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First Words

First Words

By Kristen Roach, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio

     It takes newborns about a year of listening to others and playing with sound before they speak a few words with an understanding of their use and meaning. At first they coo happily, then babble a few fun syllables. Later they play with alphabet sounds and tones of voice, really getting to know the range of their volume, and they entertain themselves to pieces. Finally they begin to vocalize the sounds they associate with the things closest to them, often ma or da. Imagine the new synapses that must fly across their brains the first time they enunciate “ba” when they want milk and subsequently are provided with a bottle full of milk. Absolute magic. They have just become conjurers, and they are awesome, powerful creatures that can change the world with their voices.

     Our Bluegrass Writers begin classes this week, and they will soon be writing the first words of their first stories, essays, and poems for workshop. They’ll be posting their first comments to literary discussion boards, speaking their first words of criticism and praise for the work of their peers, and for some, reading their words aloud to an audience for the first time. They are excited, anxious, and afraid. Some people will harbor serious cases of impostor syndrome, feeling like they’ve been let into the program through some kind of glitch in the admissions software. They will sometimes be daunted by infernal blinking cursors while their complicated, experienced minds spend all of their energy on fear, pressure, comparison, and perfectionism.

     Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer the newborn technique. As a successful Bluegrass Writers Studio alumna, I give this advice: let yourself off the hook for finding the first words first. I’ve never seen a baby book where the parents wrote in, “Stephanie made unintelligible guttural noises for her first 50 weeks, until she finally uttered something we could understand. It was a horrific thing to witness.” No. The noises she made were beginnings of emotional expression and communication, whether silly or frustrated, sleepy or bubbling with joy.

     Give yourself time to babble whatever nonsense you have in you, play with sounds, and test your volume. Entertain yourself to pieces. Grab pen and paper, those visceral tools of physical energy and passion, and set your hand to stirring up the contents of your mind – shivery words, preoccupations, song lyrics, long memories, worries, character sketches, places you’re drawn to, jobs you’re glad you don’t have. Write big and small and sideways; be ridiculous and hilarious and dark and angry and sentimental and sorry. I promise you, if you can free yourself to fill the air with the raw imperfect sounds your humanity is making inside you, people will – when you get to them – remember your first words.

Contact Information

Kristen Roach

Published on September 01, 2015

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