In school, I didn’t even try. Being an English major ensured that I read at least one book a month, if not more; add to that a library job and my compulsive need to read at least four books at a time, and the question became how could I not read? In my world, words aren’t so much a luxury as they are a necessity.Writing them, however, is a different story.
I’ve always struggled to write. It doesn’t matter if it’s for school or for pleasure; whenever I put fingers to keys, I lock up. In high school, I spent hours writing five-paragraph essays, convinced that they had to be perfect before I wrote one word. I devoted whole days to single poems and ditched stories before I even started because I knew they’d require too much effort and I was scared to commit to big projects. The only exception to the rule was fanfiction, which I wrote, well, fanatically. But even that was cause for despair; the longest piece I’d written was 5,000 words — a hiccup compared to the 250k monsters the rest of the internet churned out. It didn’t matter that I was only sixteen, that I had the rest of my life to grow and to write; my frequent battles with writer’s block and truncated stories seemed to point to one thing: my inadequacy as a writer.
But even though I struggled, I still wrote. I spent days and hours crafting stories, daydreamed in the shower, plotted and replotted difficult storylines. Sure it was hard, but in high school, I genuinely loved to write.
The summer before I started college, I became convinced that leaving home would kill my words. I had a host of reasons as to why (I seemed particularly concerned that showers would cease to be productive plotting times due to the fear of someone walking in on me since the bathroom doors didn’t lock), but the bottom line is, I was scared. I was scared I would lose my talent.
Obviously, I didn’t. I actually improved it — immensely — and won a few contests along the way. So college didn’t kill my words.
But at the same time, it kind of did.
Deadlines are nice because they force me to write. Good grades are even better, because they reward my hard work. But they can also be pitfalls for a perfectionist like me. Once I got to college, my high school “writer’s block” paled in comparison to the dread that loomed over me whenever I wrote a research paper. Every word became a measure of my self-worth, and if a sentence didn’t sound right, I spent hours perfecting it. Already a champion procrastinator, I began putting off my papers until the last minute so I’d spend less time agonizing over them. One particularly awful weekend, I clocked 30 hours on a single assignment — a ten-page memoir I’d put off because it was getting workshopped and I was terrified of failing in front of my peers.
I always managed to finish — and I always pulled straight A’s — but somewhere between freshman and senior year, something happened. I still read, and I still called myself a writer, still took creative writing classes and entered contests and submitted to magazines, but writing had become a chore. I didn’t love it. I put pen to the page because I felt obligated to do it, because writing was something I professed to love, and because yeah, I was pretty good at it. Really, though, I was writing for grades. Or awards. Or praise. I had no internal drive or devotion. The only reason I wrote was because I had deadlines; the only reason I pushed myself was because I wanted A’s.
The closer graduation got, the more fearful I became. I’d learned to curb the writer’s block, but what would I do without assignments? without papers? without grades? I’d spent the past eleven years defining myself as a writer, but what would happen after I walked across that stage? By the end of the semester, I’d concluded that while coming to college hadn’t killed my talent, leaving it certainly would.
So I did the only thing I could do.
It’s been thirty days since I graduated, and I’ve written every day. Nothing overly creative — just journals and letters and blog posts — but over time, those add up. In the past four weeks, I’ve written 46 pages of letters, 5 blog posts, and 30 pages of journal entries, in addition to a handful of emails and sketches. For a girl who could barely string two words together at the end of last semester, that’s quite the accomplishment.
To be honest, I’m kind of amazed.
No, all my problems haven’t gone away. I still beat myself up for procrastinating, and I’ve definitely got lingering self-esteem issues, but for the most part? I’m writing. Just writing. Not worrying about success or failure, not agonizing over papers or grades. I’m writing for the love of it, for the feel of the pen on the page, and it feels good. It feels natural. I’m doing what I’m meant to do. So if it took falling out of love to realize how much writing means to me, then I’m grateful. Writing is hard, but it makes life meaningful. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.