I write for many reasons, some of which you wouldn’t understand. But most of all, I write because it’s freeing.
Growing up, there wasn’t much I could do. My family was poor. We lived far away from the center of town for many years. There were too many mouths to feed. And I was a nerd.
Reading was my favorite sport. Can it be a sport? There was little else that interested me and I didn’t know how to draw.
So, when the moment came in third grade where the students were required to enter a writing contest as an assignment (is it really a contest if entry is mandatory?), I did what was expected of me. I wrote. The title of the story I wrote that year when I was eight escapes me. There might have been a clown in it. I’m really not sure.
What I am sure of, is that my teacher, Mrs. Moore, smiled when she read it to herself. I remember that smile like it was yesterday, when it was in fact, thirty one years ago.
For those of you that didn’t know Mrs. Moore, she was a rather stern teacher. She didn’t take education lightly. Once, she reprimanded me for scribbling out a wrong answer instead of erasing it. And then she instructed me to properly erase the blob of number two lead that I’d made all over my paper.
Mrs. Moore and I did not get along. I had a heavy hand back then and felt the need to make my pencil marks dark. Like ink well dark. So you can imagine how much time I spent erasing that blob of dark pencil mark that day. Perhaps she was preparing me for a career in desk work where only a single line was allowed to mark out an incorrect piece of information. Or, perhaps, she liked to see if she could make a poor little girl cry.
(If you’re reading this, Mrs. Moore, I just want to say I learned my lesson. Anything I write incorrectly gets one single strikethrough with the pencil or pen or computer keystroke. I still have my writer’s bump, but not a day goes by when I don’t think about you and the lessons you taught me that year.)
But the day I turned in my story and subsequently lost that school wide writing contest, I was in charge. I had crafted a lovely story written in solid print (I had yet to learn, much less master the art of cursive writing) that may or may not have been about a clown. And when she read the words, that stern teacher who was ever so fond of neatly written cursive writing and was adamantly against dark blobs of pencil lead, she smiled.
I believe that on that day, a part of my eight year old self internalized the power that comes with writing. Letters can be turned into words, which can be weaved into sentences and paragraphs, and stories. It doesn’t matter the medium used for weaving such words or if they’re written in print or cursive or Helvetica twenty-four point. What matters is that they’re written.
Was I looking for power that day? No. Not really. I simply wanted someone to read my story and find the humor in it that I’d found when I’d listened to the characters. Just that.
And that’s why I still write today. Because somewhere out there in this great big world, there’s an individual whose face hasn’t learned how to smile. Or there’s a kid whose heart is broken or a parent who really needs someone to understand him or her, if even for a minute. And those words…that clown…just might be what it takes to help a person through a difficult moment in life.
It just so happens that I believe it’s my job to write those words.
Vickie MIler, leads a chat on the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook page. She lives in Alaska with her large family.