Sunday, July 8, 2012

Storytelling 101

A lot of times when I think about writing this blog, I'm astounded with my lack of creativity. As I near 200 posts, I think about how much I've written of already and it makes me wonder whether there's even anything more to say. There must come an end point in a writing spree, no?

Then I think about how I started writing. Not just writing like copying down letters and spelling out my name, but really writing. Learning to express myself in different ways, not just academically, but personally. I think about my high school freshman year journalism class.

Some of my favorite anecdotes of that class involve watching Newsies as part of the curriculum, or having my stomach growl in the middle of the class as I waited to be released for lunch. But I didn't only walk away with a greater love for Christian Bale and a schedule-specific diet.

I also walked away with a career path. And even more than that, a greater understanding of what I am capable of doing in every aspect of my life. Because that's what writing does - if you do it right, that is. It lets you peek into your mind to discover the little treasures that lie in there. Even when you can't find the words in conversation, or you can't even think of a concept in your own mind, your fingers have a way of doing the talking and bringing clarity.

It was when I met my high school mentor, Ms. Cummings, that I really discovered this.

Through years of elementary school and middle school English lessons, I'd been told a million things about how to write. First they just asked us to tell stories. Then they told us to structure them with introductions, body paragraphs and conclusions. Then they overcomplicated things by dissecting paragraphs into funnel introductions, topic sentences, evidence, analysis, conclusions, etc. etc. until we were practically crying out to have our individual voices returned to us.

I think I came into Ms. Cummings' class with a reputation that preceded me. She'd known and liked my sister when she was in high school, and after middle school when she and my dad were both picking up their kids in the parking lot, she got to know him too. The last one was me, and I'm pretty sure I made an impression.

Most of the kids in my journalism class were seniors who needed an easy elective. Little did they know that there was nothing easy about it, and perhaps they should've elected to take something more suited for them. At 14, I had 17 year olds asking me why I got A's on all the assignments when they barely scrounged up a B in the class.

To be honest, I didn't understand. It only became clear to me a few years later that maybe my ability to write was not just an act of favoritism, but an encouragement of what Ms. Cummings saw as my greatest strength.

Throughout high school I got higher and higher on the student newspaper. I ended up sharing the role of Editor-in-Chief in my senior year. It was during this time that I started considering what my real goals were.

At the time, my grandma assumed I was still a malleable teenager who could be persuaded into pursuing any sort of career with the promise of money. She would tell me, "Go into a government job," reminding me of the stability and the constant flow of cash.

But I wanted to work for love. So I thought a lot about what I would major in to make that happen.

Journalism was the obvious choice, Ms. Cummings would tell me. If I wanted to become a writer, I should go to a school with a top notch journalism program. But so few schools even offered journalism majors. I settled on applying to study English at about 85 percent of the schools I applied to.

When it came down to a final decision, though, it became even more clear to me that the colleges could see the same in me that Ms. Cummings did. Many of the schools where I applied to study English shunned me, but of the two I chose to pursue journalism at, I was a welcome candidate.

Still, I thought about what my options were. Would I be happy going into a journalism profession? Was it really right for me?

To those questions I haven't even found the answers, and I'm already nearing 20. What I do know, though, is that the place I've been brought to (via Ms. Cummings urging and pushing my own inhibitions aside) has allowed me to grow as a person. It keeps me interacting with people where an English degree would have had me hauled up with books 24/7 (I do that anyway when I can). It improves my writing by forcing me to push myself to lengths that an English student could never dream of reaching (ask my dad, he writes the same amount of text as I do in four times as long). And somehow, it makes me even better at expressing myself despite the confines of a journalistic writing style.

Thanks to a freshman year of being told I'd found my greatest skill, I've been able to hone that skill and make it into something different - and better - than it was before. Without that I wouldn't have gone to a good school, been given fascinating internship opportunities...or started writing this blog. And I don't think I'd feel comfortable giving up any of those life experiences.

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