“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
~ Maya Angelou
Between writing from the heart, writing what’s on my mind, dreaming about writing, writing to be heard, writing writing writing writing; having an idea I want to pursue and not being near my computer or smart phone, nor pen and paper, and being set upon by madness until I can write down the idea…. that is the greatest agony for writers, truly. “Bearing the untold story” that Dr. Angelou talks about is why I started my blog.
Now, the reasons why writers hold those stories are as different as why we ultimately decide to tell those stories. My reasons are pretty straightforward: I wanted another way to connect to the world. I wanted to share my experiences as a kind of salve to anyone thinking they were alone because of certain feelings or circumstances (or was it the other way ’round?); and, I wanted to evoke the “me too!” reaction that always brings me joy when I am gifted with it.
I’ve learned certain things about myself, and my writing, over the last year and a half. Writing (nearly) every day will do that to you. So will attending a writing conference or retreat. And it’s a mixed bag, some good observations as well as some not-so-pretty; and some that were difficult to admit, and others that surprised me.
In no particular order, what I’ve learned about myself through writing:
…as in speaking, I’m long-winded.
…I probably use the em-dash (—) far too often.
…I have a strong voice.
…I have a need to dwell on the positive.
…I can turn almost anything on its end and make it funny.
…my favorite comments from readers are the ones where they tell me they felt as though we just finished having coffee, or wine, over conversation in person.
…that nearly every one of my blog entries is actually a personal essay.
…that I will never write like Nora Ephron.
…that personal essays are a genre that doesn’t enjoy the same cache as novels, or poetry, or short stories. But it should. Because, NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON!
“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ~ Nora Ephron
A personal essay, as near as I can explain it, is about a specific point in time in the writer’s life that illustrates a timeless idea or point to the reader. Typically written in first person (“I”), the writer is describing a personal experience, examining it, and sharing their observations about the experience in terms to relate to you, the reader.
That said, it almost seems as though essays would be dry things, and not a very interesting way to spend time reading, let alone writing. But I disagree! Author Ariel Levy says, “…writing an essay is like catching a wave…crafting a piece of writing around an idea you think is worthwhile — an idea you suspect is an insight — requires real audacity. It is an act of daring.”
Wow. I’m audacious and daring! If I think too much on that, though, I get a little queasy, so let’s go somewhere else…
It is, indeed, like catching a wave when an idea comes along. It’s not as though it taps you on the shoulder and waits around. Sometimes it seems as though it’s more like a ticker tape running through my head at the bottom of the screen of other more prominent thoughts, ideas, to-do lists, and images. Once in a while, one of the “ticks” will catch my full attention as it enters my internal screen view, and everything else suddenly switches to the background as I focus on that tidbit of information. If I’m lucky, it turns out to be fodder for an entire column — or as I’m beginning to think of them, an essay.
Occasionally, it turns out there wasn’t really anything there, but I’ll file the idea away (in writing, because heaven knows I can’t remember a damn thing unless I write it down). It might turn into something more substantial later.
Writing these weekly essays has been a means for me to get ideas down; the ideas I want to share. It’s also allowed me to play with them, try different things, and work in different forms. All of this experimentation has led me to realizing the list at the beginning. A list of some of my strengths and some of my weaknesses. This, in turn, gives me yet another list of things to work on.
But most importantly — at this time, anyway — it allows me to see not only what I’ve done right, but also how far I’ve come. Taking stock like this lets me see myself from a different angle…. and who doesn’t need that once in a while?
It’s my way of conducting a writing reality check.
Perhaps that is why I write, whether it’s essays, or stories; fiction or not. I’m conducting a reality check for myself: is this or that idea common? Is this storyline interesting enough to share? Does anybody want to read any of it? Wait, what do you mean I’ll never write like Nora Ephron?
As time continues to tick along the continuum, I certainly hope I continue to evolve and that my writing does, too. I suppose if it stops, then it’s time to move on to something else. But I’m bearing a lot of untold stories, so I think it’s safe to say I’ll be writing for a while.
Until next Friday, Friends. Cheers!