When I was eleven years old, I received the most amazing gift, my first diary. I was enchanted by a key that I wore around my neck, threaded with a red ribbon retrieved from another Christmas gift.
I felt empowered by being able to have secret thoughts that I could lock away. Writing in my diary became a nightly ritual. Not that I had much to say, but protocol required that I begin each entry with the words, ‘Dear Diary.’
From the first writing I did on the blank page, I spilled my guts. Though young, somehow I knew that the possibility of a ‘break-in’ should be considered. Although the truth resonated in each line, I was smart enough to disguise the subject of my disdain. This proved to be a prudent idea when my mother used a bobby pin to snap open the cover. I had wisely not addressed her by the title that rattled around in my head, referring to her as a witch. Instead of the thrashing I would have received had my spelling been altered by one letter, I was given a lecture about respecting my elders.
What about respect for privacy, I wanted to shout, but was smart enough to keep my mouth shut.
I never wrote another word in my precious diary.
When I got to high school, even without any practice, I started scoring near- perfect marks in English classes. This was particularly helpful for my grade average, as I scored miserably in the sciences.
We didn’t have a television until I was a teenager, and as a result, I had become a voracious reader. That early exposure to books and libraries was ingrained in my early life, and has stayed with me since.
I went through a stage in my twenties when I was convinced that I could write a Harlequin romance novel. It seemed as if every book was a mirror image of the one I read before. There was a formula that was obvious. As I soon found out, the discipline of writing was much more difficult than reading. My first novel stayed dormant in my brain, but I still remember I named the main characters Damian and Jessica.
In my thirties, quite by accident, I discovered my ability to write business correspondence that was succinct, yet never resembled form letters. Colleagues would ask for my help, and what they struggled with, I knocked off in a matter of minutes.
Finally, I found something I was praised for, but I had no confidence in what other people referred to as my gift. In an effort to test myself and expand my skill set, I began to take a series of Creative Writing courses.
I was comfortable with essay writing, but fiction and dialogue seemed beyond my grasp. I didn’t even know what a dialogue tag was, thinking, but not voicing a question to the instructor; is that some kind of license, like a dog tag?
Like most learned skills, practice makes perfect. While I could never aspire to perfection, I thought I was pretty decent at this writing game. I have been writing ever since.
Quite by accident, I discovered a basic truth. In order to be convincing or persuasive, I had to become the character I was writing about in fiction. I crawl into their head space, sometimes examining life experiences that formed the personality, the attitudes and prejudices that brought that character to my bank page.
If I am writing an essay, I have to believe every single word I drop on the page. Without this ingredient, my writing smacks of phoniness and insincerity. Satire is my private amusement. I take a subject that is sensitive, and one in which way I have a strong opinion, then I become my own protagonist, arguing against my real-life point of view. The more outrageous, the more fun I have typing or scribbling my words on scraps of paper.
I’ve learned to write naked, not literally---I’d frighten the mailman---but I need to bare all. If a stranger walked into my house and found my journal on my desk, there would be no lock or key. My writing is and remains, an open book, and represents the deepest level of honesty that I can find.