Writing All The Words

I wrote myself into existence, literally, from early journaling to what you see here #WhyIWrite— Lee Skallerup Bessette makes zero magic (@readywriting) October 20, 2015

I have written a version of this tweet a couple of times on Twitter, and it has been my pinned tweet for a while now. I meant this in a very literal sense – starting in grade 7, I was constantly writing and keeping a journal.

But even before that, I wrote my first “story” when I was in Grade 1 (in French no less) about an elf at Christmas. It wasn’t for an assignment. I just wrote it because I wanted to. My teacher made it into a reading/language comprehension test (which, now that I write it out, sounds horrifying, but at the time I was REALLY flattered of course). I got a poem on the Honor Board in Grade 6. I wrote press releases for my swim team throughout high school, most of them making the local paper.

I have kept all of those journals from high school. On top of the journals, I wrote notes to my friends. Long, elaborate notes. I mean, letters really. I don’t have the notes I wrote, but I have many of the responses. We even have a whole notebook of notes because at one point we thought that would be less conspicuous than little folded up pieces of paper. 13 year olds aren’t the sharpest knives.

I collaboratively wrote fan fiction on my friend’s old Apple computer at sleepovers, for Star Trek: TNG and Young Riders (she loved horses). I don’t know what ever happened to those, obviously, but if it had been just a few years later, we could have shared them on a BBS of fan fic (and probably learned really early just how horrible the internet can be to women and girls).

And then I wrote poems, largely post-high-school. I didn’t realize just how many poems until I went exploring through some of my “archives” yesterday.

And I know I’m MISSING another collection of poems I wrote post-September 1995 (Why I Write in Pen and Other Poems – I remember the title). I wrote A LOT of poems. Usually (as you can see in the background) during class on pages in my notebook that I would then tear out and type into a word processor (probably Word because late 90s!) and then save onto a diskette that I carried around with me everywhere (I still remember I wrote “My Poetry” on the label in green pen). The diskette is long gone (I left it in the lab one day), and I don’t think I have a complete print-out of all the poems I wrote and saved.

But holy shit that’s still a lot of poems.

Things I also found, written post-high school, pre-grad school:

  • four incomplete novel manuscripts
  • two completed plays
  • six short stories
  • seven full journals

Keep in mind, I was writing much of this while going to school full time, swimming 30+ hours a week, and (for a time) commuting to and from school for more than two hours a day, on top of a reasonable social life. When was I writing? Insomnia helped a lot, as I wrote at night when I couldn’t sleep. I also wrote a lot during class which might explain why I almost (should have) failed Chemistry and Physics. And took two creative writing courses (which is more stuff that I saved and on which I got really positive feedback, so maybe I was on to something, which then I gave up because GRAD SCHOOL).

Oh hey, I also found my first by-line:

So when you see that I have 153K tweets, three+ blogs with hundreds of posts (and my work writing for WIHE, ProfHacker, and the DTLT Blog, among other places I can’t even keep track of), a number of academic articles and books, know that this verbosity has always been my MO, except that now, most of my writing is public, rather than private.

Don’t even get me started on the emails I’ve written over the last 20+ years, either.

I have spent my entire life writing. My. Entire. Damn. Life. But not only have I spent my whole life writing, I am a hoarder of words, my words more specifically (although we do have A LOT of books in the house, too, that we keep carrying with us from place to place). My husband keeps “threatening” throw out “all of those stupid notes from high school (hey, dude what about your SEVEN BOXES OF NOTES FROM UNDERGRAD). What are you going to do with that, he keeps asking.

Well, as it turns out, write a memoir. Specifically about 1995, but also about remembering and healing and a lot of other stuff. Finding my journals and poems and other ephemera from 1995 is making it MUCH easier to reconstruct 95 (tentative title!), and for the first time since I pitched the idea (and had it accepted!), I’m really getting excited about writing it.

As opposed to crippled with fear, anxiety, doubt, and, you know, abject terror.

But not only was seeing how much I still had from 1995 comforting (hey, I really did go to that party, and I wasn’t THAT much of a shitty friend that I didn’t notice all of my friends’ relationships disintegrating around me even though I have no memory of the details of either and so THIS HELPS!), but also a reminder that, yes, Lee, you can write. You’ve always written. And you’ve always written your life.

I wrote myself into existence. I keep writing myself forward. I can keep writing myself until the end.