Therapeutic Text vs Powerful Prose

Yesterday I heard the words that will get me out of this funk: “When you write for yourself, it’s therapeutic. When you write for an audience, it’s powerful.”

I was at training for my volunteer work. In two weeks I will be mentoring middle schoolers on how to write creative fiction. We were discussing our goals and how to achieve them. We want the kids to be original, vivid, and fearless, to speak from their own experiences and to fall in love with the written word. We had just finished reading a piece by a former Deep Student where he talked about seeing his brother’s friend get shot in front of his house. The Writing Fellow working with him handled it well. She encouraged him to dig deeper, to take it further, and even asked him what he thought about gun control. The boy never took that piece further, but it began a discussion.

And that’s when I heard the words. It came from a staff member. We figured that the piece was the first time the boy had opened up about the traumatic event. It was therapeutic for him. But it had a powerful effect on us. Taken further, and if written for an audience, it could have had even more of an effect.

I scribbled the words quickly in my journal and stared at them when the meeting ended.

I’ve hit a wall recently. It happens to all of us in our writing. It has been frustrating as all hell, especially considering that I’m rushing towards this idea of an MFA in Creative Writing and I can’t seem to write anything of value.

It clicked yesterday. Last year I found my passion to be a writer. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it took on a new form for me. It was more than just a hobby. It became a necessity in my life. I bought notebooks and filled one with daily journals and the other with observations and thoughts on life. However, I wasn’t showing this to anybody. I kept them hidden. Those words were for my eyes only. But I wrote feverishly, and after a while, my prose bloomed. I became a good writer. I wrote stories and poems, but never with the intention to actually do anything with it.

My life had shifted. I was growing up. I had lost my faith and the world was different. I didn’t know how to process everything around me. Coming out of my devoted belief system, Life seemed dark and I was surrounded by meaninglessness and Nothingness. Then I discovered existentialism, and began to create a new meaning for myself. This meaning took form in the written word. I looked to Literature and Art and philosophy and found solace there. Books became my comforter, paintings my joy; I studied science and saw that things made sense… and that it was all all right. But novels really changed me. I can say, with no exaggeration, that they saved my life. I started this charming romance with Art, and would learn to create Meaning and Beauty through my words.

It was a wonderful experience. Like being born again. But one must continue to grow, and continue to learn. I was writing for myself and it was therapeutic. But as I grew to love my words, the desire to show them to the world crept up on me. I wanted to share and give back, and hopefully, one day, my words will help somebody like others’ words helped me.

So the dynamic of my role as a writer has shifted. Now I am not just writing for myself. I am writing for an audience.

I’ve never done that before.

I feel like the Hero in the beginning when they first discover their power and they have no idea how to use it. I’ll reference Super Heroes although I really dislike the whole craze. Take Spiderman when he first gets bitten. He has no fucking clue how to be Spiderman. But he learns. They find a mentor or a tutor, and they practice, practice, practice. And you watch the cut scenes of them practicing and fucking up and transitioning. You watch as they take off their own, sewed up, patchy uniform and squeeze into the tight, elastic costume emblazoned with their logo on the chest. They become.

And as Peter Parker’s uncle would say…

That’s where I’m at. I have realized that writing is powerful. And that as a writer with intention to be a writer I have a responsibility for my prose to be powerful. I want my words to have an effect. I must plan. I must be intentional. I must be precise and concise. I must practice practice practice. I must learn to write for an audience, and it’s going to take time. However, I must not forget what it was to write for myself, which is the truest form of writing that I can do. The two must work in harmony.

There’s a lot more to learn. But I think I’ll get there.

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