Collected works by Elle Shutty

There comes a time in every child’s development when they acquire a sense of self-awareness. The child looks in the mirror and recognizes “That’s me.” This realization is a milestone in terms of cognitive ability- the child becomes able to separate themselves from the rest of the population and understands that they have a unique identity. When I passed this developmental stage, I recognized more than just my face in the mirror. I looked at books and thought instinctively “I am a writer.” Flipping through books I couldn’t read by myself yet, I knew, with a childlike lack of self-doubt, that when I was “big” I would be the one who created the books other people read. My first book was dictated to my mother and included illustrations I had done myself. I was only 4 years old but I was secure in my abilities. The simple plot was of a search for my favorite stuffed animal. It had little glued-on flaps that revealed not my toy, but other objects around my house. Suspense, tactile involvement, construction paper: my first book had it all. It was probably the only thing I wrote that I was ever completely satisfied with.

Through the basest understanding of what a writer was, I was able to see that it was what I was too. For as long as I can remember, “writer” has been listed under my name on my mental résumé. Although this realization came almost in tandem with my awareness of self, it would be a long time until I understood why I felt the strong desire to pour words out on paper. In addition to time and maturity, the most important influence on how I thought of writing was, not surprisingly, books. Many books and various writings would come together over the years to form a tentative concept of why writing is so central to my identity.

Perhaps it was because my ambition to be a writer was formed when I was a child, but the content of the stories boiling inside me have always been more focused on fantasy than reality. This points to one of my central reasons for writing: escape. Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle told the story of a fictional writer who wrote for that very same reason. I had been given a choice of books to read for a school project, and when I picked Atwood’s novel I had no idea how pleased I would be with my choice. The narrator in the book is an author, and to make some extra money she writes romance novels that she admits aren’t great literary works. But she explains her readers’ need for her book by citing “the pure quintessential need […] for escape.” She elaborates on the success of her books with “Escape wasn’t a luxury for them. It was a necessity” (34). She compares her books to painkillers taken to ease the pain of a dull and unhappy life. “The truth was that I dealt in hope, I offered a vision of a better world, however preposterous. Was that so terrible?” (35). While I would hope that my writing would be less scoffed at than hers, I think that it would perform the same service for its readers. That book describes why I like to read and in doing so it also comments on what I would try to write, as I often try to write things that I would want to read.

I came across Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass during an assignment in college. Beauty in poetry had never been a challenge for me to find, but I usually had trouble drawing meaning from it. After reading Whitman’s work, I properly mourned my lack of prowess for writing poetry for the first time. There is one line that I interpreted to describe perfectly why I, and I think Whitman, love to write. “Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me, if I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.” To me, writing is “sending sunrise out of me.” After being inundated with beauty and meaning in all aspects of life, I would be overwhelmed with it all if I couldn’t produce something beautiful and meaningful myself. To withstand life I must produce more of it- in the form of writing and stories.

I am capable of writing term papers, competent in writing essays, and decent at producing empty prose on scholarly subjects. But stories, stories are what draw me to words and books and being a writer. And despite my respect for great works of literature, for deep, symbolic arguments with political themes and existential messages, I have never felt that such writing is the only way of being a serious writer. I hope to write books that I would enjoy, and my tastes desire the novel, the exciting, and the emotional.  I am a fan of Mark Twain’s famous definition “ ‘Classic’- a book which people praise and don’t read.” I wouldn’t want a book I wrote to end up being esteemed but unread and not enjoyed. Fairy tales, folktales, myths: they all hold a charm for me that is irreplaceable. These types of stories are generally passed along for years orally. The plots change over time and the details have gains and losses every time the story is retold. I believe that such stories can still be produced and written down, even if they don’t follow the oral tradition. If I were to set a writing goal for myself, it would be to add to the world’s repertoire of stories.

Novels have comprised most of my reading material during my lifetime. If I read and enjoyed a non-fiction book, it is likely that it was on a subject I knew little about. Even in the field of non-fiction I was often able to find something new and interesting. Biographies easily lend themselves to entertaining reading. It helps if the subject is a fascinating character like Cleopatra, where I suppose some of the details of her life would be better labeled as fable rather than nonfiction anyway. Reading is always interesting to me if it enriches my knowledge base; if it teaches me facts or stories I had never heard or imagined before. What I value in my personal choice of reading material reflects the kind of writing I am proudest of. The idea of producing something new, something never before seen in the world is what draws me to the field of writing.

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