The Hidden Power Behind the Words

I’ve been thinking about a substitute teacher I had for a few days in the sixth grade. From time to time this woman pops into my mind. I’m not sure what sparks the memory.

I was the kind of student who was always well liked by my teachers. I never talked back, got good grades. I did what I was supposed to. I followed the rules. But this one particular time our regular teacher was off for a few days, and we had a substitute.

Suddenly I could do nothing right. Every little thing I did, this teacher picked up on. I was scolded again and again for reasons I couldn’t understand. I felt belittled and small, insignificant. In a few short days I went from being a happy student, who liked school, to one who couldn’t seem to do anything right.

I was miserable. I hated school. If I didn’t cry, I’m sure I felt like it.

Then one day this substitute asked us to write something creative. I didn’t have to think twice about what I would write. I wrote about teachers who have no respect for students, who berate them and treat them unfairly. The words flowed onto the page like magic. I vented. I purged. I got it all out of my system. It felt good. I breathed a sigh of relief.

I was suddenly aware that words were powerful. It was the first time I was able to express myself fully, in a way that didn’t make me feel self-conscious. I didn’t think about what would happen once this woman read my essay. I didn’t care. I’d discovered freedom. It was at my front door. It came in the form of the written word. It felt right, good and just!

For some reason I don’t recall having any more problems with this teacher. Maybe it was because our regular teacher was back. Hallelujah!

I do, however, remember the substitute teacher passing our assignments back the next day. “So that’s who wrote this,” was her comment. And do you know what? I didn’t much care. I wrote what felt right, what needed to be written. I was able to breathe a bit easier.

I’m sure this teacher hasn’t spent the past forty years pondering what a sixth grader had to say in an essay. I’m thinking that my words didn’t make such a big impact in the grand scheme of things. But I learned a valuable lesson during that time with that substitute teacher. Words have power, not just for the person reading those words, but for the one writing those words.

Do you remember when you first discovered the hidden power in words or did you come to the realization over time? Are you more comfortable expressing yourself verbally or does the written word offer you much more freedom to think and be who you are?

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  1. I loved this story, Laura!

    For me, I express myself much better in writing, primarily because it gives me longer to think about what I want to say.


    • Thanks Wendy! I agree, the written word gives us so much more freedom to truly be who we are and as you say, it gives us longer to think of what we want to say.

  2. Good story, Laura. Great way to spark a writing career.

    Teachers of several classes in high school offered extra credit for writing an essay on the subject matter at the end of the test. I saved many a weak grade with an essay.

    Teachers at school encouraged me to write poetry and prose. I received a couple of awards in high school, one for poetry and one for a short story. Until this time in my life, I didn’t know that writing would become important to me.

    Blessings, Laura…

    • From the time I wrote my first play at the age of 10 I knew that writing was important to me.. It wasn’t until this incident that I truly understood that words weren’t just something to play with and have a good time. If I had something that needed saying the best way to do it was through writing.

  3. That’s a hard question to answer. I can only remember writing. I can’t actually remember when or why. It was a feeling of complete contentment. But when it started…? Thanks for forcing me to think. I’m off to see if I can remember.

    • Thinking isn’t such a bad thing, Joylene!! Ha! I’m sure not everyone can pinpoint a time when they came to see that writing was for them. Sounds as though it might have developed overtime for you!

  4. I write better than I talk. I don’t think I was meant to talk. When I hear myself I think I sound drunk. Naturally, I would rather write than talk.

    • Verbalizing what we have to say isn’t the easiest thing to do. By writing out what we want to get across gives us time to think things out clearly. I do think that expressing ourselves with the spoken word is something we can improve over time. Like anything else it takes practice to make perfect.

  5. I had a grade 9 teacher who encouraged me in my writing. Her friend was Jean Little and she invited her to visit the class and stay after school to talk to students. I was invited to come and meet Jean, but I was so intimidated by the thought of meeting a real writer that I didn’t go. I’m still sorry I didn’t. And still grateful that Miss Johnson thought I was a writer. That’s when I started to believe I was one, too.

    • Great story, Heather…Ah Jean Little! Bet you’d give your eye teeth to go back in time. Maybe you will one day get the opportunity again, who knows..

      Where would any of us be without those teachers who encouraged us along the way, who made us feel like we were really something? :)

  6. A great story, Laura, in how something negative became a positive for you. Wish I had done that with a few of my “not so fun” school experiences.

    But it’s funny how sixth grade was a writing memory for you. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Cameron, had also given us a writing assignment. She was a great teacher, though, very encouraging. She told me I should be a writer. Wish I’d listened to her sooner! But I found my way there in the end. :)

    • Better late than never. I think we come to the page when the time is right for us. Perhaps had you started earlier you might not have been ready and would have become discouraged and gave up before ever writing Fossil Hunter…At least that’s one way to look at it.

  7. I always did well in the Language Arts, and later majored in English, but I can’t remember being drawn to creative writing until my adult years. The first time I discovered the power in words was when I managed the campaign of a candidate running for a School District position. Campaign speeches and newspaper interviews could be worded to elicit specific reactions. It was quite a revelation to me.

    • I’m with you, Carol, Language Arts was my favourite, followed closely by history. I would think managing a campaign would give you plenty of opportunity to use you skills. Hmmm, you never cease to amaze me. :)

  8. “Are you more comfortable expressing yourself verbally or does the written word offer you much more freedom to think and be who you are?”

    I’m usually pretty quiet outside of the work environment – not a people person, but not unfriendly or stuffy. Otherwise, I’m a decent communicator, comfortable either way. For business, I tend to put everything in writing – even as follow ups to conversation, there’s too much at stake to rely on verbal instruction in my racket. My letters, emails, etc, get to the point & cover what needs to be said, much to the discomfort of some of the recipients. Written ‘tirades’ are especially fun.

    • Now I’m a bit curious about these so called written “tirades” that you speak of. I hope that doesn’t happen often. ;)

      After reading your comment, I’m wondering if you find that fiction writing gives you more freedom to express yourself than the writing you do for your business? There would certainly be big difference. Hmmm just curious!

      • Writing fiction (YA) helps me escape the pressure & stress brought on by the regular need to produce the written tirades. I build big buildings, medical centers, railroads & other “stuff”. My daytime world is all about deadlines, budgets, problem solving, the endless pursuit of perfection, & an awful lot of “How the heck are we gonna do THAT?” It’s exhausting, but never dull. The fiction writing gig gives me a chance to re-charge & “hang out with the kids”.

  9. I definitely express myself better in writing. In the real world, your audience interjects, interrupts, and says things that distract you. In writing, I am able to get my thoughts (or arguments) down in their purest form.

    I was always the kid who was picked on by teachers, so I feel your (blessedly temporary) pain. I had a few good ones, but most of my instructors were terrible.

    I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the power of words. I’ve never seen anything hurt more, or make a person feel better, than perfectly chosen words.

    • Yes, I hear what you’re saying. I’ve noticed that i verbal conversation people don’t often listen to the person speaking. They do interrupt and distract us.

      So you didn’t have good experience with your teachers. Other than that one substitute I made out well. But it makes me wonder what happens to some kids who do get picked on by teachers. I’d say you did really well, Holli, but what about those students who would give up trying? Not such a great ending for them perhaps.

  10. Amazing story, Laura. I was inspired. Good for you expressing yourself that way. How unfair to have that mean substitute picking on you. It hurt at the time but you learned and grew from the experience.

    I don’t recall having a Eureka moment like yours but I have always preferred writing to speaking as a medium for expressing myself. I love the whole process of putting my thoughts into words and writing about feelings. I’ve always kept a diary as a way to vent and make sense of things. I’m a person very close to my emotions and often my emotions run me which isn’t always good. At least I can write about them before taking action which is a good thing. Often if I react emotionally I get myself into trouble. It still happens occasionally.

    I think that people who are my Facebook friends probably know me better than the real life ones do with all the writing I do about stuff going on. Hope I’m not too boring. LOL!


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