on creativity, part 2: wordsmithing

As promised, here’s the next part of my “creative journey” story. Turns out I have quite a bit to say, so today’s post will focus on my writing, followed tomorrow by photography, and then, who knows?

Growing up, I never felt like I had any creativity. I can’t sing (trust me when I say this: although I love it, it’s a pleasure I try to limit to my time alone in the car. I’m nothing if not kind). I play no musical instruments. I can’t draw/paint/etc. Regardless of my mom’s time and patience in teaching me, I still can’t crochet or knit. Unlike most kids in grade school, I dreaded the weekly arts and crafts day because my attempts were obviously inferior to my fellow classmates. I’d have much rather written a 10-page report or tackled long division, my nemesis.

Even as an adult, after asking me to draw them a deer or a doggie, my children would wander away sadly. “Never mind, mommy. I’ll ask Daddy instead…” was a common refrain at our house. In high school I was enrolled in Pottery B (although, in my defense, I’d never taken Pottery A). After a month or so, the teacher, who was also the yearbook advisor, instead let me work my administrative magic on the yearbook during class, earning me that all-important “arts” credit by typing up the index and endlessly organizing and typing the copy for the book.

Needless to say, the words “creative” and “me” never seemed to belong together, at least not in the traditional form.

However, I had always loved to write, and loved even more the feeling I got when a teacher would share my story with the class. Rather than fiction, my genre of choice, even then, was what I now know as creative nonfiction. My fourth grade essay about the death of my cat, Snowball, was a tear-jerker and garnered me a hug from Mrs. Strahm, a favorite teacher. Aside from intermittent periods of journal writing, though, I quit doing even that. Marriage, motherhood, and work can do that to a person…

Back in 2008 I started my first blog, From the Top of the Stairs, the name loosely tied to lyrics from one of my favorite James Taylor songs. I don’t know how long blogs had been around at that point, but I’d toyed with the idea for at least a year before finally starting. I had all these great stories about the kids tumbling around inside me, and they demanded an outlet. The writing I did was almost entirely for myself as a way to remember the small stories I knew from experience that I was likely to forget.

How grateful I am that I took that step! Somehow, even though life was crazy and chaotic, I managed to carve out the time, forgoing precious sleep so that I could get the story down, the words formed, tweaked, and reformed again. Reading over them now I am amazed at just how many of those stories I wouldn’t remember had I not done this.

Oftentimes I’m amazed that the words came from me.

All my life friends, family, and teachers have told me that I’m a good writer, but my relentless inner critic ( a real sour-faced prune I’ve nicknamed Gertrude) always reminds me that it’s part of their job requirement. They have to say that, don’t they?! She whispers that there’s always someone wittier, someone smarter, someone better…

Earlier this year, though, I stepped out on a limb and revised and submitted an essay to the university-wide writing contest that I had written for a class. I honestly didn’t think I’d win, but figured I had nothing to lose. A little over a month later, I opened an email from a name I didn’t know to read the following words:

“Congratulations! Your essay has won 1st Place (Undergraduate Nonfiction Division) in Utah State University’s 2015 Creative Writing Contest and will be featured in Scribendi magazine.”

Say what?! After a brief moment of disbelief, and a few joyous tears (definitely found my smile that day), I finally felt that maybe – just maybe – I could really go somewhere with my writing. In addition to being published in the annual magazine, winners were invited to give a public reading of their work, almost leading to tears of a different sort…   😉

At long last, at least for the moment, Gertrude was speechless…

Almost over!  Can I open my eyes, yet?!
Almost over… Can I open my eyes, yet?!

Public Service Announcement: Never use the words “cerulean” and “swirl” in the same sentence if there’s ever a chance you’ll have to read them in front of hundreds of eyes!

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