My first journal entry, July 23, 1977

“I feel the need to write…”

Forty years ago (which seems to be a trend of mine lately), I opened a spiral notebook and started to write a journal. This wasn’t when I became a writer. I became a writer when my English teacher Darlene Loiler read that journal, told me that I have potential, and encouraged me to develop it. What drove me to write was that it offered me something I desperately needed as a teenager — connection.

I find that 40-year-old writing hard to read today. The awkward affectations. The misspellings. But the hardest part to read was the crushing sense of isolation and loneliness expressed in every entry.

The journal described the aftermath of my first attempt to write for someone else, which turned into an embarrassment. I had a crush on a girl in one of my classes. I was too shy to talk to her, so I decided to write her a love letter and put it in her locker. This went as well as you would expect.

Rejection is hard at any age. But when you’re going through your first one, the devastation overwhelms you. If you’ve received unconditional love from your parents, the idea that someone else would not love you is hard to comprehend. So, you fear that no one will ever love you, and you’ll always be alone. You question your self-worth and wonder if you deserve that loneliness. Or if the world is unfairly stacked against you. Your parents and friends try to console you, but you still have to process those feelings on your own. Because you have no previous experience with rejection, you can’t. “Nobody knows how I feel!” isn’t just a cliché teenage lament. It’s the feeling of being trapped in a bubble of pain you don’t understand and don’t know how to escape.

But then you read a book, watch a show, or listen to a song about someone like you who dealt with the same problem. You realize that you’re not alone. Others have gone through the same thing and came out the other end. They can deal with it. So can you. There is hope. The bubble is burst, and you move forward.

That is the power of writing.

While we writers grapple with our own pain, others seek a voice to express their own suffering. The heroes we create to save us can save them. The worlds we build can offer them refuge. The villains we create reflect their fears and demons as well as ours. And we can show how they can be defeated or endured. When we do that, we create a connection. Our readers find healing in our words, just as we found healing in writing them. That connection is reinforced when readers communicate back, whether it is an Amazon review, a social media post, or a teacher’s written comments in the margins.

When Darlene Loiler wrote back to me, I felt my cries of loneliness were heard. Writing wasn’t just sitting by myself in a room and spilling out my heart with black ballpoint ink. I was not alone. I had a voice. I found a connection.

Forty years later, I am still finding connections. It’s showing people I’ll never meet how to scan a document on a multifunction peripheral, or teaching them how to give an impromptu speech, or sharing a story I made up from my experiences. I know there are people out there listening, even if they don’t answer back. We writers know that there are people who need our words. There are people desperate for connection.

Today, I can tell that 16-year-old who felt heartbroken and isolated in his bedroom in Reseda — and all the other heartbroken and isolated people out there — when you write, you are not alone.

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