I look back at my childhood and recognize my identity as a writer in a similar way that people look back and realize they might be gay. The signs were sort of always there.
In second grade, my parents suggested that I write a letter to my grandparents and handed me one sheet of lined paper. I went ape-shit. After taping together a train of fourteen more pieces of paper, I had created a life story detailing everything from what I had for breakfast to the names of each stuffed animal I owned. I can only hope to god my Grandma had a stellar recycling system because these types of letters were sent out on a near-weekly basis.
In grade school, I would write three paragraphs for every two the teacher assigned. I still remember Maddie, the girl who sat next to me at my table, gawking at the 32 lines of paper that I had filled with words. Though my table-mates envied me, I never viewed my amount of writing as a competition or a way to get attention. The grammar section of standardized tests, spelling bees, fonts — that was just my thing.
Family vacations meant I sat in the hotel room at night filling up notebooks with every little detail of our travels. If I didn’t fully describe every adventure, I felt guilty, like I was ditching an important homework assignment. Upholding these writing standards was something that was part of me. Writing never felt like a chore.
The first week of middle school we learned the proper structure of an essay: Five paragraphs. Begin with an introduction, four sentences. Three main paragraphs. Each must have a topic sentence followed by six sentences that include three details. One detail and one explanation of said detail preceded by transition words. Conclusion paragraph. Three to four sentences, nothing more, nothing less. That was the framework of most of my writing growing up and it changed everything.
Though there is importance in learning the basic structure of an essay, it was a slap in the face to see red lines through my adjectives on an academic paper and X’s over any sentence that veered slightly from the thesis. The formula felt so unnatural to me, entirely mechanical, and my passion for writing slowly started to diminish. What had made the subject of English so enticing in my youth was the creativity it allowed me, but within the boundaries of the school system it seemed that my writing style was strictly against the rules.
Fast forward a bit to junior year of high school. I signed up for a creative writing class because it looked like an easy A. It was indeed that, but it also was a freeing experience for me. For the first time since I was a little kid, I was able to simply write without worrying about the grading consequences for having too much fluff. I remember being genuinely confused when the teacher told us that an essay does not always consist of five paragraphs. I didn’t know that these rules that were so ingrained in me were not set in stone. The dreaded 5 Paragraph Essay Format was no longer in the rulebook, and any amount of coherent words on a page was validated. Each piece was graded for its creativity and message, not the amount of transition words. Not only was I creating pieces that used my real voice, I felt that people would be able to connect to my writing and find it entertaining.
I began to develop a love for satirical nonfiction around college application season. The prompt was to write about a challenge you’ve overcome in your life, and it was a no-brainer for me to write about shopping for my first day of school outfit. I knew in my heart that piecing together a calculated sob story wasn’t an option for me. I also knew that whoever had the mind-numbing job of reading thousands of college essays had probably read 5,000 bullshit sob stories that day and the least I could do was to provide a little entertainment.
For so many years I was taught that I would fail as a writer in my adult life unless I followed one specific formula. I can proudly say that I was accepted to every college I applied to with my essay. That brings me to now, writing this post on a blog that I created sophomore year of college for my upper-level writing credit. This blog consists of a bunch of posts about cheese. The only goal is to make people laugh out loud, and if I have accomplished that in any way, I am successfully becoming the writer I have always meant to be.