• Mary Finch

Why I Am Not a Writer.

In college, when my English class would do the first day of class tango of "State your name and why you are an English major," all the writer concentration students would share how they used to make up their own bed time stories and wrote their first novel in high school.

That was not me.

Despite my penchant for dramatic re-enactments of our assigned class readings, most of my early writing experiences were fraught with tears. I procrastinated assignments only for my parents and I to be staring at my work with tears and frustration as we tried to mold it into something acceptable.

Then the weirdest thing happened.

Once I hit high school, people started to tell me that I was talented and was such a good writer. I felt mostly confused. But, then it kept happening through college.

One time I cranked out a paper the night before on a book I had hardly read, and the professor said it was the best college paper he had ever received. Through Twitter, I got a gig as an (unpaid) writer for an online Shakespeare magazine. I was nominated to give a speech at my baccalaureate ceremony and strangers asked me for a copy of my remarks. People really liked my writing.

After graduating, I felt like Mr. Incredible after he got home from a boring day at work and the tricycle kid stared at him.

"What are you waiting for?" I ask my parents, friends, and writing instructors.

"I dunno... something AMAZING I guess."

I felt terrible that I had all these people telling me I was such a good writer and most of the time I had nothing to say. No story to share or soap box to stand on. Just a spotlight and people telling me I had a gift.

But it's not a gift. I do believe that some people are born with natural affinities, but I don't think writing is one of mine. Rather, some cocktail of a love of reading and a need to be a high achiever and the privilege to have parents who helped with middle school writing assignments gave me the chance to learn how to write. I remember painstakingly checking each of my transitions between paragraphs in high school. I remember reading papers backwards word by word to catch spelling mistakes. I remember challenging myself to incorporate the templates from our Art of Styling Sentences workbook to my papers.

Because this skill was learned, I have found myself a very successful teacher and editor. I know first hand that writing is a skill that can be learned, and I can remember the lessons and moments that transformed my writing. (Someone finally telling me where commas go was definitely one of them.) And because I remember those things and also remember crying over a keyboard in seventh grade, I can help others with grace, patience, and clarity.

Why aren't I a writer? Because I'm not. Ask me to write something longer than a blog post without an assignment brief and I'll freeze. But hand me a document and ask me to check for parallel structure? To think about organization and transitions? To give the grammar and spelling a once over? Just thinking about that makes me excited to get to work.

So let's get to work.

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