Writing Without Fear

Up until college I had been homeschooled my whole life. It wasn’t until I reached high school age that it became very apparent to me that I couldn’t relate to the social struggles of my peers. Whether at soccer practice or in youth group, everyone was either complaining about their teachers, gossiping about their fellow students, or making plans for prom. When I didn’t chime in on their conversation they’d turn to me, expecting me to join in. That’s when I had to explain to them, “I’m homeschooled.” Typically, they’d nod their heads and say “Oh” before continuing their conversation without me. I had always hated telling people about my education, mainly because of all the stereotypes that came with it, like: no friends, no social skills, prom at home with my brother, etc… I distinctly remember a time when I was at church, waiting in the lobby with the kids in my youth group. There was a girl going on about how homeschoolers are “so weird” and “have no social life,” that’s when my I piped up and said that I was homeschooled. The look on her face was pure shock, she even argued with me and said that “there’s no way you’re homeschooled, you’re too normal!”

I used to hate the fact that I was homeschooled, because many of my peers caused me to believe that my education was inferior to theirs. I often felt as though I wasn’t as smart as my public-school friends. Though I was never bullied for it, I noticed that people looked at me differently once they knew. Most people assumed that I couldn’t relate to their academic struggles while, in fact, I could in many ways. It was their social problems that were foreign to me. After all, I had no teachers to hate, unless you want to count the guy on the computer that taught me algebra. It took me a long time to realize that just because the location of my education was different, didn’t mean that my subject matter was any easier than theirs.

Being at home allowed me to focus on my education while avoiding all the drama and unneeded stress that my friends went through. I was also able to focus on my passion for writing. As a child, I was an avid reader. The book that got me hooked was Maximum Ride by James Patterson. After I finished that book, I began reading every type of young adult fiction I could find. Every time I came home with a new book, I would lock myself in my room and read for hours, typically finishing an average sized book in a day or two. I can’t remember when I realized it, but I knew that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. As I grew older, I carried with me the idea of wanting to be a writer, but I continued to carry with me the fear that I wasn’t smart enough thanks to being homeschooled.

After I graduated high school, I took a year off school to decide whether college was for me. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and that I wanted to go to college to improve my writing, but I still carried those childhood doubts. Though, one day, that all changed. I decided to put aside my self-doubt, get rid of my feelings of inadequacy, and prove to myself that I am smart enough. I am now the first in my family to obtain an associate degree, and it’s safe to say that my days of feeling inferior are far gone. 

Utter Your Words

During the spring semester of 2018, I enrolled in Creating the Poem with Dr. Iliana Rocha here at the University of Central Oklahoma.  Before entering the classroom, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew nothing of poetry besides the few guidelines to some forms covered in half of a week’s span while I was in high school.  I honestly walked in the classroom on the first day thinking, This should be simple.  Roses are red. Violets are blue.  I couldn’t have been any more mistaken.

Dr. Rocha explained that we students would be creating and compiling a chapbook of our own for the semester.  What the hell is a chapbook? I thought to myself.  Normally, I’m not one to freak out when it comes to a required page count either, but when she told us the final chapbook portfolio was to be 20-25 pages, my brain went into panic mode.  I’m screwed.  Why did I do this to myself?  I’m good for one world-changing poem, if that.

But then, she made each student pull out a piece of blank paper and number the paper 1 to 13.  She told us to list something similar to the following: the street you grew up on, your favorite beverage, a cartoon character you remember from your childhood, an item of clothing, a dream destination, etc.  On another blank sheet of paper we were instructed to write, on line number one, a line of poetry using one of our 13 facts. Next, the person to the right, on line two, would continue the poem with another one of their 13 facts.  Together, the class created (for the most part) a cohesive and sentimental poem about their lives. (One line about an exploding toilet lightened the mood though). I soon began to think the class wouldn’t be that bad.

Until I heard the first poems about dying animals, war in Afghanistan from the eyes of a soldier, and growing up in a neglectful home as a child slightly older than a toddler.  I can’t write about red roses and blue violets? One evening, while in class, Dr. Rocha explained and discussed with us a term called the unutterable. Some students nodded their heads in understanding while I sat imagining how I must look like an animated cartoon character with the three bouncing question marks floating above my head.  As the discussion progressed, I came to understand that the unutterable was any raw emotion or uncomfortable writing from any given writer. Also, it’s simply subjective. The readers’ catharsis is based upon individual and personal experience. Who wants to talk about poop (Chen Chen) or menstrual cycles (Rupi Kaur)?  Such subjects that can bring out a quick shiver or shudder is successful in creating the unutterable.

The very discussion and encouragement from Dr. Rocha and my peers opened up a new pathway for my writing.  Just after a few months in the class, I was able to write about an assault that occurred in my youth that I never thought I would be able to verbally express to anyone. Poetry, and its mechanics, allowed me to write to everyone and no one in particular. The fact that Dr. Rocha explained to us that poetry is purely subjective encouraged me to write to other victims solely for my extended support and encouragement.  Roses aren’t always red and the violets I see are broken—petals forever flowing in the Oklahoma breeze.

Let the Music Speak

Music has always been a big part of my life. It’s a way that I express myself when I can’t find my own words to: I can easily find a song to fit my mood or situation to express my thoughts and feelings.

Around late high school, I decided that I wanted to be a writer and began writing horrible fan fiction in my free time. I was struggling to write  an ending for one of the stories I was working on until I came across a song on YouTube that expressed the pain and longing I wanted to portray between the two main characters. I listened to that song on repeat, my fingers tapping the keys of my laptop until all the words left me and I had the perfect ending. Well, it was perfect until editing started.

I had let my two favorite things come together, and I never knew why I hadn’t tried to find inspiration this way before. I felt I had opened the floodgates, and every song that I came across had the potential to be a new piece. Some songs would sink their teeth into me and wouldn’t let go until I wrote down the idea it had spurred. I would put the song on repeat, and type as fast as I could, letting the words flow from my fingertips.

One of the best things about using music for inspiration is that it is constantly changing, and there is so much out there for me to discover. When I’m struggling with a piece, whether it’s from writer’s block or that the words just aren’t sounding right, I take a break and turn to music; waiting for the lyrics to speak to me. Sometimes the inspiration comes from a song I hear on the radio while driving, other times it comes from a shuffled song from my Weekly Discovery or Release Radar playlists curated by Spotify. I wait until a song finally speaks to me. At first it’s quiet, planting an idea in my head for a story. As the song builds, its hold on me builds as well, taking complete control and making my finger itch to release the story building inside me. With a song on repeat for hours, I sit with my fingers clicking across the keyboard until there are no more words waiting to escape. I’ll listen to the song once more, making sure that every last drop of inspiration is soaked up.

Now when I’m having a particularly hard time with writing, whether it be picking up an already started work or beginning a new one, I’ll sit for hours and listen to music on shuffle. I’ll listen for something that speaks to me and my project. When I struggle to find something to fit a particular project, I’ll take a break from it altogether and start a completely new project.

Music speaks to me, so maybe next time your struggling with a story, scene, or character, turn on some music and let it speak to you.

Throw Away Your Television

That day when our minds roam free,

We began to live without agenda.

That beautiful release for you and me,

We can all flourish in beautiful hacienda.

Where we do not live by another decree,

And we can relax in peace.

Outgrow our nervous nature,

And we will find peace of mind,

As far as can be seen

Not a worry is in sight,

And not one involuntary notion,

Not a single distraction from divine delight.”

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