All Things Being Equal


I was 18 and sitting across the desk from the dean of Hofstra University’s English Department. She was reading a descriptive essay I’d written for Composition 101, and I was hoping she would see that the writing was strong enough that I could skip taking Composition 201. I was mildly offended that I’d been required to take any writing classes. If my SAT scores in English had been 10 points higher, I could have skipped them. Not that I minded the class, but I wanted to make a point about how stupid their rules were, or at least that they didn’t apply to me.

She put the essay down and squinted at me over her reading glasses. “Where did you learn to write?”

The question confused me. I could only imagine one answer. “At my typewriter,” I answered.

It would be years before I understood the question, but that’s because I have long believed I was entirely self-taught. I never took a writing class, nor more than a couple acting classes, nor classes in music composition or interviewing or coaching or anything I have ever wanted to learn. You do it and you get better at it. No teacher can possibly replace the immediate, hands-on lessons of experience. If you want to learn to write, the best thing to do is write and write and write.

However, I did quite like the Comp 101 professor, and not just because he praised my writing – though at 18, praise still seemed like the best candy I’d ever tasted. He also treated me a bit like an equal, sharing his love of Thomas Wolf collegially in a walk after class. I liked being treated like an equal. It was easier to relate to people when I saw them this way. I was just starting to learn how to do this with adults.

I had already been practicing it with my peers, and with people I met on buses or in clubs. I just didn’t know what I was practicing. All I knew was that sometimes it was easy to relate to people and sometimes it wasn’t. I preferred easy. The budding artist in me secretly believed the easiest way to relate to someone was to be adored and admired. No effort on my part with that. I dreamed often of the ease that would come when something about me was finally acknowledged by absolutely everyone

Fortunately, while I waited for that to happen, I kept practicing. Writing is a relationship: with your imagination, and with the reader. You can’t write if you think you can go it alone without your Muse or your guide, and you can’t write for anyone you think you’re better or worse than. All relationships begin an end in equality, something I learn again and again from every single person I meet, from every blank page I face.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
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