Friday, October 10, 2014

My journey as a writer

As I sit in front of my computer, I’m trying to come up with ideas for a few pieces I am writing on rustic furniture. If you look around my apartment, my furniture is definitely not considered rustic. Used and worn, yes. Rustic—no. 

There would have been a time when I thought that writing three articles on rustic furniture would be beyond my skill level. I would have thought I wasn't smart enough or versed enough on the subject to create anything worth reading.

That was then….

When I started college, I was 17. I knew I loved to write and I loved to read so I took a creative writing class my freshman year and was slightly dismayed when my writing wasn't the best in the class. In fact, I wasn't even close.

I did however find a creative writing club through that class. I met with five other students and shared things we’d written. That writing club, the New Word Order (weren't we creative?!), was the first place I felt comfortable enough to share my writing with anyone. I finally felt like I fit in. Every week, rain or shine, I was there. Even if I was only one of three to show up. I never felt belittled. It was the beginning of me learning to accept my voice.

During that time I was majoring in English-Literature. I thoroughly enjoyed my classes. I loved reading the stories. But I hated interpreting and analyzing the works to death. I fully understand the importance of learning from other writers, but ripping stories to shreds took away the magic for me, and it wasn't something I felt passionate about. I realized I was stifling my voice. Instead of studying other writers and teaching people what other writers had to say, I wanted my voice to be heard.

As I transitioned from an English-Lit major to a journalism major, I started to feel like I’d found my place, but I was scared. I know now that a little fear is good. It pushes you to be better, and that’s what journalism did for me. Journalism really shoved me out of my comfort zone. I was forced to use my creativity by following strict rules. As a journalist you have to present facts, not opinion. There are grammatical and structure rules and you have to be willing to edit, rewrite and really dig in.

I did fine in my classes. I worked my way up to an editor on the college newspaper (a job I still remember with fondness) but I was never the teacher’s pet. I wasn't the star writer of the class and my work was rarely, if ever, picked to showcase in class. At the time I was frustrated. Why couldn't everyone like my work?

My first job after college was at the Standard Journal, a small paper in Rexburg, Idaho. If deciding to major in journalism was scary, starting my first day on the job was terrifying. I can still remember turning in my first article like it happened yesterday.

My editor, Joyce, called me to her desk and had me watch her as she fixed every single thing I’d done wrong. I was horrified. I was certain I had written a much better article than that. I went back to my desk in tears, certain I was a hack.

Day after day, article after article, she called me to her desk and showed me everything that needed to be edited. At first, I thought she was torturing me. I kept waiting to get fired. If I kept making so many mistakes, how could I ever be good writer?  Eventually, the number of edits my work needed decreased.  And then one day when she called my name, it was to tell me that I had written an excellent piece and that my article would kick off a series we were running.

This experience had a bigger impact on me than anything else I've ever done. I truly credit my first editor with any success I've had since. Once I really learned to follow the rules, I could play with them. I could start letting my voice be heard, and people would hear it.

Eventually I got married, had our first daughter and stopped working at that newspaper, but I continued to write. I filled notebooks and jump drives with articles, book ideas and stories. When I finally ventured into freelance work, I was terrified, once again, that I wouldn't be as good as I thought I was. And I’m probably not.

But I am good. It took me a long time to accept that I am a good writer.

It’s taken me even longer to feel comfortable saying that I’m a good writer. I still get rejected. I have clients who don’t like the way I write something and I get an ego slap-down, when I have things sent back to edit. But, I've come to realize that I’m human and sometimes my writing is going to stink. And I've also grown comfortable with the idea that not everyone is going to like my writing style. Heck, I don’t even like my writing sometimes.

When I start having doubts about the choices I've made, about my decision to keep pursuing my writing even when I didn't think anyone else cared or noticed, I stop. I look back at the freshman me, naive and unmolded, and I realize that this is what I am supposed to do. I may have been just a wanna-be-writer when I started college but now when anyone asks what I do, I say “I’m a writer,” and I am.

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