How I learned to write

By Joshua Nehemiah Bester

There is no exact formula, no mathematical equation, no metric unit or omnipresent methodology to measure written works. Each piece, like the artist writing or typing, is special within its own pens and keyboards. The study of penmanship dates far back into time around 3200 BC Mesopotamia or present-day Iraq. When you think about it, writing is just a system of created marks within languages that just happen to make sense. It is abstract. It’s interesting how this idea of conceptuality and how it not only relates to all things written but also all things spoken.  In essence, communication is but a concept — a concept of philosophy from our own making. This all seems very meta indeed, but reason and explanation play dramatic roles in defining why we do the things we do. Which in turn, can answer these seemingly theoretical quizzes of writing and communication.

So, how did it come to me? Simple. Poetry. Poems are music without instruments. They are personifications of the human heart, usually containing a rhythm, a beat, a reason for existing and an entity to manifest. To me poetry is like something I cannot unsee. It flows and ebbs, a river of words, a sea of glee. From adolescence, it guides language, thought — meaning is seen when looked in-between each line. Character develops and presents in holy fashion, a map of understanding, blush in compassion. And when it seems it’s void of logic, the plot thickens, each withdraw a new deposit. Each question a fresh audit. When tangibility matched with mental inquiry becomes accidental then there you have an excellent example of poetry at its quintessential.

Fraud occurs when people do poetry a misfortune in damning its sister “Rap” in social exchanges. Rap and poetry are both offspring of creative and rhythmic language. The dissonance occurs when Rap is incorrectly tied to social constructs of crime, violence and other misbehaviors. Where a tokenized poetry is deified as a polar opposite of rap in representation of positive moral thought and evocation. Rap is a communicative black sheep. Which should never be the case given the in depth sincerity of rap and hip-hop relative to the raw sharing of human stories and emotions. However, this is an entire conversation worthy of further dissection within its own presentation.

To know how to write well one must also practice reading. In its tangible form; magazines and books are the iron which sharpen the steels of the human mind. High writing IQ comes from a large portion of looking into the pages of a good literature. If we can understand that not everything we know is explicitly taught to us, then one can also put into further context how reading prepares the hand to write well. Its subliminal. It comes to you with each word you read and just like any practice, works in high quality the more time spent on the study.

I can recall when I was in grade school all I did was read books. Come to think of it, I’m not truly sure why I read. I spent enough time outdoors to rectify any boredom that made its way up my alleyways. So what was the deal? An honest perspective would suggest that question is still under scrutiny, but what I can say is that once I started I could not stop. My mother will tell you I began reading at the age of four. I will tell you it was earlier than that, even though I have little to no memory of such things. I do remember first grade and the competitions each month on who could read the most books. There was an honor code comparable to the moral compass of a young child barely getting in the swing of school was silly enough. But it was there none the less. All the reading was logged on your notebook and an empty space was placed on the left side to record the date when the book was finished. At the end of the month I gave my teacher my book log completely filled. My reward was a parent-teacher conference later that day for lying. Upon my own ignorance, I had assumed that there was something wrong on my part if Loretta (my mom) had to come up to the school. And since she was here at the school on this day, my assumptions were justified and I allowed myself to believe I had done something incorrectly. So I lied on myself. When asked if I actually read all those books in that amount of time, I said that someone else had read them for me. At the time, I felt it was the only option. Black boy in a white county, in a white school at a much higher reading level than the others wasn’t necessarily a good look, and certainly out of the ordinary. After giving the teacher what she apparently wanted, a confession, the flood gates were open for her to chastise me and go on and on about the code of ethics and how this sort of behavior would not be tolerated here nor in the real world; the usual school to prison pipeline speech. Loretta was not upset with me, and it wasn’t until later that night I admitted to her that I had read all those books and that I lied because I didn’t want to get in trouble. She could tell I was telling the truth and elected to share with me that people would lie on me my entire life because they fear potential from the underprivileged. She paraphrased “Lying on one’s self only perpetuates the stigma.”

Since that beloved encounter. I can say there hasn’t been many instances where I misled myself. But it was an important lesson that needed to be uncovered even at an early age. Therefore, I continued the assembly line of books into all grade schools. In elementary school, I joined the Book Bowl Team, which summarized was an elite group of nerds who competed on book trivia. In this same school for about four years, I was the leader in AR points, a county program that incentivized book reading and gave points and prizes in exchange for successful completion of computerized quizzes on the book of your choice. A PlayStation 2, a bike, more books and free pizza coupons were among my many rewards. This continued into middle school but then began to die slowly as reading no longer fed my appetite as it once did. Women filled the void.

It wasn’t until late in my college years that my love for reading resurfaced. Poetry came back to me as I began to write more. I became news editor of my college newspaper and then wrote independently for businesses here and there, just trying to be published as much as I could. The poetry and the rap I listened to fed me words. Vocabulary was brought center stage and watered with interesting academia that stimulated my mind that had once starved itself. Speech also came about in impressive ways, a trifecta. I noticed that talking in front of crowds became easier, I began to enjoy it, the attention and privilege to have their ears for a short time. Scholarship had taken on an entire new meaning and it became more than just knowing how to write, but also knowing how to talk and read well.

In chronological order rap taught me how to write poems, poetry taught me how to write short stories, short stories taught me how to write articles, articles taught me how to speak efficiently and reading taught me all of them. My hope is that one day it can also teach me to write books, the next stage that’s currently cued up on my agenda. Overall, I believe that the best writers hold their work in high regard but also keep open room for improvement. I do not pretend to be great, I’m good at most, with a long line of improvement ahead. But what I will say is that if I did not enjoy writing stories and imagining different characters and conflict then I would surely suffer. To do this and not be pleased is a torturous idea, one that’s likely subject to change the way you would feel about it. But if you enjoy the imagery you bring to the table mixed with the creativity and language that come simultaneously, you’ve already won. My last piece of advice is this. “The best things to write about are the complications of the human heart.” If you can contextualize and build from that, the imagination much like your progress, will become infinite.

Other Articles From The August 2018 Issue