I often day-dream about doing other jobs. I wonder how easy (or hard) it would be to learn to play the guitar, or make furniture, or repair clocks. I look at people doing things well and marvel at the time and commitment it must have taken to become so proficient. How did they do it?
Then I remind myself that I learned how to write. I don’t know from where the desire to write sprang within me. I have always been interested in books. Even before I could read, I can remember sitting on the couch with my dad as he read Dr. Seuss books to me. He read them so much that I memorized them all, a trick that serves me well today when reading the books to my own kids.
But why did I want to write? I can’t say. All I can say it that the desire to do so was always there. In third grade, for instance, we were reading about Moscow in our social studies books (this was in the early 1980s and the Cold War was in full brew). Something about what I read interested me, and I wrote a story about two friends who visit Moscow.
Later, in 7th or 8th grade, I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and wanted to write my own version. I wrote a story that was at least 60 single-spaced, typewritten pages long, as much in the style of Hitchhiker’s as a I could manage at the time. These stories were read by no one, save perhaps my family.
In high school, me and a friend began writing a series of stories that we shared with classmates. This was the first time I had an audience beyond my family. It was also in high school that I finally learned to write.
I attended Cleveland Humanities Magnet High School in Reseda, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. We did not have traditional English and History classes. Instead, we had a “core” set of classes that included: philosophy, literature, social institutions, and art history. All of our tests were essay tests. It was in these classes that I learned to think critically, encouraged to do so by my teachers. And it was in the essays I wrote for these classes that I learned to write.
When I say I learned to write, I don’t mean I learned to tell a story. I mean that I learned to write in a way that presents information clearly, in a way that makes a good argument. More than anything else, then, I learned to write for this blog. It was in those essays that I began to develop the style that has evolved to what I use here on the blog. And friends will tell you that my style here isn’t much different from my style in an email message. Some people even complain that I write the way I talk.
The ability to tell a story and the ability to write are two different things. I don’t tell stories nearly as well as I write. But I am also self-taught when it comes to telling stories. I learned by reading.
When it comes to writing, however, I think that the essence of my style, comes from those high school classes, and I am convinced, even if others aren’t, that if not for those humanities classes and their essay tests, I would not be the writer that I am today.