Invariably, during every class I taught about personal writing, someone would ask this question, or a variation of the same. Many had a difficult time seeing themselves writing even one page, let alone two or more on a daily basis for any length of time into the future. The thought alone panicked them and froze them up like deer caught in the headlights. There are several reasons this happens and I’m going to discuss a few of them today, hopefully calming these distressed waters a bit. Although we each carry our own individual (and perhaps, peculiar) resistance level, there are some that are experienced by the majority.
One of the most familiar is the one we dragged with us from childhood, when we learned how to write. Learning how to write is actually very different from simply writing. Back in second and third grade, we were being taught the rules of writing, how to form letters, then words, then how to put the words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, and so on. And we got stern reprimands when we didn’t do it correctly. Reprimands and all those red correction marks on the attempts we were making. In that long drawn out process, we learned something else. That what we wrote wasn’t anywhere near as important as how we wrote it.
That is as it should be, because that is what the learning process is all about. That repetitive contact with the material until we can do it correctly, with ease, and without a lot of thought process, right? I would wager a great deal of money that few, if any, ever get through that process without some amount of dis-ease about their ability to do it correctly. There are way too many rules, with accompanying exceptions, to get it down perfectly (yes, one or two might, but they are rare and have other problems, like neurosis). So, although we eventually do learn how to write, we are seldom comfortable doing it. And that doesn’t even begin to address the issue of what to write.
Stored, inside each of us, is the memory of each and every moment of our existence. And it stands to reason, that amidst those memories we carry, are the reprimands and red correction marks we received during our childhood learning process. Those are very real scars on our emotional landscapes, scars that will resist when, years later, we attempt to form words into sentences and then place them properly into paragraphs, and so on.
But, here’s the kicker. Remember, I told you there are no rules. That goes doubly on this one. If you choose to do so, you may never write in sentences at all, use dashes, ellipses (…), avoid capitol letters, punctuation marks, whatever you need to do to get on the page. Because, once you are there, you will begin to remember what you did learn back there in childhood. You will begin to remember, and even to use it. And guess what? There are no red correction marks, unless you want them and do them yourself, and why would you?
There are tools that can and will help you fill in the gaps of what you remember, from those school years, and what you may have forgotten. We are talking about personal writing here, not public expression. Because it is personal, therefore done for ones own personal reasons, it doesn’t have to prescribe itself to anyone else’s idea of how it should be done. Given some time and a bit of effort, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that you remember far more than you imagined. You may, or may not, eventually want to share what you are doing. That is your choice, and depending on how much you really want to share, you can then take the time to do some refreshing on those hard learned lessons from second and third grade.
There is only one guarantee in this process of personal writing. The moment you begin, you will start learning. But you learn at your own rate of speed, and get the freedom to choose what it is you want to learn about. The dialogue you open with yourself is possibly the most important one you will ever have. Don’t worry about doing it wrong, you probably will, and learn from that experience. However, no one will ever know unless you spill red ink on your own person. One very good way to begin is to write about all the reasons you shouldn’t be doing this in the first place. That can be a delicious secret you don’t have to share with another living soul, and I would hope that some of it makes you smile as you heal all those other red correction marks you may have gotten.
“But, what do I say,” you ask? Anything and everything. The choices are endless and thus, overwhelming when you first begin. Pick a place, any place. Describe your third grade teacher, how her glasses were forever sliding down her nose so that she had to look over the tops of them. How he always smelled a bit like the cigarettes he had in the teacher’s lounge at lunch time. How hard you struggled to figure out how to diagram a sentence and you still, as an adult, can’t understand why you had to do such a thing. This is all about you, and that might be what holds you back more than anything else.
When someone says that they just couldn’t imagine writing about themselves on a daily basis, what that person might be saying is that they are just an ordinary individual and that’s pretty dull stuff, so why bother? We do it because ordinary people often do extraordinary things. We might not think of them as extraordinary, but to someone who has never done them, that’s exactly what they are. I am constantly amazed, not only by the things I get myself into, but all the things that others do and never see as outside of that definition of ordinary.
I have a dear friend who is an expert seamstress. I’ve watched her whip up a birthday gift in a matter of hours, and then be surprised at the admiration in which I spoke of that singular accomplishment. How I admired and envied her skill and focus. She, in turn, once saw my skill with words as something totally beyond her own capabilities. Yet, this past weekend, she attended a workshop on learning how to publish the poems she has begun to pen. Granted, sewing machines still slump in fatigue when I pass them, but I do know where to go when my clothes need a tuck or two.
Our ordinary worlds, are only ordinary to us. They are ordinary because they are familiar. We automatically assume that anything that is ordinary is not noteworthy. What can, and will, make them noteworthy is someone who takes the time to make the notes. It makes no difference if those notes have no proper punctuation, or are filled with dashes instead of periods. They are notes and worthy of any time and attention we bring to them.