Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Paper, Pen and Ink

All of us who descend in the Hodge line inherited the ability to string words together and make sentences and connect thoughts and come up with a paragraph that sounds pretty good when we've finished. It may be that the ability to write comes from the Mason side, because my grandmother could also spin a good story. And it may be that the writing gene was carried by both lines and we at the end of the funnel of genes that merged with the union of Horace and Lucy are double-dipped in it, which is what I really suspect.

We are all readers, which I think is a pre-requisite to being able to write. I can't remember when I learned to read, but I know that even before I learned to read on my own, I sat beside Mother and she read to me while I looked at the words on the page. And, one day, the words made sense and I've seldom been without a book or magazine at hand since that day.

I made up stories in my mind long before I tried my hand at writing them down on paper. I kept myself entertained for hours on end, imagining adventures in the old west (usually) or hob-nobbing with the rich and famous who sought my company (I was delusional as a kid). My first attempt at fiction was in the fourth grade, when I undertook to write a novel. It was a hideous effort, but my girl friends were in awe that I could write a story and kept me going for quite a while with their enthusiastic support. It wasn't long before I decided to keep my attempts at fiction to myself, because the genre just never did come easily to me and I was never satisfied at the end result. I still have a notebook of stories I wrote in High School and College and every so often get it down and ponder whether the time has come to hurl them into the fireplace. So far I have resisted the temptation, because it amuses me to read them and be reminded that once upon a time I had a rich and vivid imagination. The plots stink, but the writing itself was good and I'm always surprised to be reading along and realize that I wrote that terrific sentence.

I finally found my voice, I think. Not in fiction, but in non-fiction. When I first began this blog, it was a struggle to find a topic and spin out an article. It got easier as I began to pay more attention to what was going on around me. Now I find articles in a casual glance out the window as I drive to and from work. My observation skills have improved with every essay written. The first family newsletter was a hodge-podge, but as I began to focus on what I wanted to accomplish with it, I found that I loved drawing stories about my ancestors out of my research and making my forefathers more than just dry dates and facts. Writing is akin to playing the piano. You can be a proficient writer with training, but practice makes you better and puts more feeling into the end product.

Re-experiencing my mother's stories, as I've been slowly adding them to Mother's Words, has been fun. She had the ability to tell a good story. She told me once that she had an assignment in college to write a short story about a murder and could not come up with a good idea. Each of the students was to "kill" a fellow student in the class. She finally gave up, took a nap, and woke up with the full-blown plot completely ready to go. (I can't remember if she was the one who killed her co-student by stabbing her in the ear with an icicle, or if that was the way she met her own fictional demise.)

That technique of sleeping on it has served me well time and time again. My bosses have never understood it, wanting to see me leap into action immediately upon receiving an assignment. But I know that if I acquaint myself with all the facts, then push it to the back of my mind for awhile, in a day or two the whole thing will have been worked out in my subconscious and I will be ready to sit down and put everything on paper, more or less perfectly the first time. Anything I write before I ponder on it tends to get re-written many times before it passes muster.

The joy that is words, paper, pen and ink is something I've always treasured. Whether it's something I got in the Hodge blood, the Mason blood, or the unique combination of the two, I'm really glad it came my way.


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