Recently, I offered to help a fellow blogger with her autobiographical statement as part of her application to seminary. In her essay she was asked to write about those things or people that/who had influenced her in life. Said blogger wrote warmly of the impact her 7th grade music teacher had in her life and personal development not only as a singer but also as a Christian.
At one point in our email exchanges, she queried how I became such a good writer (her opinion, not mine. I often think my writing sucks. But that's just me being my own worst critic, I suppose.) I replied that, like her singing, I started young, practiced a lot, and had folks who encouraged me in my abilities.
Later, I thought about this more. I realized I had some pretty amazing mentors along the road of writing.
It started with my dad, who read aloud to us every night when we were kids and who encouraged us to read. My mom had a hand in this, too, by making sure we did our homework, particularly if it involved reading. I think the fact that we didn't have t.v. or Atari growing up also contributed to our voracious reading appetites.
It then progressed to my mom who, with her small town Wyoming education, as she likes to say, was the one who taught me how to write an outline, compile note cards, and put it all together into sentences and paragraphs. In high school, when I took Honors English (a class I hated at the time), she hooked me up with her aunt who was a high school English teacher. Aunt Loa taught me how to write a thesis statement and then argue the points of the thesis.
In the midst of this--and prior to high school--there was my 4th grade teacher, Mr. Harrison; except that it was when I was in 6th grade that he made his greatest impact on me. Mr. Harrison was the faculty advisor for Maeser Elementary School's Advanced Talented Program; basically the gifted students program. I was in his program as a sixth grader. Among the requirements were several short papers and one long research paper coupled with an exhibit hall where each student had to design, build, and staff a display that captured their paper.
I chose micrographics and its processes and uses in library and archiving systems. I distinctly remember the papers and exhibits for two of my peers: Glenn Newman, who wrote about Tutankhamen; and Jon Harrison, who put together a claymation movie. I felt certain Jon or Glenn would take first prize, but was stunned to learn that Mr. Harrison had chosen my paper and exhibit for the top prize that year! (I think it was the fact that my dad had filmed and microfiched all 500+ pages of the Book of Mormon onto one fiche card that fascinated him most. P.S. I went to school in Utah, which made using the BOM as an exhibit piece acceptable and especially impressive, I suppose.)
Winning first place for the ATP group was a high point and a boost to my confidence as a writer and researcher. I don't remember doing a lot of writing in junior high, but I certainly remember doing plenty in high school. I also remember my English teachers in those years: Mrs. Oldroyd, who taught us to love Shakespeare; Mrs. Mendenhall, who was dotty, but made us write several research papers and taught us how to write in several different essay styles; Miss March, who made us read the classics and write thesis statements and comparison/contrast essays.
I also had excellent mentors in college. Dr. Lauve Steenhuisen, who now teaches at Georgetown, was one such mentor while I was an undergrad at George Mason U. Dr. Don Compier, who is now dean of the Community of Christ Church seminary in Independence, Missouri, was a wonderful encouragement when I was at the Graduate Theological Union, as was the Rev. Dr. Jane Menton who pushed me and pushed me and pushed me.
Bottom line, though: writing takes practice, which is what I think I enjoy most about blogging. It gives me the opportunity to write. Maybe not about anything important or interesting or even groundbreaking. But it keeps my hand (and head) in the process. Those of you who read my blog keep me motivated, too.
And so, in all humility, I thank you--my fellow bloggers, friends, and family--for reading and continuing the tradition of encouragement that has underscored my life as a writer and lover of words. This one's for you!
Illustration copyright: The Writer at Work.