Being an auditory learner, listening to a book allows me to have stories delivered directly to the part of my brain that processes all the words and sentences, and mostly the author’s nuances, best. I love books, and I love reading, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to tackle books that would have otherwise daunted me. I have recorded books to thank. I was (still am) an avid reader. As a kid I had a tough time “nuancing” new material. I didn’t always “get” the voice.

Sometimes, that’s still true, especially with fiction.

In school the teacher told students to stop moving their lips when they read, as if it were a disgusting habit, like chewing with your mouth open. I didn’t progress quickly in color-coded SRAs, and in junior high when I begged my teacher to let me into an accelerated English class because I loved words and tried to love to read as much as I loved the words individually, heard that the “smart kids” actually talked about books, she told me, “It’s better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond.” Thanks. For the first time in my life, I was insulted – or knew I was insulted. “I don’t care if I get a C or a D or an F,” I said. (I’d already had experience failing Algebra in junior high [what they today call middle school], would soon have experience failing Geometry in high school [twice, I think], and would go on to college and fail Music Appreciation 101 [had I known music had mathematical qualities, I never would have enrolled] just as I was about to graduate.) “

That teacher relented, and I got a B. Minus. And it wasn’t easy for me.

In fact, it was hard, and mostly because of the reading required. The classics, the long thick books that were hard and the skinny, spare ones that were harder. I didn’t need to be a big fish, but I often wondered why I couldn’t absorb, as a reader, new material quicker. Teachers assumed it was because I wasn’t very smart and/or I didn’t try. Maybe I had a dumb look, who knows?

But I moved through college and grad school, plugging away. I found what came easiest to me were essay questions. My mind could wander, could braid digressive thoughts and make something greater than a whole. But, still, reading was never easy and, though I liked it, that much fun.

It wasn’t until I started listening to books in addition to reading them that I understood it had something to do with my brain wiring, or makeup, or both. Book clubs used to downright frown on taped material – like they are the authority on how books should be consumed! – but I don’t. And I think they are coming around, too. The more I listen to books the more I find it easier to read books that might have otherwise seemed too hard. And from that, despite what I learned in classes, from experts, I began to under how stories and essays were really structured, and that was – is – like life. In an erratic form that moves, sometimes forward, sometimes backwards. Linear at times, yet not at times.

I’m an auditory learner (and, perhaps, writer). I have friends who are visual. And I know there are many kinesthetic (via physical activity) learners as well. Which are you predominantly? When did you figure it out and how did it help your writing?

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People often ask if I teach essay writing. The answer is: sort of. I’m better one-on-one and in small in-person groups (a holdover from being a therapist, perhaps?) and, so, consult accordingly.

I was recently asked 5 questions about essay writing (see below) for a class. These questions and answers will hopefully get you thinking about your own work.

Tell me about the first essay you sold.

Me[redith]: The first essay I sold was more of an essay/advice piece, and it was to Bride’s.  My father had passed away before my wedding and I wanted to write something that shared both my personal story but that included information that might also help someone else in a similar situation.

Can you tell me a little bit about your process? How do you go about writing an essay?

Me[redith]:  Sometimes it turns out that there is a specific topic I want to write about, and so I just write and write and write until I have a vague idea of where it’s going beyond the “idea.” I do this because, as a writer and a reader, I’m most interested in connections that “make themselves” rather than me trying to seek them out. Once those connections present themselves, and I have enough of them, the “writing” becomes more about shaping and editing and refining.

Where/how do you find ideas?

Me[redith]:  I don’t go looking because I’ve found that the approach of looking and seeking doesn’t work for me. Having said that, while I don’t go looking, per se, I’m receptive to my environment and also to what’s going on internally. From there, I am always writing down sentences on scraps of paper or typing them into my phone. I’m also lucky to have three separate writing partners who I trust and with whom I feel safe so when we write together, and ideas come, I can let them flow onto the page.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of essay writing? How do you overcome those challenges?

Me[redith]:  The most challenging part is when there is a gap between what I’m trying to say and what is actually on the page. This often becomes evident when I’ve let someone read the piece and they “want” it to be something it is not ever going to be. I’ve learned to realize this is likely because the piece is not done yet. This brings me back to that gap, the one between what I’m trying to say and what is actually on the page.

What advice do you have for aspiring essayists?

Me[redith]:  Concern yourself with the quality of what you publish rather than the quantity. That also goes for where you publish – quality first.

 

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