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When I Put Down My Pen

Reflections on early scribbles; lessons learned; words to the wise

By L.C. SchäferPublished 14 days ago Updated 14 days ago 5 min read
When I Put Down My Pen
Photo by JK Sloan on Unsplash

Many times through my childhood I tried writing a "proper book". I think this is difficult for young people, because we are supposed to write what we know, and there is so much we don't know.

A lot of us pinch from other places - ideas, characters, styles, voice. It takes a while to really find our own.

But this is a valuable time for a - and I use the word deliberately - budding writer. We don't know what we don't know. In fact, very often we "know" that we know quite enough thank you. Being patronised by an adult about how little life experience we have - something natural, to be expected, and usually outside of our control - is unhelpful to say the least. The older we get, the more aware of our ignorance we are, but as a child... being ignorant of that ignorance really is bliss. Best of all, it's a soil dreams can germinate in.

I tried keeping a diary, like Adrian Mole. That is harder than you might think, but I gave it a go. Inevitably, an adult stumbled on it and read it. I say "stumbled on" - it being a diary, and therefore quite personal, I'd gone to some effort to hide it. Ridicule followed.

I half-died of shame, and resolved never to put anything so personal in writing ever again. I also learned not to trust grown-ups. They have no concept of boundaries, and they have no respect for anyone they consider beneath them. It was a valuable lesson.

I still wrote, but never about myself. Animals were a safe topic. I tried the diary idea again, but this time from the perspective of a German Shepherd puppy. I had a lot of fun with that one, until I re-read Black Beauty. In a rare flash of self-awareness, I realised what I'd done. I'd copied the whole idea, hadn't I? Born into a nice home, moves to another nice home... but then things go wrong and he has a string of homes, some nice and some not so nice. I threw it in the bin.

I started writing about woodland creatures. I enjoyed reading those stories. Duncton Wood. Redwall. The Running Foxes. Run with the Wind. I liked the setting. I had a forest behind my house, as well, so I felt on firm footing there.

There was one story in particular I was quite invested in. It was close to being epic, there were so many off-shoots and subplots and mysterious characters who would crop up later. I'd got a new fountain pen which wrote very nicely. I used that to get the ideas and characters down on the page.

I'd only written the first few chapters. I kept all the pages in a folder which I lugged about with me in my spare time so I could keep writing and keep adding to it.

As we've already established, adults are a nasty, nosy species. I got distracted, left that folder lying around and the inevitable happened. Someone read it. They didn't say anything unkind or critical about it. But that was very far from the point.

They were quite complementary, and said something about a "large vocabulary" which I barely heard through the thundering in my ears. Not only had they overstepped by reading it, they'd also showed it to another nosy Nellie. They talked about it, picked over it, judged it. And worst of all, they were also completely oblivious to why any of those things might bother me. They expected me to be pleased that they'd read what I'd written and talked about it, over my head and behind my back. Just because they said nice things.

Rage and embarrassment warred. Embarrassment won.

That stands out in my memory for three reasons - first, it was my first real attempt at serious writing. The first time I'd done more than one draft of anything. Second, because I learned another lesson, although not one the adults were trying to teach me. Nice isn't the same as right. This has echoed back to me in the years since. And thirdly, because after that, I put down my pen and I didn't pick it up again.

I didn't write any more of that story. I couldn't. Every time I tried, their faces got in the way. As the kids say these days, I cringed so hard I tasted my own bumhole.

I wouldn't write again for years after that.

As a wise young woman once said,

Image from Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone

Please be wary of picking up what kids write and reading it behind their backs - there is no faster way to degrade trust. Beware even more of the words you use when you speak to them about it. Choose them wisely. You are walking in a minefield, and it is very, very easy to put a foot wrong. Keep in mind you are already on the back foot, so to speak, by reading it without their express permission. Even if you felt this was appropriate or necessary, it is likely to be experienced as a violation of trust.

Image from Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (and it really should have been the last, don't talk to me about crystal skulls or dials of destiny.

It's taken a long time to get brave and get naked. It's easier, safer, to stay a closed book. I keep reminding myself, Nobody cares. Words are cheap. They're one click away from forgetting about you either way. Aldous Huxley was right.

Maybe all creators and artists feel this way about their passion, but I think it is truer for writing creatively than for anything else. Whether it's stories or songs or poetry. There is nothing that unclothes us more thoroughly than raw, naked words.

I am never more naked than I am on a page.


Thank you for reading!


About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

Flexing the writing muscle.

Never so naked as I am on a page. Subscribe for "nudes".

I'm also Twitter if you'd like to connect elsewhere.

I value feedback, and reciprocate reads and comments.

Also writing under the name S.E. Holz

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Comments (16)

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  • Rob Angeli5 days ago

    Very good work on this, rejuvenating your youthful experiences with writing and its being read being associated with a sense of shame. Good lessons in this, I can definitely relate. We are very naked on the page. I still use animals to discuss more unstateable things. Excellent!

  • Donna Fox12 days ago

    I remember you saying this in another story too "I'm never more naked than I am on a page" and I totally get that! You pour your heart and soul into something and it almost feels like a violation when we choose to share it and someone gives feedback! Nevermind when they read it without your permission! I'm sorry this happened to you and that it tainted your experience! 💜

  • Tina D'Angelo13 days ago

    Yes. I learned to never write anything personal at home. Because my mother went so far as to pick through the trash in my bedroom to scout out my personal life. Once she read something about her and was furious. I was humiliated and angry on the outside, but cold as ice on the inside, thinking, "When you read something that was hidden and you're hurt by it, so be it."

  • Omgggg, I've had my diary read before too! I was like 14 if I'm not mistaken! It was my aunt who read it! I was sleeping over at her place and she sneaked into my bag and read it while I was asleep! I wrote about my crush in there! She then told my mom about it! I never trusted adults after that!

  • Terrye Turpin14 days ago

    It takes courage to expose your writing to the world. I'm sorry you didn't have the choice to share your first writings instead of someone reading them without your permission. I'm glad you went on to continue writing, good luck in your journey!

  • Sid Aaron Hirji14 days ago

    For me it’s just being so lazy with the fact I work and have my practicum for school. When I get home I relax in front of a book

  • Sian N. Clutton14 days ago

    This is a terribly sad story to read. I'm glad you found the confidence to write again!

  • I agree, writing can be personal. I’m glad you’re writing again, though, because you’re a literary genius! Thank you for writing this article! You’re amazing and an amazing writer!

  • Teresa Renton14 days ago

    You are so right. There’s a reason why writing’s referred to bleeding on a page. I always kept diaries but don’t know whether they were ever read. No one ‘fessed up so 🤷‍♀️

  • Gerard DiLeo14 days ago

    An important piece.

  • Dana Crandell14 days ago

    So much to absorb in this, but the lesson is clear and important. I couldn't agree more about the way we expose ourselves through what we write. I'm so glad you've been willing to share with us, here.

  • This was every writer's feelings pouring out. I can't tell you how many times I've sat looking at what I've written and thought its all garbage. My biggest personal struggle is I never feel like I properly learned how to write. I always think my work is strewn with grammatical errors. I go back sometimes after a while and look at a story again and think how did not catch all these glaring errors. You are so right we are never as naked as we are on the page.

  • Hannah Moore14 days ago

    Both my kids keep a diary. I do not read their diaries. Ever. I've told them if there's something they want me to read, just point me at it, but otherwise, it's theirs. I WILL read their diary if they like, go missing or something. And they trust us, and each other. They happily leave their diaries out. No one touches them. I too had my diary read as a child!

  • I had such a similar experience as an easily embarrassed teen trying to write. Very relatable essay. Thx for sharing.

  • Andrei Z.14 days ago

    Adults suck (adulthood too, haha. Well, there're certain perks, but... there's also this but[t] part). You should have created a secret language and written in it so that nobody could peek:)

  • Sage counsel. I don't remember this happening to me, only that it did. I had not been so candid as to be writing a diary & so only a little teasing ensued. I'm glad you're back to being able to bare your soul to us again, on your own terms, of course.

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