Wednesday, May 14, 2008

NPR - Nuala O'Faolain

This week I heard and read about the passing of Nuala O'Faolain. If you're not familar with her books, they're worth the read, if only to catch the idea of writing about your life. I listened to an interview with her years ago after her first book, "Are You Somebody?". The interviewer asked why she wrote the book, and she responded, "Why not?"

She went on to explain that she simply got tired of writing for someone else and decided to write for herself, and that if she could write such a book about their life, then anyone can. After watching my Dad pass away a few years earlier, not writing, or even saying, anything about his life - meaning he took it to his grave, I decided that I wouldn't leave people wondering what I wanted to say to the world.

It took another few years until I retired and decided to start these blogs about my life, my passions, my ideas, my opinions - albeit as they are, just mine, and everything else I wanted to say in the style I wanted to express. I hated working for an agency with scientific-speak as the only accepted way of writing, and being subtly criticized by my boss for being a "stream of consciousness" writer.

And so here is what I have to say. I'm just one voice in the sea of 6-plus billion voices, but it's mine, spelling errors, typos, grammer mistakes and all. I wasn't born with the gift of writing and I envy writers and authors for. I'm only decent at speaking and writing English, which isn't entirely my fault, but partly the education system and my life out of my control.

Ok, why is that? Well, in the twelve years of elementary, junior and senior high school I attended 13 schools, one grade in 3 schools during the year. I was able to get through by writing just enough to pass, but in those 12 years of school I never had a formal English class in writing. Yes, not one. In short, I never learned to write.

When I was in College I had an excellent English professor for my first writing course. After handing in my first essay, she wrote a note on it, "See me" when she returned it. We spoke and she understood my situation. Her advise was simple, and one I continue to this day and will as long as I can write. After hearing what I wanted to say, she said, "Ok, imagine you're making a speech and write what you say. And then edit that."

That's it. I speak in complete, coherent, proper English, in expressing my ideas, thoughts, opinions, etc., so she told me to write that way. And it got me through college, work and life, until graduate school, when I found another professor who taught me to organize and edit and a friend who taught me to proofread for continuity and thought, along with the proper use of pronouns.

I'm always grateful to these three people. And while my bosses and other scientist criticized my writing, I found a voice along with an audience. I became a good editor and proofreader and a good writer of instruction manuals. I learned to think like a speaker and a reader than a writer. And I learned to appreciate being a stream of consciousness writer. I still don't think in terms of words and sentences, but I have learned to write.

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