Personal Truth is Required for an Evolution in Writing

ellas-blogpostJust thinking about my earliest writing elicits cringes and pained contortions from secondhand embarrassment. I remember being so proud of my audition portfolio, thought I was the next writer with God-given talent discovered at a young age. Perhaps immediate scoffs when reading my earliest writing isn’t the best reaction because that embarrassment and shame I feel when reading my clumsy prose and cliché poetry lets me know that I have evolved as a writer.

Early in my writing career, I believed fiction was completely divorced from the writer and poetry was always angry spoken word or dramatic Edgar Allen Poe rhyme. I didn’t understand that my personal truth could come into play with either of these genres because creative nonfiction itself was a genre and that’s only where I could let the reader know about my life. The result of trying to keep my prose and poetry sterile, free of personal information, was something safe and cliché, showing technical promise but no real depth. It was only after taking a speech/oral interpretation class I realized that one’s personality and experiences can come into play with poetry and by extension, fiction. That class gave me permission to take a published poem and make it my own with stylistic choices and intonation and most of all, relate to it, live inside the piece, let it live inside me for a while.

With this revelation and newfound confidence under my belt, my writing began improving. I began writing more consciously about things I was passionate about. My fiction held more clues to my personal life and my poetry became distinguished from usual teen poetry as I learned to become more comfortable in my skin. Oral interpretation broke my shell, and an advanced poetry class during my junior year gave me permission to ooze out. Junior poetry class forced me to be naked in front of my peers in a way normal critique groups didn’t- I now had to write from very personal places without the guise of fiction protecting me. My peers had to read the details about my life I couldn’t even previously utter, and then critique it, tell me what wasn’t working, but also, what was working, what they were interested in. Having this renewed confidence and nakedness oral interpretation class gave me, I’m now learning how to make my fiction as personal as my poetry. I’m writing thematically about things I never would’ve even given the time of day before and my voice as a writer has become infinitely stronger because of this. Diction and syntax that is unique to me has emerged. Fictionalizing my personal truth, my heart beating and bleeding on the page, is a process I’m still learning to create fiction that is still uniquely my own but easier to write about. Once I got a taste of personal truth permission, it was all I could write about, so much so my prose would veer into creative nonfiction, my poetry a diary, so now I’m reeling it back in and being more selective with my personal truth. My earliest writing was good for my age, but now it has improved in strides I’d never believed to be possible, and it’s still improving.

Gabriella Christenson, Poetry Editor

From Poems about Whales to Now

maddie-oct-nov-picture When trying to learn about the earliest civilizations, archeologists look to cave paintings as clues to what humans used to be like and how we have evolved. If you think about it, all of the writing in the world creates an entire body of work that represents our society’s evolution of thoughts, feelings, inventions, politics, culture, etc. I think a writer’s work from the time they are a child often does the same.
The earliest poem I have a memory of goes like this, “I love whales painting there nails. They look so nice in there long tails. They are so younge they don’t like mails. And they love good sales.” Note the spelling of “there”, younge”, and “mails”. The second memory I have of writing was a narrative story in fourth grade about my dog Keiser that died when I was four. It was a very vivid moment for a young girl and it made its way into my writing a lot. There are obvious advancements in my writing like spelling, phrasing, diction, syntax, and imagery, but aside from that I don’t think the topics of my writing have changed a whole lot.
In my fiction, my pieces stem from my own life and personal truths that I need to explore through fiction in order to process and make sense of on my own. I still really enjoy writing things like creative non-fiction, so my piece about my dog Keiser isn’t that far off from something I would write now. It would be a lot more subtly tied to my life and it would of course be more descriptive and have more of an emotional arc and message, but the root would still be that it’s a story about my life that changed me in some way that I needed to express through my love of words. Death is something I often explore in my work. Religion and dealing with death and how those connect are something I struggle with processing and making sense of and writing it out through other characters is sometimes the easiest way to deal with it.
I recently wrote a fiction piece loosely tied to my extended family and all the issues we seem to have with each other. When first writing out the piece, I remained angry at that side of my family that was causing all this drama and didn’t feel the need to work to forgive them, but through the course of revising the piece, I grew to understand the characters I created as individual human beings that had made mistakes and were worthy of small acts of forgiveness. I didn’t have to let them in completely, but I could open myself up in slight amounts.
My poetry is also almost always rooted in my personal experiences. While I have no encounters with whales that I can truthfully write about, nature is something I often incorporate into my poetry. One of my favorite pieces I’ve written was a coming of age poem centered on how my family and I used to spend our free time going to the beach and hunting for sharks’ teeth.

If you were to line up all of my work from the time I was a child, you would see an illustration of my life up to this point. You would see my initial love of nature, particularly whales, then my first encounters with death, dealing with family issues, coming of age, and they will continue to follow my life from the big moments, like grieving, to the small moments, like just finding beauty in a creature. As a senior, I am moving towards college and deciding my future. I want to be a pediatric physical therapist and I only hope my writing will be able to follow me and illustrate the next stages of my life.

-Madison Dorsey, Community Engagement