As a longtime writer, it is difficult to ponder when and where it was that I acquired my personal style as a writer. My earliest writing is shrouded in the mist of my early childhood. By the time I was out of elementary school I had already attempted a memoir for the first time (it didn’t go well), had written some poetry, and was accomplished at the sort of beast fable that one can read of in C.S. Lewis’ Boxen stories. While excelling in personal essays would take a long time–at least into my twenties–it was not long after that when writing plays and treatises were at least within my realm of confidence, and writing editorials came pretty quickly as well. By the time when I was writing in my early 20’s for the newspaper of a religious educational institution I attended, the editor commented that editing my writing was hard because what I wrote was so much like my speaking voice. And that is certainly the case for my personal essays, which can read like uninterrupted examples of my contemporary conversation style, and probably imagined by those who know me by the precise tone I would use in speaking these words aloud in many cases.
As it happens, I have had some reason today to ponder the issue of the development of a personal writing style and how it happens for budding writers. Yesterday night I received a short e-mail with perhaps a few too many emoticons from one of my youngest friends. I was a bit puzzled by the message, which alluded to one of the inside jokes between the writer and myself about my being a Nathan tree with ice cream or cotton candy to be enjoyed. In fact, this young writer and already worked on her own lore imagining me as a carnivorous tree that eats bad people and turns them into sweets to be enjoyed by good children and a safe home for peaceful forest animals like squirrels. This is an acceptable lore of an odd kind but not one which is too far from my own imagination at that age, where I imagined myself as a plucky skunk making it as a forest hotelier. My reply to my young young friend was somewhat brief, but I was somewhat alarmed at receiving an articulate message from a little person who could write better than some of the people who comment on my blog.
This morning I thought it would be worthwhile to make sure that the e-mail was legitimate, so I spoke to the adorable moppet’s parental unit and found out that yes, the child had an e-mail set up for her based on the recommendation of one of the young ladies in our congregation and that a few people were included on the short list of people for her to send messages to, with her being quite happy to have already received replies to her messages this morning. I also heard that she had been given the sound advice to write in her e-mails the way she would talk to someone who was in the room. That is sound advice when it comes to writing. E-mail communication, and even a longer example of nonfiction like this one, is itself often a substitute for personal conversation. It takes longer to type a message than it does to say it, but at the same time it can be brought to mind later on and has a certain fixity that spoken words do not have that counteracts for its slower time in development. There are, in other words, sufficient benefits to make the trade-off a worthwhile one to engage in that makes writing in a form like one’s spoken language an acceptable way to deal with not being able to speak with someone face to face on a more frequent basis.
Where does a writer go from here? Will my young friend turn her love of creating somewhat dark fables into creative writing? Will she enjoy the process of e-mail communication enough that she finds herself later in life enjoying a diverse group of penfriends from far-flung places whose communication she enjoys? Will she turn her appreciation of conversational writing into an interest in writing plays or editorials or personal essays in addition to whatever writing she has to do for school? Who knows. When one is dealing with the young, the potential is bright but there has been little actually done with it. By the time one starts seeing the fruits of one’s writing, one’s potential has often greatly limited as one has made choices as to which genres and which approaches one will spend time in. Time spent writing personal essays is time not spent writing poetry. Time spent working on research is time not spent on correspondence with one’s friends or family. Time spent playing games, as some of us are wont to do, is time not spent engaging in productive labor. And so it goes.