“Try to say it straight, unless some unspeakable lyricism
absolutely compels you, insists, otherwise.”
–Rick Bass, "When To Keep It Simple" from The Writer’s Notebook.
When I was sixteen and read Orwell and Steinbeck because I had to. I wrote about them because I had to–a duty that seemed like such a chore now sounds like a dream. A mindless change of heart altered my connection to reading and creating literature, and when I was seventeen, I started writing for my school’s newspaper.
Whether it was for an elective credit or wanting to leave behind the geekiest of legacies at my high schools, I can’t quite remember. But I do remember feeling an obligation to the written word, yet hating it at the same time. I’d cover school plays, basketball games, and other things that I was indifferent toward. These pieces that graced the grey and black newspaper pages were short, simple, and stale, yet reaped the grades I supposedly sought. Whenever I’d mix in the vocabulary that I’d accumulated from bits of books and my word-of-the-day app, I’d receive my drafts the next day covered in a swarm of red x’s. I arrived at the sad realization that I couldn’t make basketball beautiful or make a recap of a school play riveting, at least not in that class.
After graduating from high school and closing the four-year chapter of my life, I followed through with journalism for another year. I felt like I had something to prove–maybe to myself, maybe to the teacher that ripped apart my papers and my self-esteem, or maybe to anyone who had ever picked up a newspaper. To this very day, I still don’t know. I somehow survived the reporting classes, but my words were torn between the brevity that is journalism and the poetry that is everything else. After I was told that my language was “too flowery” for an article, or having my pieces edited down to half the length, I underwent another change of heart, a more mindful one this time.
Upon escaping, I employed French wisdom and created “l’art pour l’art,” or “art for art’s sake.” I made the time that I had owed to myself for so long to write what I truly wanted. Word counts, page lengths, and formats didn’t exist in this world that had unfolded around me in every direction. At nineteen, written experiments were my summer vacation. I was Dexter in the language laboratory of my mind. And it all felt so right.
Though I’ve knowingly contradicted Rick Bass’ advice in four paragraphs, I can call a truce with it in one. Finding one’s own voice is a journey that never fully ends for a writer. I’ve learned to stop dancing around essays wearing tap shoes made of long words and unfinished thoughts; I’ve traded them for hiking boots to trek to the peak of an idea, but still stopping for scenic views along the way.
—story by KATIE SCHULTZ