My Clicky Pen

Posted: December 9, 2013 in Creative Nonfiction
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I write because of my name. Emily translates to mean “industrious.” What could be more industrious than scribbling words on paper. The pen–sliding smoothly. My hand–hot with the effort. The paper–cool to the touch. Words swirling and curling as they are produced. The pen carving away at sentences. My hand aching as it strives for clarity. The paper manhandled as it is crumpled. Someday I will get it right. I’ve just got to keep striving forward. Being industrious. That’s how I am; it’s what I do. Writing doesn’t just keep me busy; it keeps me breathing. Without words, the jagged green line that marches across the heart monitor might as well be stationary. I need words. They turn the world, my reality, my perceptions from nonsense into order. Order is in the syntax. The syntax is in order. All is right with the world. With the world, all is right.

If only writing were always that easy.

Throughout high school, grammar and punctuation were my worst enemies. I had no patience for diagramming sentences or memorizing parts of speech. I was too much of a rebel to bother making sentences parallel. Comma splices strung my sentences together, what did I care. My battle cry was, “Let those dangling modifiers dangle!” Kerouac would have been proud; Steinbeck was probably doing cartwheels of joy in his grave, but my English teachers were far from thrilled. I became not a very good writer, but I was an excellent re-writer. In fact, without these people and these tools, I’d still be stuck in a backwater small town in rural, middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. I never would have made it to Towson, and I’d still think a conjunction is an inflammation of the eye.

My tricks and tips to becoming a professional writer include:

From high school and then college and now graduate school, I’ve learned that being a writer is being part of a community of learners, thinkers, and doers. For me, my writing community is in the writing center. Writing center walls hold an energy that is not only collaborative but also empathetic, which makes it a safe haven for even the most insecure writer. The tables are always full of bustling productivity as the tutor and the writer work side-by-side to share ideas. Paragraphs are rearranged; sentence structure is revised, and style choice is evaluated. In the end, the writer leaves the writing not only with a better paper but also with a better understanding of how to approach the writing process. This noisy hub of conversing, laughing, and learning is home for serious academics, either struggling or successful, who want to succeed in higher education.

My rationale for undertaking the insanity that is graduate school is because I came to love (and still love) writing centers when I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Secondary English Education. Turned out teaching middle schoolers or high schoolers wasn’t my thing, and I learned that lesson after four years of higher education. My issue with writing in the public school is that the subject is force-fed to students and leaves them with a bitter taste in their mouths. Composition wasn’t an art. To be good at producing A-level papers, students have to take a radical stance that, in truth, they don’t believe in, nor should they. They shouldn’t have to be Welder of the Red Pen, Oxford Comma Enforcer, or Human Spellchecker. The problem with this radical attitude is that these rules are not something that can be taught. The English language is a wonky, mischievous creature with DNA that is constantly fluctuating. To conquer this beast, the rules must be drilled, boot-camp style, into a person’s head. I’d much rather be a stickler for a bottom-line message with a concise, clear style rather than be overly concerned about proper punctuation.

This plain language approach is promoted in On Writing Well, a book by William Zinsser that I found when browsing the shelves at Towson’s Ukazoo bookstore. This is only one of the many books that mark my beginning as a writer. Crack open a spine; a whole new world awaits–waits to be explored, waits to be questioned, waits to be wondered about. Words spill across the page. Published authors make it look so easy. For me, writing is the hardest way of surviving financially, personally, professionally, and mentally. Writing is a sacrifice: a tedious, time-consuming, and tension-filled sacrifice.

I begin by sitting cross-legged with a notebook in my lap. A fat clicky pen with a rubber grip is in my clenched fist. In the attempt to be industrious, I bend my head over the lined paper I’ve placed directly under the tip of my nose. The refrain of self-doubt begins.

I can’t write: I’m not a writer. Who the hell am I kidding?

The clicky pen’s weight in my hand is comforting. I embrace the painful process that makes me a writer. I put my fat clicky pen to paper. I am alone with my thoughts. Words begin to form on the straight lines as the ideas are released with the quiet scrape of channeled ink. My pen is no longer a pen but a palate of colors. Through informative phrases, my pen chisels a crude slab of marble into a heavenly angel. Harsh, vibrant colors thrown onto a canvas with a few splashes of description can paint a portrait of hell. My pen is no longer a pen but a staff of musical notes. With staccato exclamation marks, a voice sings out. Short sentences with severe periods become the stiff, marcato beat of a marching band in a grand parade. Smooth commas direct the long, fluid sound of an orchestra performing in a huge concert hall.

My pen suddenly halts in its delicate dance across the page. I look down at the lined pages now spattered with words. They are words—my words—that were not there before. This ownership and industry is why I came to Baltimore County. I wanted to be surrounded by words at Towson University, at the CLA Writing Center, at the Towson Library, at Ukazoo, at The Book Thing.

Towson has become more than just my home. This place is my beginning. I came to Baltimore to turn a passion into a profession. Since then, I’ve stopped making set-in-stone plans. I’m not sure where I’ll end up the when the journey is done. Until then, I’m clicking my pen and waiting for the next idea to come.

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