A blinking cursor. A blank document screen. Both give me a bit of a thrill. The words and thoughts. The possibilities. The potential. Typing those first words, for me, is like taking that exhilarating step off the rappelling tower and plunging in. Working and reworking a piece and watching it evolve is a natural high. And like the choice of words, can change the tone, course and meaning of an essay, my experience with the idea of writing has also evolved. And how.
Writing used to bring me anxiety and near panic in high school. My English instructor, whom I had for three consecutive years, could not have been less interested in (or less qualified for) teaching a class in crafting the written word. She occupied us with busy work of an objective nature, disguised as creative writing exercises. For example, an essay needed “X” number of compound sentences, 32 properly placed commas, and should be no more than three pages typed, double-spaced. Such grammatical restrictions, while attempting to write an original work nearly made my head explode. It was too much to reconcile; I would agonize over every sentence I wrote, fearing if the wrong idea be conveyed or a comma misplaced, I would pass by the skin of my teeth. Granted, my tendency toward perfectionism played a large role in making this exercise horrific but still, the fact remained that I hated writing and would lose sleep at the mere thought of putting words on paper.
Then came freshman year of college (as if a “typed” essay doesn’t give enough clues to how long ago I was in school, I started college as a “freshman.”). There was an unequivocal requirement that all first-year students take an introductory English/writing course. Lovely. As if the adjustment to collegiate life weren’t hard enough, I would be stuck agonizing over gerunds and prepositions…you know college-y level grammar tricks. Or at least that is what I imagined would happen. Believe me, I wanted to run and hide under my rusty, musty dorm room bed.
But when the first morning of Freshman English arrived I quickly learned this class was a book of an entirely different topic. My professor, at the time the State Poet of Nebraska, couldn’t give a rip about complete sentences. Which makes sense, as a poet. He was interested in well-crafted ideas. The story. The description. (See? He taught me well….) And our assignments were based in experience…”write what you know.” So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more. Freely, without stress, worry or fear. Experiences, I had. Great ability to read an instructor’s mind I did not, as I felt the pressure to do in high school. For my efforts I was rewarded with an “A.” Honestly, most of the class did as well. But the point of the class (I know now) was not to turn out essays on par with the Great American Novel; it was to realize our potential to communicate by written word, spring-boarded from the opportunity to write knowledgeably, about personal experiences.
Of course, my collegiate writing career didn’t end there. Instead of taking the form of creative expression, it became that of many research papers for my biology major. The writing was pretty dry and factual but in some cases was still based upon experience (aka hands-on lab research)I such as “The Metabolic Cage Experiment” (heck if I can remember what that was all about!) My professor red-lined all over my, you guessed it, typed and double-spaced work but at the bottom of the last page wrote: “You write well, Heidi.”
You write well, Heidi.
Granted, this was a research paper, nonfiction in its most basic, unadorned form but those four simple words were a glimmer of hope. Some validation that I could put sentences together into coherent thoughts despite a few errant commas. Even before I decided to leap into creative nonfiction writing, I held my professor’s words as one of the highest complements anyone ever paid me, and still do.
So here I am, years later, leaping into the world of well-placed commas (not simply the right number of such), “sentences” minus a subject or verb, (and dare I say an occasional dangling participle?) writing about what I know in, hopefully, a creative manner. It took many years after working a field with a good paycheck, to act upon my desire to dabble in the written word. For one thing, I needed material and the time to gather such, until I found something that inspired me. So after I tried to become a parent, finally became a parent, and then made innumerable mistakes as a parent, I finally felt I had something to say~ sometimes humorously, occasionally seriously, and at times, both.
So here I am, poised to take the plunge off the writing tower, knowing I’ll sometimes lose my foothold but land on my feet more often. Either way, this experience that will leave me wanting to do more, learn better methods, and perfect my technique. It will be an adventure.
I am tremendously grateful to the late William Kloefkorn, State Poet of Nebraska from 1982-2013, and Dr. William Boernke, currently a professor emeritus of biology at Nebraska Wesleyan University, for their encouragement and support in this endeavor.