In transition: the experience of writing in your mid-thirties

by Abby Brunt

When I first arrived here at ODU last year, it was with a high mix of excitement and anxiety. I was finally doing what I’d dreamed of doing all through my 20’s, but that I didn’t have the courage or the financial stability to attempt – I was trying to be a writer, a poet. Yet at the same time, it had been about a decade since I’d been in the classroom and even though I’d been writing most of that time, I felt rusty in class, too old for school, out of place. During my first semester this experience of displacement worsened. As a thirty-four year old woman I don’t write the same way I wrote when I was twenty-two because I’m not the same person I was at twenty-two. I’ve made it past the angry, angsty poems of my late teens, early twenties, and past the more strident tone that characterized much of my mid to late twenties work. That much I knew and I knew that what I was striving for was a more mature and nuanced sensibility with regards to language and tone. But I wasn’t sure how to bridge that gap between the younger writing self and the mature writer’s voice.

I imagine that I’m not the only thirty-something in an MFA program who’s experienced this, that I’m not alone in wondering: What happens to your writing tone when you’re past the in-your-face anger, that urgency of youth, but you haven’t yet earned your wisdom lines? At times it feels the way, I imagine, an adolescent boy feels about his voice. You used to have a perfectly fine voice, but it was a young voice, and that worked for a while and you wrote fine, young poetry, but writing that way no longer satisfies, so you long for, reach for, a deeper voice, one that carries more inflection, a nuanced range, but all you feel you manage to eek out are some squeaky lines. It’s embarrassing. Everything feels fundamentally less put together than it did when you were writing young poetry. But here’s the thing, you know it’s necessary. You read the mature poets, read their lines in their beautiful, nuanced voices and you know that they didn’t always write that way, somewhere there was a transition. So you keep the faith. You keep writing your squeaky lines, believing you will get there, and at some point in those lines, signs of maturity will appear, deeper strains begin to form.   Just as every adolescent boy loses his squeaky voice, you know someday you will, too.

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