and now for something completely different...

by kellybakes in

Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to write. This may sound strange coming from someone with two English degrees, but it's the truth. I have no idea how it happened. What I do know is that this weekend I attended a seminar on writing that made me realize that I had lost my voice. Somewhere between SATs and MLA, I forgot what it meant to write with my senses and speak from the soul.

I took creative writing classes in college. I even traveled to Europe for the sole purpose of writing poetry (who was I kidding? I wanted to go to Europe). Being around poets made me think I was a bad writer. What I should have realized was that I was just bad at poetry. Truthfully, I was out of practice. I wrote stories all my life. Growing up, I monologued in front of the bathroom mirror for hours, talking to my imaginary audience as if I were Oprah. From the time I learned to make letters, I spent hours inventing stories and making books for my mom. In middle school, I wrote for fun. I took on personalities in poems, writing about things I had never experienced. I had wit. I was charming. I wrote for my own enjoyment. I was free.

Something happened when I got to high school. I started caring what other people thought of me. I had always been fearlessly myself--never afraid to be the only girl in the second grade who wore a Blossom hat or who showed up on Halloween dressed up as a giant Hershey kiss. Once I hit the 9th grade, I fought every urge to stand out or be carefree, weighing the social consequences of each decision before making any. Most dangerously, I stopped writing for myself. My once-imaginative diary became a chronicle of social interactions, gossip and endless lists of my diet and exercises. I wrote about what everyone else deemed important. I learned what my teachers wanted in an essay and delivered. I made my once-vibrant writing bland by subscribing to the formulaic methods my English teachers used. I knew how to write well even before any teacher had ever required me to use Focus Correction Areas in a paper. I spent too much care re-reading my papers looking to check off requirements when I should have been reading to make sure I could hear myself in my writing.

Fast forward to present. Well, maybe this morning. I sat in front of Joe Yonan of The Washington Post's Food and Travel section talking about losing my voice. I didn't develop laryngitis; I simply realized that none of my blog posts actually sound like me. I've spent the past 11 years [yikes, I feel old!] without any semblance of myself in anything I write. I've forgotten how to even go about writing fiction. When I was writing my capstone for graduate school, I was five pages into my writing before I stopped cringing every time I used the personal "I" in my paper. That moment held much bigger significance than moving beyond what I had been trained not to do stylistically. It symbolized how I had completely taken myself out of everything I had written for over a decade. I was shocked. Being that this is so recent, I'm still processing it. I can tell you that my immediate thought is: write. write. write. I need to write. I want to hear my own voice in my writing again, even if it's the softest whisper hiding behind introductory paragraphs, clauses and 1" margins.