Writing Much, Despite Reading Struggles

Fragonard painting of woman reading

(painted by Jean-Honoré Fragonard)

Over the past couple of years, I’ve read many fellow authors’ declarations of being avid readers when they were children. That they would sneak a book under their covers and get in another few precious moments of reading exciting books before their parents would remind them to go to sleep.

Others would talk about remembering reading at a very early age and loving it throughout their childhood into their adult years. This dedication and love of reading books led them to write books themselves. And this seems to make a whole lot of sense. You read a lot, you get ideas, and you naturally write with these inspirational stories having primed the creative pump in your imaginative brain.

But this wasn’t my experience.

At times I feel both sad and amazed that my writing journey is not the usual, logical path of my fellow writers. I’m an anomaly of sorts. I truly believe it.

I grew up hating to read. As early as I can remember, I had little interest in books, other than to look at the colorful pictures and at times, listen to my dad or a teacher read a story to me and my fellow students.

young girl reading book

Reading had been a struggle for me, a lot of hard work. By mid grade school age, it was discovered I had reading comprehension problems. When my dad wasn’t away on a case (he was a lawyer and a judge in the Air Force), he’d spend an hour or so a night sitting with me on the couch, listening to me read aloud one of the classics in large, vivid books with plenty of pictures, but with age-appropriate, tough words.

I remember agonizing through reading each sentence. It was so laborious–a tremendous mental work akin to the hard, physical work of pushing a heavy rock up a steep hill. But Dad kept encouraging me, guiding me along, patiently working with me for about three years (around fourth to sixth grade).

I went into junior high school still struggling to a certain extent, with little interest in reading, let alone learning. This was my academic path throughout high school, as well.

But something had changed. I did read a few assigned books in my English literature class in eleventh grade, and when I a sophomore, I fell in love with the North & South TV mini-series and ended up reading the first two books in the series. Also, when I was eighteen and nineteen, I read the whole eight-volume series of the Kent Family Chronicles (both series written by John Jakes).

I think, perhaps, watching TV and movies helped me create my stories in lieu of reading. I’ve always been a visual learner.

As for gaining an interest in learning, it wasn’t until I went to business college a couple of years after graduating high school, that I was ready to learn and wanted to learn.

But here’s the unbelievable part of my journey.

Throughout all of my struggles with reading, I wrote all the time with little effort, from second grade all the way through my teens and early twenties before putting it aside when I married and had children.

As you know, if you read any of my older blog posts, I returned to writing in 2014, and it felt so good to be back where I believe I belonged.

How could a child, a young girl, a woman, write stories with plots, decent sentence structures, spelling, some stories over a hundred pages in length, but rarely ever pick up a book until her late teens, early twenties?

It’s a tiny miracle to me.

shining bright light of miracles

This tiny miracle tells me this is my talent, God’s gift to me.

I finally realized this only about two years ago. It hit me like a refreshing, cool breeze on a warm spring day. And I’m so glad it did. Since my early twenties, I’ve been reading and continue to read many, many books.

 

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The Soaring Heights of Living in the Writing Realm

book with green background sparkle

Do you know that feeling you get when you’re in the zone? You’ve stepped inside your main character’s world and swam through its tumultuous and rhythmic waves, quenching your thirst in the emotions and conflicts, joys and discoveries of your characters.

Your fingers agilely stamp the keys, and the words soar across the page like a plane boasting its fluttering banner streaking through a clear, azure sky.

sparkling rainbow gif

Ideas, colors, imagination, romance, twists, banter, sensations, explosive climaxes, and redemptive resolutions fall like confetti inside your depthless mind. You sweep them all into a bundle of joy and sprinkle them on the white pages on your story.

Nothing outside this make believe world exists while you’re in the zone.  You saver this moment of complete dedication, imagination, and concentration.  Little more than a nuclear bomb could shake you out of this realm.

But when you emerge smiling, mind clear as glass and heart swelled twice its size, you know writing fiction is your destiny.

Capture this moment again and again by reading over your work in progress’s chapters. It fuels the creative flame inside of you.

 

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A Slave & Poet

phillis wheatley pic

Have you ever heard of the remarkable woman, Phillis Wheatley?  I hadn’t until I read a little blurb in my university course’s textbook on American Art.  I finished this course last week.  There had been a lot of heavy reading and writing, but chock full of rich and beautiful artwork and information.

Phillis was born about 1753 in Senegal/Gambia, West Africa.  She was kidnapped around age eight and transported on a slave ship to the United States.  The captain of the ship discovered little Phillis was a fragile girl not suited for hard labor when they’d stopped at the first two ports of call, the West Indian and Southern colonies while crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  The captain believed her to be terminally ill.  Landing in Boston, Massachusetts, the captain wanted at least some financial compensation before Phillis’ death.  He got his wish.  A prominent Boston tailor purchased Phillis for her to be his wife’s domestic servant (Poetry Foundation).

Although frail, Phillis’ health did improve a bit, disproving the sea captain’s belief that she was terminally ill.

The Wheatleys found Phillis to be precocious, so they taught her how to read and write.  Soon, the young, intelligent girl was engrossed in various subjects, such as astronomy, history, the Bible, and classic British, Greek, and Latin literature.  But Phillis desired to learn more and stated so in her poem called “To the University of Cambridge in New England,” that was most likely her first poem written but wasn’t published until 1773 (Poetry Foundation).

Phillis wrote a poetic elegy for the Reverend George Whitefield that brought her international recognition.  It was published as a pamphlet in 1771 with Ebenezer Pemberton’s funeral sermons for Whitefield in London that was distributed in Boston, Philadelphia, and Newport (Poetry Foundation).

In February 1772 at age 18, Phillis had collected twenty-eight of her poems and with the help of Mrs. Wheatley, ran ads in Boston periodicals for sponsors.  But the colonists refused to support her because she was an African.  Frustrated by this, Phillis and the Wheatleys looked to London.  Phillis sent the Whitefield poem to Countess of Huntingdon, Selina Hastings, who was a parishioner of Reverend Whitefield.  A backer of abolitionist and evangelical causes, the countess connected bookseller Archibald Bell with Wheatley to prepare for a book of her poems (Poetry Foundation).

Suffering from asthma, Phillis traveled to London with the Wheatley’s son, Nathaniel, and was welcomed by several English dignitaries and also Benjamin Franklin.  Her collection of poems, Poems of Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in 1773 (Poetry Foundation).

Phillis Wheatley’s work was the first book of poetry by an African American published in that period (Poetry Foundation)!

phillis wheatley sculpture

Phillis did write a few poems against slavery.  Below is an excerpt from a poetic eulogy to General David Wooster in which she spoke strongly about the wrongs of slavery (Poetry Foundation).

But how, presumptuous shall we hope to find
Divine acceptance with th’ Almighty mind—
While yet (O deed Ungenerous!) they disgrace
And hold in bondage Afric’s blameless race?
Let Virtue reign—And thou accord our prayers
Be victory our’s, and generous freedom theirs.

On Phillis’ trip back to America, Mrs. Wheatley had fallen very ill.  Phillis was made a free woman approximately three months before Mrs. Wheatley’s death on March 3, 1774.  She married and spent the rest of her life in financial hardship but still managed to continue writing her poems until she fell ill and died in 1784.

Thankfully, Phillis Wheatley’s memory and poems live on.

Here’s one of her most famous poems (a short one) titled Being Brought From Africa to America:

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negro’s, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

I enjoyed learning about this famous, amazing African American female slave who rose in respect and accolades because of her beautiful writing and being the first African American in modern times to have her work published, that was admired by such prominent Americans as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock (Poetry Foundation).

 

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Works Cited
Poetry Foundation.  “Phillis Wheatley:  1753-1784.”  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/phillis-wheatley