Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Writing Tips from an Idiot

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From Jeff: This is a guest post from Trisha Davis. Trisha is an author, speaker, and co-founder of RefineUs Ministries. She just published her first book (co-authored wit her husband): Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just Isn’t Good Enough.

I grew up in an urban neighborhood rich with culture and diversity. And although I was surrounded with unique educational opportunities, part of me struggled to learn.

Writing Idiot

Photo Credit: Lord Jim via Compfight cc

As a little girl, I attended a public school that pioneered a guinea pig program called Individual Education (I.E.). This program was based on an educational philosophy that focused not only on academics but on creativity and counseling.

We did traditional academics in the morning, then courses like poetry, square dancing, and pottery in the afternoon. If you could dream it, my school would help you create it.

At the time, I didn’t know my school was different. I didn’t know other schools gave letter grades while mine only gave “pass” or “fail.” I thought everyone called their teachers by their first names.

Even though I was in remedial reading and writing classes and struggled with traditional academics, I excelled in the creative ones. I loved any course that involved dancing, acting, and storytelling — as long as I could read my own writing out loud.

When things started to change…

I’ll never forget eighth grade. My family had to move, which meant I was no longer allowed to attend the I.E. side of my middle school. I was now on the standard education side, which offered, in exchange for letter grades, little opportunity to be creative.

I was a C student — a C student full of ideas and dreams but struggling with a learning disability that left me for the next several years running away from a passion to create.

I was a C student who feared being made fun of due to my inability to spell. My high school English teacher even called me a “writing idiot,” which traumatized me.

In fact, I chose to graduate from high school a semester early so I wouldn’t have to turn in my handwritten senior English research project.

Then, in 1997, two miracles happened:

The first came when I discovered Microsoft Word, a program that allowed my dyslexic mind to write the words I’d always wanted to write but couldn’t.

The second came when I met Sister Mary-Margaret, my writing professor at college. She recognized my learning disability and challenged me to look past it.

Sister Mary-Margaret unearthed a passion to write creatively and restored a belief in myself that I’d lost so many years ago. She once said to me, “If you’re willing to do the hard work, you have the opportunity to be a brilliant writer.”

I had never heard that before. It opened up my heart to new possibilities. This once-C student could become a straight-A student, if she wanted, even make the Dean’s list. And that’s just what I did.

Sharing my story to inspire others

Even after I started exercising my creative gift, I never thought I’d use my writing to inspire others. But Sister Mary-Margaret saw something in me that took me years to recognize.

And in 2009, my husband Justin and I started a blog simply out of a desire to share our story. We wrote words to bring hope and restore relationships. Our lives and marriage had nearly been ruined by an affair, and we wanted to help others work through similar issues.

We had no idea if people would read what we had to say, but we felt compelled to write, anyway.

Three years later, what started as a blog has now become a ministry that reaches people all over the world, helping them reconcile their marriages. And just this month, we  released our very first book.

Yes, this spelling-challenged, dyslexic “writing idiot” co-wrote a book with her husband. A book full of words that has helped us express our journey of redemption, grace, and forgiveness. And hopefully, it’ll help others walk a similar path.

Who would’ve ever thought it could happen? Not me. And certainly not my high school English teacher. But one person: Sister Mary-Margaret. She saw it from the beginning.

If you’re struggling to step into your calling, I pray you’re fortunate enough (as I was) to find a Sister Mary-Margaret in your life — someone to encourage and challenge you to be who you are, regardless of the fears and disabilities you might be facing. And I hope you lean into those words of wisdom and encouragement and begin your journey.

If you aspire to write, as I did, it’s my prayer that you’re able to look beyond what’s holding you back, believe you have what it takes, and embrace the fact that your words have power.

Who or what is holding you back from writing? Share in the comments.

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About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • Adrijus Guscia

    Writing a book isn’t about correct spelling, it’s about the message and the story. That English teacher was an idiot herself. There are ton of successful dyslexic people too, just look at Richard Branson! 

    Thank you for sharing! 

    • Melanie Friedman

      My childhood story is similar. My adult life is not. My only encourager , up to this point, besides adorable husband, has been that still small voice (Holy Spirit), prompting my heart to write story. Tears flowing. I’ve written little, struggling to believe. The core of my being believes God’s stories rest within me. Stories untold. My emotions fight battles of doubt. Oceans of waves crashing over my faith. Thankful I paused to read this piece today. Your words, your story and above thread of comments have encouraged, refreshed the writer within me. Thank you. Pray for me, my sister. Continually stepping into story, hopefully faith will see me through. 

      You’re life, your struggles, a blessing for many. Thankful! 

  • http://sparkvoice.wordpress.com/ DS

    Thanks for sharing your story – and congrats on your most recent accomplishment.  It’s amazing to think about people crushing each other’s ideas.  Even though you reference Sister Mary – you still had to respond in an appropriate way.

    Typically, it’s me and my excuses that get in the way of my writing – self discipline. 

  • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

    Trisha, I love when passion trumps fear. And as a teacher, I love hearing how teachers inspire – it’s the best part of the job!  To respond to your questions, perfectionism is what holds me back. It’s losing its grip; but if I’m having a day where I’m avoiding my craft, it’s almost always due to that.

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Aaron,  I’m right with you! Perfectionism is usually my achilles heel. I have to remind myself it’s the mistakes in the creative process, which often lead to beautiful things. 

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    Yours is a wonderful and inspiring story, Trisha.  You have taken what others perceive as weakness and turned it into a strength and now help others.  That’s admirable.  Thanks for sharing your story.

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Dan thank you for your kind words and encouragement! 

      • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

        You’re welcome, Trisha.  I can empathize with you, because I am also an underdog who has come back to share my story.  We beat the odds and should feel blessed for that.

  • http://DavidHelmsBlog.com/ David Helms

    It’s amazing that one person believing in you can make such a difference. I was also the C student. Every report card featured this comment “David shows allot of potential but fails to apply himself.” I couldn’t handle the letter grades and lack of creativity and memorization of facts I cared nothing about. You’re lucky you found your Sister Mary Margaret before you were finished with school.

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Ugh… I’m so sorry David. I’ve got a comment or two I’d like to share with them :) jk  
      I hope you can look past the grades and start dreaming big dreams with whatever outlandish creative process God has gifted you with!  

  • http://twitter.com/Msadaku Msadaku

    Oh honey!  But you are the “Sister Mary-Margaret” to ‘some people’ right now!  Cheers.  Thanks for sharing your story.

    http://msadaku.blogspot.com

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      You made my eyes misty! Thank you! 

  • Jim Jacobs

    Thank you for sharing your story.  You are an inspiration.

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Thank you Jim!

  • LemRosales

    This is a great help for me jeff, and please say my thanks to trisha. You see, I have a friend who’s struggling with her marriage. I really wanted to help but being a single, I can’t pull out any advice to help her or comfort her. But then I found trisha’s blog through yours and it might just be what she needs. It’s not an accident that I found your blog. And now what has (and continues to) helped me out, I can extend to someone else. God’s plan is always perfect. God bless you both!

  • annepeterson

    Really liked your post Trisha. So glad to hear about your book which will undoubtedly help many others who are struggling in their marriages. One of your obstacles was your disability. And yet you scaled it and finished what you set out to do. I find that my voices sometimes are louder than encouraging ones I hear. If I could just keep silencing them and move forward. Thanks for your post.

  • http://twitter.com/MrsJenBardall Jennifer Bardall

    You’ve inspired me in more ways than one today. Thank you for sharing your story and widsom here.

  • Janine

    Very inspiring and encouraging Trisha. It is such a shame there are educators that will quash the confidence and ambitions of the young. I have just returned to the writing game after many years of running away from it. As a child I was bombarded by negative reinforcement, so to protect myself I closed down. Now I have returned to my first love. Through this I have had to face underlying issues, writing I feel demands a person to be ‘open’ which after many years I find very hard but very rewarding. Thanks for the post it’s people such as yourself being honest and sharing experience which help others achieve the same. 

  • http://www.ordinaryservant.com/ Pilar Arsenec

    I am really upset at that writing teacher that called you an idiot. How rude and disrespectful of them! I’m so sorry. I felt so sad reading this. Thank the Lord for Sister Mary-Margaret. I’m so happy God place her in your path. If there is anyone in this world who can relate to being told awful things like that and then some, it’s me. When the name calling begins at such a young and impressionable age, you begin to believe you are all those things they tell you. For me, it was ‘stupid’. Unfortunately, it wasn’t from a teacher, although I had a few evil teachers, which my mother recently confided that one teacher was just trying to get back at my mother by hurting me. Isn’t that lovely? Anyway, the name calling came from my own parents. I was stupid. I despise that word. According to them, I never was good enough, I did not measure up, everyone else was better, more talented, hard working, etc… All my life I have been trying to prove them wrong. They couldn’t seem to understand I was different, I was creative. So because they couldn’t understand me, they berated me instead of embracing the qualities which made me unique. It was only when I started to succeed in the arts, that my mother started to see me differently. I forgive both my parents, but their words left a scar in my life. Anyway, thanks for sharing this very inspirational post. I really enjoyed reading it. Blessings to you.

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Pilar, 

      I’m a bit speechless. Your story at first made my heart hurt but then it dawned on me, you never gave up! You never gave up on who God created you to be! What a powerful testimony your life has become and is made more beautiful by the grace you’ve shown along the way! 

      • http://www.ordinaryservant.com/ Pilar Arsenec

        Trisha,

        I was passionate about what had happened to you as a child that my comment came right out. I’m sure you know there is a lot more to my story, A LOT more. I know it is the hand of God on my life that I managed to survive or not end up in a mental hospital. No exaggeration. In any event, I appreciate your beautiful heart and so thankful you didn’t give up either. Blessings to you and your husband.

  • http://www.jonstallings.com/ Jon Stallings

    My mom used to say that I was “C” sick. My biggest issue for the most part I just hated school.  I am still very much grammar deficient, but I blog and I am now embarking on my Masters.  And my “English Teacher” wife still loves me after 25 years.  Thanks Trisha for the post. I am glad that I am not alone.

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Jon thank you for sharing a small piece of your story!! CONGRATULATIONS on pursuing your Masters!

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com Eileen

    What a hurtful thing for a teacher to say.  It’s sad how words and labels like this can continue to taunt us even years later. Glad you continued to persevere!  I recently bought your book and have started reading it.  I love the message of hope and redemption you and your husband are spreading.  Thank you! 

  • http://Rickenba.ch/blog/en Ralph M. Rickenbach

    Mary-Margaret, Mary-Clarence, Mary-Soandso. Sister Acts III. Great story. Why not talk to Whoopi Goldberg? Blessings.

  • http://www.livelaughserve.com/ Michael Hawkins

    Great post with a happy ending.

    Sometimes ONE person can have such a positive impact on us.  Thank God for putting those people in our lives!!

    My family had the honor of hearing Trisha and Justin speak at our church @gccwired:twitter  a few months ago.  Quite a story.  With a happy ending.  :-)

    Thanks for sharing.

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      You indeed have an AMAZING church family! Justin and I are so thankful for GCC!

  • Vivi

    I’m glad you had the courage to start your blog and also to share this story in your uplifting post. My public grade school also put emphasis on creativity–poetry, dancing (called “Rhythms” back then), music, art. Those elements were key parts of our curriculum, and it’s so sad that many schools have dropped those subjects as budgets have been cut because they are seen as marginal. But your story (and mine) both show that those early influences provided a groundwork of creativity and intuitiveness that have seen us through other less positive educational experiences. God bless Sister Mary-Margaret for stimulating you to use your God-given talents!

  • Carolyn Mance

    Thanks Trisha for sharing your experience.  Teachers can be thoughtless.  My daughter was told by her HS teacher re: her senior project while reviewing it,” Yeah, keep working on it until it fails!!!”    

    I was never told I wasn’t a good writer and in my 9th grade creative writing class, I had a short published. It was a fiction story.   However, I thought that was just a hobby and the expectation was a traditional career. (The adults I was surrounded by only modeled traditional careers: nurse, teacher, engineer etc…My parents were self-made and I knew I was expected to do the same. 

     I chose a business route and found that I hated corporate america and the best part of my job (HR) besides interviewing, was writing the newsletter ha! I never loooved writing so much that I picked it up as a hobby.  Then one Christmas we were in a financial pinch so I wrote to  every member of my family letters of appreciation. I guess everyone liked their personalized scroll and a few let me know I had them crying on Christmas morning.  When I heard my Dad say,” You are a good writer and should write”, I was so in the midst of child rearing I told myself one day…. I guess that day has come and I have a lot to learn, but 2013 is the year.  

    Thanks for sharing your story, I have a similar one in my marriage.  Glad you were able to build a blog/book together.  The world needs to know we did it and they can too!!

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Carolyn, 
      What powerful words to hear from your father! I hope to read some of your writings in 2013! :) 

  • http://hugmomma.blogspot.com/ Hugmomma

    Fantastic blog, Trish. That English teacher could have very well been my mother, except she taught younger children. Her comments to family after reading my blogs have been, “Well, I’m glad she learned how to write, because she still can’t talk.” Which is my new goal, to become a great speaker. Not to please the negative voices in my life, but to continue to reach for the things that the world tells me I can’t do. I hope I can be a “Sister Mary” in other’s life in the process. Blessings – Mary Martin

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Mary, 

      I think its great you’re chasing after your dreams despite what others may think or say! 

  • straphaelhealing

    I love your story Trish.  Working as a therapist and coach for many years, I can tell you that the biggest missing piece in so many lives is authentic affirmation.  There’s no shortage of people to point out your failings and inadequacies.  Those people are a dime a dozen. It’s so important to find those “Sister Mary Margarets” out there who can truly be present to your goodness, moved by it and reflect it back to you in a way that you can feel- that’s really powerful.  Knowing in your heart that someone really “sees” you  can work miracles.  I’ve seen it so many times.  God bless you in all you do and thanks for sharing your gift with the world.  May Jesus be praised!

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      “Knowing in your heart that someone really “sees” you  can work miracles. ” I love this statement! 

  • Stephnie Farmerie

    I ran across your website last week and was thrilled to read your testimony. I am glad that Sister Mary Margaret was in your life to encourage you so that you, in turn, might become an encouragement to others. We need that in this world of hype and negativity. Thank you for being vulnerable, for being real.

  • Brad V

    Trisha,
    I was struck by the little voice that echoed in your mind for so long. Planted by a cruel comment and growing wild until the right person spoke another word. You started a dialog I have often had with myself. Thanks for sharing your story in changing the inner dialog. You have given me hope and a fresh perspective.

  • Melanie Fischer

    Thank you Trisha for sharing your story…may this encourage
    us all to be a “Sister Mary Margaret”. I once heard that every struggling
    person is just ONE caring person away from victory.

  • eric

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Trisha. My version of your Sister Mary Margaret was Julie Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and “Vein of Gold.” I suggest these to anyone trying to work through their fears with any kind of creative work, especially writing. Through Julie’s guide, I learned to write every morning, and put a muzzle on my inner demons and censors. -Eric A. Roberg

  • http://www.jeremybinns.com/ Jeremy Binns

    This post really took me off guard.  I’m sitting here tearing up half way through the work day at a post I stumbled onto through twitter.

    Thank you for sharing such an inspirational story, and more importantly, thanks for living it!

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Thank you and I’m sorry :) 

  • Marsha Holtgrewe-Posz

    I have the core belief of “I’m not good enough” to work around.  This core belief poisons so many of the things I want to do.  Thanks for sharing your story!  I have a dyslexic cousin who suffered much the same way you did.  Now he owns his own business.  I never saw him as stupid and I tutored him through school even though I was a year younger than he was.  We went to grade school in a place that had multi-grade classrooms so I learned his lessons as well as my own.  He eventually went to college and got his associate’s degree.  He’s a very smart guy–he just struggles to learn from a book.  We remain very close to this day.  I wish I could believe in myself half as well as I believe in others.

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    This is an amazing story and one I can definitely identify with. I’m horrible at spelling but I love to write and write anyways. I’m writing my third book and loving every minute because of modern technology, more things are possible for us! Keep inspiring people, we need it :) 

  • Narelle

    loved this..very inspiring..from both of your stories..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1511151902 Monique Williams

    This is a very inspiring story. Makes me hopeful.
    Fearful to write, afraid it won’t be good enough. 
    Very happy to hear your marriage made it. I hope
    to re-marry one day. (soon I hope)

  • http://twitter.com/elramey debra elramey

    Thank you for this wonderful story of triumph Trish!  
    Hugs and Blessings! 

  • http://twitter.com/Karoline_Ott Karoline

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. It takes a lot of gut to share something like that, and I feel privileged that you did. asateenwriter.blogspot.com

  • Sam Edge (Notes from the Edge)

    I went through something similar but 10 years earlier in the 70′s. I ended up dropping out of school and having all kinds of trouble based on my experience. I haven’t told this part of my story to my readers yet but I ‘ve only been blogging for a few months. It wasn’t until i went to University in my Thirties that I found out I wasn’t “challenged” but actually gifted and had a extremely high IQ. IT is a story worth telling and I had kind of forgotten the impact it had until I read this. Thanks

    My Blog is http://www.edgeynotes.com

  • S. Kim Henson

    Beautiful story, Trisha. Thanks for sharing. 

  • marvin ginsberg

    I can relate, but my mother always rejected me and I never got the encouragement from my teachers. Well, now that I think if it, I have gotten one compliment from a teacher for an essay. Hmmm.
    At any rate, people love my one page fiction stories. People seem to come alive with my stories. I would like to get past the stigma of my mother rejecting me, and  make a living from them. Spinning wheels is like dying.

  • http://www.chaplainmike.com/ Mike Hansen

    Me, myself and I are the ones holding me back. Or maybe it’s because I like to sleep more than 6 hours a night. Not sure which.

    Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

  • http://www.nickcerda.org/ Nick Cerda

    It’s a shame that when we don’t fit the mold the talent in us is overlooked. But it’s so beautifully redemptive when someone loves us for who we are and at the same time sees who we can become.

    Thanks for sharing your story. 

  • http://twitter.com/becomewhour Hannah

    Thank you for an inspiring post, and for being open about your story. I feel a lot of admiration for your ability to rise above pointlessly nasty messages and go for what you want. 

  • James Devlin

    This is awesome. It’s great how people can influence life so much!

    Really inspirational for writers everywhere!

    http://writeractive.blogspot.com/

  • Karen

    I just had the conversation with a friend yesterday over lunch about needing a mentor – someone who believes in me and the call God has on my life. Interesting that your post ends with that prayer. Thank you! And I join you in that prayer that God will bring me my very own Sister Mary-Margaret.

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  • Jolee Donnelly

    I teach high school. Your story reminds me of a student I had once. The student had dysgraphia. It’s a disability where a person cannot write legibly. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s similar to dyslexia. 

    He too was a “C” student. After about the fifth assignment he turned in, I finally gave up on trying to read his handwriting. When I asked him if he could please try to write legibly, he told me about his disorder. I had never heard of it.  I found him a computer to use during class.Turns out. The kid was brilliant. He wrote some of the most intelligent papers I had ever read by a student.  His vocabulary was way above grade level. His understanding of every text we read was too. He started carrying a small computer to all his classes. He became an “A” student. 

    It makes me sad that he could have started being an “A” student a long time ago. It makes me angry that so many teachers just gave up on trying to read what he had to say. I am thankful I had this student because he taught me the importance of making sure all my students are accommodated appropriately. With the right tools, students can and WILL shine. 

    Thank you for sharing your story. I like that it made me reflect back on the lessons this student taught me as a teacher. 

    http://www.joleedonnelly.com

    • http://refineus.org/ Justin and Trisha

      Jolee, 

      This is an amazing story! Thank you for taking the time to share it and for not giving up on your student! POWERFUL! 

  • http://www.mondayisgood.com/ Tom Dixon

    One of the things I like about blogging is our writing doesn’t have to be perfect…we can get better as we go.   If you are looking at old posts and see an error – you can just fix it!  Powerful story -thanks for sharing it.

  • Joey Patrick

    I am my biggest stumbling block to my writing. I get started and then things get jumbled up in my brain or my brain turns to mush altogether and I consider it time for a break.

  • http://pickadirectionandgo.blogspot.com/ mickholt

     I hate that a teacher said that to you. The good teachers have a hard enough time over coming the knuckleheads in the profession in the first place – for one of them to say something like that…*sigh*.

    The “who or what” that holds me back the most is, ME. I get discouraged easily, I get overwhelmed by the enormity of web and all the blogs and trying to find my niche and audience – do I self host, do I buy a domain name or stick with where I am for now. Do I change the name I am using for something shorter and more concise. I often find myself saying things like, “How can God use me as a writer?” Or, “How can God use MY words – this must not be the direction I need to be headed.”  Then I avoid my computer and blog for days or weeks.

    Whew! That’s a lot of baggage.

    I am pretty sure that if I just get out of my own way – and trust God, everything will be just fine.

  • Karen deBlieck

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with us all. What encouragement and what a blessing to have such a wonderful person in your life. I liked your story so much that  I included a link in my Blog Love post. Thank you!

    http://simplyscribblings.blogspot.ca/2013/01/top-5-blog-posts-this-week.html

  • http://www.unchartedstreams.com/ Josh Taylor

    Love it.  I think that could be applied to anything someone wants to do.  As for barriers to writing, it seemed when I stopped writing about just myself, it came easier.  Rarely seemed to run out of material that way!

  • Brian

    Great story. It’s amazing the dumb, hurtful things teachers can say to students, presumably with no idea how deep and permanent the damage may be. Thanks for sharing, Trisha.

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