I pulled into a parking spot in town readying myself to head into my appointment. As I rummaged through my purse the sounds of children’s shrieks reached me. The Montessori school across the street was letting out for the day and the three and four year olds raced towards the swing set in the play area.
Not so long ago, my youngest daughter raced for that same swing set, while she kept one eye trained on the parking lot waiting for my car to arrive. She hated nursery school. Hated leaving home. Hated the art projects and the snack times and making friends. And I hated the daily cheerleader role I had to play.
“You’re going to have so much fun today!” ‘What should we pack for your snack?” I rooted each morning while she glumly looked on.
By the time she entered public school, she was labeled a “rereluctant kindergartner.” Pedagogical terms aside, it simply meant that during her kindergarten registration interview, she mumbled and grumbled that she didn’t want to come to school. Unlike her older siblings, she dreaded the first day of school. She plodded through each year. But, by fifth grade, she expressed a reserved excitement about entering middle school. In middle school, she was engaged and attentive. By the time she entered high school she had evolved into an avid reader, skilled debater, critical thinker and straight A student.
Evolution is a crucial component of human existence and can occur over millennia, centuries, decades, or in my daughter’s case, several years.
We all like to believe we evolve. When I completed the manuscript for my first book, I assumed I had finally achieved my dream. I took a germ of an idea, completed research, shaped it into a story and revised until it was accepted by an editor. I congratulated myself. I did it. But then came the second book and the third.
During those early years, I spent more time worrying about the “right” way to tell a story than just telling the story. I used to wish I could go back and change every word I had written—all the tight phrases, overwriting and stilted dialogue, but then I realized that the growth comes in the mistakes. With each book I learned to relax my writing and to explore new ways of storytelling. Looking back on my work from those days, I can chart the growth, see the emerging, ever evolving writer.
“Let the rocks guide you,” writes Georgia Heard in her book, Writing Towards Home.
Each book can be a stepping stone to the next and hopefully the foundation for stories that capitalize on past mistakes. When the boxes of newly published books arrive from the publisher, I tear them open, closely examine the cover, flip to the first page, take a couple to add to my bookcase and store the rest. I am too afraid of the writing I may find if I look too closely. The writer from years prior. The writer who hadn’t yet been caressed with the poetry of Brown Girl Dreaming and Crossover. Blinked back tears from The Warmth of Other Suns. Felt the rage of Between the World and Me. Been swallowed whole by In Zanesville, Dear Sugar, Dog Stars and Americanah. I don’t want to read the writing from that person who hadn’t yet read Girl With all the Gifts, The Orchardist, Benediction or Day of Tears. Having been touched by the words of beautiful writing speeds a writer’s evolutionary process.
On rare occasions I will read through my old manuscripts and be happily surprised with what I find. The words bear little resemblance to those early stages of rough drafts and research notes. Of head in hand agonizing over each word. I can accept a certain pride in wrangling a good story from pages of dry research. And finding within that research a morsel that on another day may have been overlooked.
Evolution comes too slow for some (i.e politicians), too fast for others. Either through maturity, patience, and persistence or some combination of the three we hopefully evolve as parents, partners, thinkers. For me and my daughter, it was rocky at first, but the steadier footing came and we are still evolving at a pace all our own.