I get inspiration?
I also want to look into the various ways to make money with writing … but the type of writing I actually enjoy. Do I submit to magazines? Do I try to monetize my blogging? Do I self-publish?
In my head I have lofty goals of writing a novel or a feature-length film script.
But more than anything, I just want to give myself more time and mental space to write.