Ramblings on Writing

every writing class i took started with a hardcover book, each with a familiar chapter on form and style and voice. i learned to place commas and how to organize my argument – every year. each paper had a grade. some had comments scribbled in ink. and there were the two english teachers – 12 grade and sophomore year of college. both of these women were in the practice of reading aloud the superior papers. a few of my own papers made the cut and, of course, every time i was proud. in fact, i think i became obsessed. that was when i quit writing – real writing – and started lying.

it’s taken a few years, but it’s more clear i was only writing to make the cut – it got to that point – and the harder i tried to make the cut, the harder it was to write. i wanted praise. i wanted to be a “good” writer, good at something. i was sacrificing my voice, something that came very natural, to form and organization and structure, something that didn’t.
the only thing i can compare it to is crack. writing became like being on crack. my focus was the high – hearing the professor read the first line of my paper – that one’s mine with heart beating fast, trying not to look obvious, i’m a good writer.

it wore me out and beat me down. now, i see that. writing to do it “right” was empty and, for that matter, a bloody sacrifice. i couldn’t get down to truth for overanalyzing and talking myself out of every sentence. everything i turned in was organized for the third or fourth time. each sentence flowed into the other in a beautifully forced way. it was obvious that i’d made sure of that.

to be honest, i don’t really remember anything i wrote in those classes. nothing stands out. nothing went deep. all of it just sits there on the surface of whatever i was really getting at – every word gliding laterally, floating.

all this has me thinking, is there really a right way to write? do we value truth over form? when form gets in the way of voice, do we put form aside?

it seems to me, years later looking back, that good writing comes when a person gets intimate with herself. good writing is about telling, finding and understanding one’s own condition, more about spirit and truth and getting down to that truth.

learning to write is more about figuring out yourself in such a way that you can – no, that you must – write well.

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