This is about a print newspaper; a homeschool education; dyslexia; stories; also hope, diligence, and graduation.
First, the print newspaper. Two years ago, I picked up Liberty University’s twenty-page, color edition of the student newspaper while visiting their campus. The stories were interesting. The layout was appealing. And the newspaper was official. We could do this, I thought. As the editor-in-chief of Regent University’s online student newspaper, I had been in the business of overseeing articles published daily on our website. However, at Liberty, I became captivated with the idea of Regent also having a print paper. Pitching the idea to the right people was easy enough. But once the idea was approved and the initial celebratory moment passed, I had to figure out how to create a print paper. This meant finding the best student authors, curating articles, organizing interviews and learning my way around Adobe InDesign. I combed through photos, meticulously revised and painstakingly copyedited. Three months later, Regent University sent its student newspaper to a printer for the first time. It featured seventeen articles, fifteen writers, ten photos, six interviews, five ads and one comic. Thus began my life as a print editor. But this is not where my writing journey truly started. No. Instead, it began back in second grade when I was being homeschooled, struggling with dyslexia and developing a love for stories. As I anticipate my graduation in just two short months, allow me a moment of reflection.
It’s 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, and I’m sitting on the couch at home in my living room next to Mom as she reads aloud. My feet are tucked into a fuzzy blanket, and on my lap rests an open notebook I’m sketching in. Mom’s voice stops as she reaches the end of the fourth page in the chapter and hands the book to me, indicating it’s my turn to read. My eight-year-old voice falters as I stumble over the first two words before getting stuck on the third. The word is “blend,” but I read it like “dlonb” since all the letters are getting turned around on the page. Mom patiently stops me and helps sound it out, noting where the letters D, O and B are throwing me off.
Both valedictorians of their high schools, my parents had never faced such a dilemma, but they sympathized with my struggle. Over the years, Mom went through numerous spelling programs, striving to find some way to help me understand how words were formed. I visited tutors, took tests and changed reading programs often. Through it all, my difficulty persisted. This same problem has led many before me to abandon grammar and reading, but I came to find that stories saved and fostered my passion for English.
My first memory of being captivated by a story is from first grade. My dad picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from the Barnes and Noble shelf. “I’ve heard this one is supposed to be really good,” he said, turning to me. “Wanna try it?” he asked. I nodded, interested in anything he proposed. Dad glanced around and headed toward a nearby bench with pillows lining it. I leaned against him as he opened the cover and started the first chapter: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” By the time we finished the second chapter, I was already planning my own trip to Hogwarts.
As my elementary years passed, I became immersed in stories. Soon after the Potter series concluded, our family was flying out to our annual ski trip in Colorado, and Dad came across the novel Percy Jackson and the Olympians in an airport bookstore. We started it on the plane, and that was the beginning of another childhood favorite. I can still remember him reading aloud in a window seat near the middle of the airplane, his head bent low to be heard over the rush of wind outside.
At the same time, stories began to impact my writing. The fantastical books I read boosted my imagination and made me excited to write papers for school with a dramatic flair. Rather than a painful chore involving words I couldn’t spell and grammar I didn’t understand, writing became an opportunity to elaborate on the stories I was currently reading. I would discuss the paper topic, but I often included characters whose dialogue addressed the topic or give detailed descriptions of scenes.
For example, in third grade, I wrote a report on pyramids in Egypt. However, I did not just present the facts. I opened the essay with two characters in a discussion about the trip they had recently taken to the sandy country. They described the oppressive heat and foreign travelers they had met with detail that was not required, only entertaining. From their discussion, readers were informed on the essay topic. In another report about bats, I employed first-person sentences like, “My thin wings expand, and I launch out of the cave.”
Thankfully, Mom did not try to change my unique writing style. She believed that using my imagination would foster my desire to write. She also found that allowing me to build on the stories written by professional authors gave me experience with different styles. She gave me freedom while still teaching me how papers should be structured and researched.
Though I loved writing and stories, my grammar was still abysmal. But with every paper written, Mom would sit down and walk me through the mistakes as she edited. Prepositional openers are the comment I remember hearing the most. She would be reading along and then come to a sentence like the following: “After the buffaloes race they gather water for their young.” Upon reading this, she would ask, “What should come after the opening prepositional phrase?” I would guess “a comma,” and then she would move on. Don’t be fooled by this narration. She was often exasperated, and I was bored, hanging upside down from my parents’ bed as she sat at the desk reading my paper aloud.
Yet somehow, from this repeated and seemingly uninvolved process of watching her edit grammar and syntax, I learned to put a comma after a prepositional opener. I learned to keep my tenses consistent. I learned to write.
A writer is transfigured by books and failed spelling tests and scribbled story ideas in pieces of notebook paper. She’s formed from laying in the yard on a thick blanket as Mom reads The Chronicles of Narnia aloud and begging Dad for one more bedtime chapter of the Ranger’s Apprentice. She’s shaped by memories of struggling to read words and the joy of Mom agreeing to homeschool her and patiently building the phonics system out of clay.
A writer is dreamed into being by looking out the car window as her whole family road-trips, listening to various audiobooks over the speakers. She’s created from the embarrassment of misspelled words, the weariness of constant tutors and the hope of stories. And then one day you find yourself sitting down and writing in the same house you were raised and educated in. You’re on the couch tucked under another fuzzy blanket, and you see your fingers typing and editing a college newspaper article. Your last. And you wonder at how your past has challenged and made you.
Then comes a magical moment. You realize you are not only made by your past, but you get to help create the future. This is the last installment of the last Regent print paper I’ll create. It is the last sentence in my college chapter, but it is not the end of my story. Because of professors and tutors who challenged me, friends who encouraged me, a mom who faithfully taught me and a dad who continually read to me, I have had the amazing opportunity to cultivate a love for writing and stories that I will carry with me as my journey continues.