In proper form, I have stolen my title from Joan Didion, who stole it from George Orwell. I’m not claiming to be in the same league as either of those wonderful people, but what I am claiming is much simpler: I did it because I can.
For some reason, there is a voice in everyone’s head. For the most part, I’ve found that it depends on your major. Regardless, that voice is saying, “You can’t write. You suck and you probably shouldn’t even try. Here. Do this math problem or go draw a picture. Good job.”
If you can imagine a little pat on the head after hearing that, then you understand what I’m trying to talk about. So many people have this strangely innate fear in them that says writing is out of their grasp, and what’s worse is they listen to that fear. We live within the lovely confines of a language that grants us so much freedom that it scares us. What many people forget is that they already know so many words, they just hesitate to put them on paper, or they think that there is a “best” or “only” way to do it.
I have a simple exercise that I have done with high school and college students alike. Have pairs of students, with one student telling a funny story and the other student typing it as it’s told. It takes maybe 5 minutes, and it shows the storyteller what the story looks like on the page. Sometimes it takes seeing it on a page to let you know you can actually do it.
Working as a writing tutor for the last 4 years, my advice has gotten very simple. Putting words on paper or computer screen should not be intimidating. If anything it can be time-consuming, but you just have to be willing to tough it out. I see writing as a way of finding out what I’m thinking, what I see and what it means. Writing has been a way for many stories to become lasting as opposed to lost. Words can capture what we want to remember! My advice is this: if you can tell a story, you can surely write it down. You are your own personal stenographer!
I think the reason that so many believe they shouldn’t write is because they think there is some mystical dimension that separates a person from a writer; a lack of access to the writerly realm.
Apparently writers aren’t people?
The funny thing is that writers ARE people; they are just people who have a lot of emotions and spend a lot of hours writing them down or avoiding them. Writers are also people who listen to things, watch things, hear things and interact with the world. What I’m saying is that writers are people and people are writers. The space between people and writers is imaginary! Who knew?
Before I step gingerly from my soap-box and run away from the elitist writers trying to chase me, I just want to leave some final words of encouragement. As people, cultures, friends, groups, humans and livers of life, we all have stories to share. Some cultures and languages do not even have a written form, so let’s take advantage of ours! Everyone is capable of capturing their stories with words. It’s a way of saving, remembering, learning and sharing. Without stories, what are we but ghosts in a windy world?
Thanks for contributing, Scott. You’re right – if you can speak it, you can write it. Anybody else out there want to share something? We love hearing from you.