Finding a voice

Replicated from my SheWrites blog, 31 January 2011.

I wrote stories all the time as a kid. They were usually fantasy, about girls with pretty names finding secret lands or unravelling hidden mysteries. I always felt as though my writing and reading habits were somewhat immature for my age, but I’d quietly plod along, churning out all sorts of stories (usually unfinished, however, but that’s another post…)

I recall my first year of high school at age 12 was incredibly difficult, as I’d gone from a very ‘alternative’ school into a Catholic girls’ school, and the transition was a struggle to say the least. I hated many of my classes, especially science, and I had few friends, finding it hard to relate to a group of girls who grew up in circumstances fairly removed from my own. I still had my stories, though, and was very excited at the prospect of those first English classes when we were asked to write a story as part of our assessment. This is my kind of thing, I thought! I excitedly wrote a story about my cat, hand-written, as word processing wasn’t the required norm back then, and because of the way I’d been taught to write I wrote in cursive script; it was messy, but I’d been taught that learning the form of the letters in their most beautiful way was more important, and that my writing would neaten up as I got older. Ms Kirkpatrick, a haggard, sour, ancient old biddy of an English teacher, who couldn’t even remember how to pronounce my name, reprimanded me harshly for that story. She was more concerned with the fact that I hadn’t ruled a margin, my writing didn’t adhere to the straight lines on the paper, and it was rather erratic. I don’t really remember what she said about the story itself but it completely shattered my confidence. I still wrote at home, and I faithfully kept the diary I’d begun at age 9 or 10, but it took until I was almost 17 to bring that faith in my writing back, thanks to a conversely wonderful English teacher who I will never forget. That too is for another post…

I found out today that I’ve been invited to write a review of a wonderful book by Kim Stagliano called ‘All I Can Handle’. I am so excited! I am yet to receive my copy, but it looks like an amazing book. It is about the author’s life bringing up three daughters with autism. I am excited not only because I find the topic most interesting, but also because I feel that this could signify my entry back into the literary world. I have been on the periphery for so long now, afraid to dip my toe in the pool of greatness, doing what the great Nelson Mandela once reminded us we do only too well: living small. My mum says this to me all the time, that I live beneath my potential, and although I know she is right I also dismiss her comments because she is my mum and everything she says is subjective.

In fact that leads me to another aspect of this discovery of a voice, a writing identity, and establishment of my place in the writing world. As she is a language teacher, I always gave my writing to my mum to read and was desperate for her feedback. It angered me that she would read my stories and then go on and on about how wonderful they were! She never gave me any constructive criticism, she would just gush about how well I wrote and what a fantastic story it was… oh, but she’d find at least half a dozen grammar and spelling or punctuation mistakes which she’d happily correct. But as for criticism of the structure, the tone, the characterisation, the syntax, no, those things were sacred; I was perfect and so was my writing. I knew this wasn’t right! But boy did I find it hard to deal with editorial interference years later… Is it still my writing if I’ve taken on board and implemented someone’s suggested changes? To what extent can someone influence my writing before it ceases to be mine? Little did I realise that no writing is mine; it was all there to begin with, I just discovered it.