There’s no getting away from the fact that I was a shy child. All through my school years my reports praised my conscientiousness and good standard of work but repeatedly criticised me for not speaking up.
A typical comment was: “Beverley is a quiet girl who would benefit from participating more in class discussions.” My teachers didn’t seem to consider my shyness might be a factor in this, or create an atmosphere that might encourage less voluble girls such as myself to share their thoughts.
So even now, in groups, I’m unlikely to be the one who puts her hand up first, and I often hang back and wait a while before saying anything. Give me a pen, though, and it’s a different story.
I enjoyed English composition and often had my essays read out to the class in primary school. I thought it a shame that in grammar school we rarely had a chance to do any creative writing but never lost my ability to express myself well on paper.
That particular talent lay dormant during my teenage years and was resurrected when I started work as a secretary to the editor of a music magazine. My first real relationship was with a writer for the magazine, who used to take me with him to the gigs he was reviewing.
We would always have a post-gig analysis which would then inform his reviews. Then, one day, when he deemed himself too busy to write a particular review, he asked me if I’d do it instead.
After some protesting about how I couldn’t do it, he told me I could, and I did. And to my astonishment, the editor published my review.
This is how my journalistic career began, and after a year of freelance writing I was appointed to the staff of the magazine as a feature writer. The quiet girl had been given permission to be loud – but only in print.
I’ve been a writer of one sort or another ever since and now, almost 35 years after those first uncertain steps into print, writing has become part of my spiritual practice.
Last year I read a book called Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, subtitled Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and these words in her introduction really resonated with me: “Seeing yourself in print is such an amazing concept: you can get so much attention without having to actually show up somewhere… Writers, who tend to be shy, get to stay home and still be public.”
She goes on to say that the thrill of seeing oneself in print is a sort of primal verification – you are in print, therefore you exist. You appear outside yourself.
I understand this thrill. Especially if I’m particularly proud of a piece of writing and/or it generates positive feedback from readers. I write, therefore I am.
And in these days of citizen journalism, of the blogosphere, it is easier than ever to see yourself in print – albeit virtual print. Even if you don’t publish your work, if you simply write in a diary or journal, there is something powerfully healing in appearing outside yourself. Especially for a shy child.