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When I was in seventh grade, I filled up pages and pages of notebook paper with teen angst—how misunderstood I was, the color of my crush’s eyes (green, for the record), and how I dreamed of being somewhere other than middle school.
I still have them stacked in the attic back home—wide-ruled notebooks from Staples filled with poetry I scribbled down during math class. One particularly articulate and original line, “Because your eyes are green/like emerald seas/is there anyone as misunderstood/as me?” Art then was a refuge. I had no expectations of wowing readers. Rather, I wrote because I had something to say.
Now, I specialize in opinion writing, which has a very precise formula. Hook, thesis, point, point, call to action. Piece done. Too often, we pigeonhole ourselves into niches that we perceive ourselves as being good at. Especially at Harvard, where most people are tremendously skilled at something, it can be absolutely terrifying to try a craft you know you will be bad at. On a campus with myriad English majors and probably at least one future Nobel Laureate in Literature, one might think, where does my writing have a place at all?
I write very few bad poems nowadays—and I’m ashamed of it.
Over spring break, I rediscovered my boxes of poems, with their forced rhymes and overwrought sentiment. Back then, there didn’t exist a concept of identity or what the world would perceive my strengths and weaknesses to be. I didn’t have a niche in the world, much less a writing niche. I was free to be raw, to let my feelings spill out on paper in all their hyperbolic glory.
When it comes down to it, whether or not “Is there anyone as misunderstood/as me?” counts as good poetry is irrelevant. My seventh-grade self never intended for the poetry to be published by the New Yorker. I wasn’t writing because it was assigned, or because I felt the need to publicize anything. I was writing simply because I recognized the value of my own feelings and felt the need to express them.
As a teenager, every new emotion is a vivid and original experience that deserves to be documented. Happiness really does feel, in the words of my seventh-grade diary, “SO AMAZING!!!!!!!” Loneliness really does feel all-consuming. My words came in clichéd hyperbole because that style reflected how I perceived reality.
Somewhere in the process of growing up, we lose that certainty of the validity of our own feelings in their most naked, tumultuous glory. We’re more socially aware in our speech, restricted in our social media content (embarrassingly open Facebook statuses from middle school, anyone?), and wary in our writing. The confidence to write badly fades as we become more controlled and adult-like in our emotions. In exchange, we forfeit that exuberant ability to feel.
After all, who feels more alive than a teenage girl, writing in her journal by flashlight, penning hundreds of words about the five words her crush said to her that day? Bad writing summons the freedom to feel and to express those crushingly intense feelings. If you want to live life to the fullest, you have to allow yourself to express emotions to the fullest.
I think I might start writing bad poetry again. I might compare love to thunderstorms and whirlwinds, a certain someone’s eyes to the depthless ocean, the happiness I feel to dancing in the rain. I might even force a few rhymes. In writing badly, I’ll allow myself to feel every grain of life itself as intensely as it deserves to be felt.
We all know how to write. Some of us just don’t consider ourselves writers. Most of us feel like we’re not the best at writing, like our prose merits less praise because of grammar or word choice or syntax, or because the images we choose are too trite. But in reality, bad writing just means unfettered feeling and uninhibited living.
So let your writing be bad and mostly uninhibited. Let your life be joyful and mostly unlimited.
Eva Shang ’17, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Canaday Hall.
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