One Writer’s Beginnings: How Creativity Can Flourish Anywhere and The Power of Encouragement
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which happens to be my younger brother’s birthday. It is also an anniversary of sorts for me. It was on this day, over 50 years ago, that I began to pursue my avocation as a writer.
I was sitting in the first seat of the first row of desks in Mrs. Gudger’s third grade class. I was sitting in this prime spot, not because my teacher liked me, but for the opposite reason. I was a bossy, opinionated, chatter-box at age eight and my teacher had attempted to tame me by putting me up front where she could quell me with her steely-eyed stares. She had given up on making me write lines for punishment . 100 written repetitions of “ I will not talk in class” on multiple occasions had not put a dent in my talking. So there I sat, with a wall on one side and no one sitting behind or next to me. I was in exile.
Driven to entertain myself another way while Mrs. Gudger droned on from her exalted position in front of the board, I began to draw and then write on the piece of paper in front of me.
This was a major infraction right up there with talking. My teacher, in a desire to be in complete control of her class , I suppose, did not allow us to keep paper or pencils at our desks. At the beginning of each lesson she would choose two helpers. One child would pass out a single piece of paper to each classmate while the other would walk around with a box of pencils for us to choose from. You may be sure that I was never chosen for this honor.
While she was teaching we were supposed to sit with our hands folded in our lap awaiting instructions for what we were to do with the paper in front if us. We were always warned that we would only get this one piece of paper, so we needed to work neatly and not mess it up.
Fortunately for me the teacher rarely even looked in my direction so I was able to quietly slip my pencil from the desk tray and begin to create. I was thinking about my brother’s birthday and St. Patrick’s Day and there on the paper a poem about leprechauns took form.
By the time Mrs. Gudger had finished her lesson and told us to begin the assignment, my paper was filled with my poem and little drawings of leprechaun , toadstools and shamrocks.
I was thrilled with what I had written until belatedly I realized I would have to ask for another piece of paper to complete the assigned task. I raised a trembling hand and when called on I told her I needed another paper. By this time my teacher was seated at her desk as the class silently worked. She frowned ( and likely rolled her eyes) and told me to bring my paper to her. She took the offending paper, placed it on her desk and lectured me, once again, about paying attention in class and following directions. I am not sure but I may have heard some weariness in her tone. I was given another piece of paper and sent back to my desk.
Later that day she asked me if I had written that poem all on my own. I assured her that I had. She gave me a look I did not understand and then told me she was keeping the paper for the time being. I assumed she would be attaching it to yet another note home to my parents.
The next day we unexpectedly began a poetry writing unit and I was a happy and engaged participant in class for probably the first time that year. A day or so later my poem was displayed in large print on the main bulletin board in the lobby of the school. I received praise and attention from former teachers, the principal, parents and friends.
I was hooked! I was a writer. I penned many poems, a neighborhood newspaper, stories, comic strips and more after that. Records and copies of those early literary efforts no longer exist. What remained and flourished was the love of writing and the realization that my thoughts, words and efforts matter.
My message to you is two-fold:
Do not let circumstances dictate your dreams or crush your creativity.
Remember that a bit of encouragement to a child or adult who is testing the waters of creativity can make all the difference.