I’ve been a writer since I was a kid. I remember making my own books using cardboard covered in wrapping paper, using string for binding. But even back then I was apprehensive about others reading my writing.
One day when I was maybe nine, my parents took me along on a visit to some of their friends. I brought my little handmade book and some other activities to keep myself entertained while the adults socialized. My book was accidentally left behind we returned home. When my parents’ friends returned it to me later, I saw they had written a note of praise on the last page of my book. I was inwardly proud, but a flush of embarrassment also lit my cheeks. I had written that story for myself. I didn’t think anyone would read it!
Over time, writing became something I did for others. It stopped being an outlet for my creativity, for my own pleasure. It became something I did for a grade or for approval. At some point, I started reading my words with a critical eye toward the quality of my work and the errors of my writing became all I could see. I read the stories I had written and thought of how juvenile and unoriginal they sounded. I also began to see writing stories as one more thing that set me apart from everyone else. Adults are always looking for the things that make them different because it makes them feel special, but when you’re an awkward pre-teen or teen, differences feel more like a liability than a gift.
Looking back now, I think about what it must have been like to come across my little cardboard-bound book. If I stumbled across a book like that today, it would probably make my day to see the raw creativity and care put into it. (Do children even come up with their own crafts like that anymore?) I wish that I could see my writing now with that kind of delight. I wish that I could approach it as a precious outpouring of my individual creativity that should be treasured and encouraged.
It’s easy to feel that my voice has no place in the world. It’s easy to think that everything I have to say has been said before, and probably better. That may be true. But I think about that little girl, binding her own books with yarn and cardboard, and I think, “How dare you stop her?”
So I’m going to start writing again. It may not seem good enough. It may not be the most original content ever put to (digital) paper. But I’m going to do my best to look at myself with compassion, to nurture that little girl inside me that wants to create.