Friday, June 8, 2012

My Biggest Secret...

When I was 12, I received a school assignment that changed my life. It was simple enough: write an informative essay or short-story. Let’s see—write an essay. Write a short-story. Essay. Short-story…well, that’s a no-brainer.
So, I wrote the short-story and turned it in, certain that I would get a good grade. What I actually got was mandatory weekly sessions with the school psychologist—and a deep-seated complex that probably altered the course of my life.
See… I’ve always had a vivid imagination. I had an imaginary friend until I was… well, how old I was when I finally gave her up it totally irrelevant, but the point is that my brain is constantly making up stories, and when I was about 10 or so, I started writing them down.  I never thought much about it one way or the other until that fated short story assignment landed me in therapy for a year and a half. Suddenly, writing—my writing—was a bad thing. And not just my writing… my thoughts and feelings were suspect. The way I viewed the world was wrong.
When high school rolled around, I found out that I could actually take a creative writing class. You mean that there is an entire class, devoted to making stuff up?? Seriously? My excitement lasted for a grand total of 3.5 seconds. Up until I remembered that my writing got me into trouble. The kind of trouble that consisted of 50-minute hours and being asked, “how do you feel about that?” I spent my entire high school career avoiding all forms of structured creative writing. I perfected The Art of the Essay. I read enough Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky to make my eyes bleed… but I continued to write in secret. I hid notebooks filled with pages of my ramblings, and then had panic attacks when I forgot where I put them. I turned into some kind of rabid animal when someone said, “what are you writing?” And when someone was brave or stupid enough to say, “can I read it?” I said no, but not just no… I said absolutely, positively, over my dead rotting corpse—NO.
College came, and I remembered staring longingly at the CRW course list… I wanted very badly to take them. But taking those classes meant putting myself out there. Allowing others to read my work. Allowing others to pass judgment on what I wrote, and ultimately, pass judgment on me. There was no way that such a thing could ever be positive for me—not with the way I saw things. Not with the way others viewed my work.
I took Family Studies instead. I fell in love with psychology and the writing faded for me a bit. I put it away and focused on becoming a productive member of society.  I got married and had a baby. I grew up. Then I received another assignment: Write your life history.
Okay. I can do that. It’s based on fact, no imagination required. Nothing that could get me into trouble. Perfectly safe. I turned in my paper and that was that…
And then my professor said she wanted to speak with me. In her office. In Private. Holy shit. All I could think was that there was a 72-hour bed hold in my future at the county annex and I was still breastfeeding… not ideal.
Against my better judgment, I kept the meeting, ready to defend whatever it was that she found so off-putting about my writing. I sat in her office, stomach twisted in knots and sure enough, there it was--my paper. Covered in notes she’d written in the margins. Undoubtedly marking the place she found most upsetting. I waited for the white coats to jump out of her filing cabinet and take me away. And then she said something I’ll never forget:
“Have you ever thought of pursuing writing as a career?”
I stared at her like  snakes where falling out of her mouth but I shook my head no. No, I had not.
She gave me my paper and said, “Well, you should.” And then she gave me a letter of recommendation for a creative writing scholarship.
I took both and quickly left her office, unsure of what had just happened… had she actually suggested that my writing was good? I spent the next few days in a confused stupor. As impossible as it seemed, judgment had been passed and it had been favorable.
… I wish I could say that that one teacher’s praise had been enough to erase years of self-conditioning but it wasn’t. I threw the letter away and hid the paper in a box under my bed. But… every once in a while I took it out and read it. Read the notes of praise she’d written in the margins. Read the words I’d written about my life and I felt good. Good enough to start writing again. It took another ten years or so for me to find the courage to take my first creative writing class and a little while longer to finally believe that there was never anything wrong with the way I think. Nothing wrong with the things I feel. And nothing wrong with what I choose to put on paper.

got a plot problem? let me hear it:


  1. This is POWERFUL, Maegan! Just pure-d powerful. Thank you so, so much for sharing.

  2. thanks for reading, Les--you're positive thoughts mean the world to me!

  3. How does one follow up after a comment like Les wrote? Well, ditto...

  4. My son had a similar experience--twice actually! He wrote a short story about some kids going postal at his middle school, in which he was the hero who saved the day. (This was around the time of the incident at Columbine, if I remember rightly.) Pretty high body count. Yeah. Counselor time... But do they think these kids don't go to movies, play video games, and watch the news? Hmm.

    Anyway, I really wanted to thank you for the plot suggestion you gave me re: having my protag's boyfriend give her a knife. It's working out really well. The plot doctor is in!! :)

    So glad you found the courage to pick up the pen again! And thanks for sharing your experience. Keep the blog posts coming.

    Best regards, Linda