In my most prolific writing years, I kept a journal almost daily. These were my preteen and teen years and most of the entries were relatively shallow. I wrote of boys I had crushes on and clothing styles that I wish I could wear. I wrote about my daydreams and subtle things I wish could change about myself. I wrote about school and the day our air conditioner was installed.

At the time, I was just writing for the sake of writing. Writing a journal was my way to say absolutely anything I wanted without recourse or judgement. Granted, I never was a wild child and all my entries were tame, but they still housed a side of me that I let very few people see.

When I hit college – the time in my life I had anticipated being the springboard for my writing – my journaling plummeted. I used to fill a journal in a year, and in my three and a half years in college, I couldn’t even finish two. Journaling was a task and not a sincere outlet. When I sat down with a journal in college, I suddenly couldn’t think of things to write. I gathered criticisms of my writing like pebbles and threw them in my pockets. I could only think of what was wrong with my writing every time I opened a new page.

I majored in communications with a focus on advertising. Communications writing is vastly different than any other writing. It has to be. You have to be direct, terse and largely emotionless. Expressive writing of any form was condemned.

On my first day of COM 101 the defunct dean told us to look at those around us: “Look to your right. Look to your left. Only one of you will still be here to graduate.” Our professor assigned our first writing sample to prove we couldn’t write. Ninety percent of our high-achieving class received “D”’s and “F”’s, mostly for the use of the Harvard comma. Every Harvard comma included in a list was an automatic negative point. Five Harvard commas in one paper was an automatic “F.” They broke us down to build us up as communications writers. And while harsh, it was necessary. I learned to write in the proper way for communications. Communications writing became so ingrained that my history professors hated my writing because I lost the ability to write like a historian. My creative writing instructor criticized my lack of true emotion.

I’ve never had naturally thick skin, and each time I was told from a communications, history or creative writing professor that I couldn’t write the way they wanted me to, I wholeheartedly believed it. I didn’t realize at the time that each pebble of criticism I was gathering was a little bit of wisdom I could later polish and display instead of carrying them around like weights. It’s taken me the ten years since college to realize that college gave me the gift of versatility. I successfully completed my degree with honors, and I learned how to write like a communications professional, a historian and a creative writer.  

It took me an entire decade to finish the last journal that I had started in college. It is my least favorite journal I’ve ever written as it showcases my lowest points in life and my resignation in writing. I let the hard lessons of college weigh me down instead of build me up. I allowed the criticisms and insecurities and lists of rules sink into the one writing form that should be free.

I am happy to say that my current journal (the striped Sugar Paper journal above) will likely be finished in a year and a half or less. It’s a symbol to me of moving past my insecurities and embracing who I am as a person and as a writer. It’s my display case for those pebbles. I’m polishing them up and will file them on the shelf and move past my insecurities.

I must say, though, I don’t think I will ever be able to use a Harvard comma without breaking out in a sweat.