How bullying made me a better writer

Most kids joke that their favorite subject in school is recess or lunch. Those were the times I dreaded the most. Classmates spitting gum in my hair; getting called ugly/ fatty/ freakazoid; kids running from me, afraid they would catch ‘Tracy germs.’ I ate lunch in the bathroom whenever I could sneak by the lunch attendants who seemed more preoccupied with keeping us all in one raucous room rather than ensuring that no one was getting hurt or bullied.

While I would never wish that treatment on any young child, as an adult it’s easy to notice the bright side of the past. The truth is something positive did come from that time. I truly believe that my skills as a writer were formed during the isolation and depression of bullying.

  1. It made me more observant.
    If I wasn’t bullied, I was ignored. At these times I could watch my peers; studying their gestures, their words, and their behaviors . I thought if I studied them hard enough, I would learn how to become popular. Of course that didn’t work, but I did learn how to be quiet and absorb the information around me, and put that into my writing.
  2. It taught me the art of revision.
    As a kid, I was terrible with come backs. As soon as someone dissed me, I froze up and English became like a second language to me. This made the kids laugh even more. While trying to fall asleep I would go over the insults kids hurled at me that day and come up with all the clever responses I should have said. Writing gives you the ability to sit with a cluster of words and sculpt them as much as you want until they finally resemble your elusive thoughts.  Writing gave me the ability to use my words, an ability I didn’t have on the playground.
  3. It turned me into a reader.

    In order to become a good writer, you must read. This is the best way to absorb effective structure, beautiful prose, potent vocabulary, and great ideas. I was slow to reading, in fact I didn’t start reading until 3rd grade, but once I was able to decipher those inky pages I couldn’t get enough. I escaped into the world of books. If my reality was full of play dates and giggles, I probably wouldn’t have read so much.

  4. It taught me the complexity of humanity.
    The best authors make you sympathize with people who do bad things. In order to achieve this, the author needs to have incredible understanding as to why a person would behave that way, and, most of all, she must be able to forgive that character. It took me a long time to forgive my classmates for their treatment, but eventually I was able to understand why they did it. They were scared little kids afraid that if they didn’t pick on the scapegoat they would become the scapegoat. They had siblings or parents who bullied them and they took that out on me. They thought it was a harmless joke. When my best friend arrived at our school in fifth grade, I asked her if she knew how to talk because she was so quiet. Years later she told me how much that comment hurt her, but at the time I didn’t know any better. Whatever the reason for bullying, I don’t believe that kids are evil, they were complex.
  5. It helped me handle rejection.
    Getting a letter saying “unfortunately we cannot represent you at this time,” doesn’t feel like rejection compared to what the boys used to say on my school bus. I remember one time the kids teased a boy, saying that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, at which point he pretended to throw up. His retching was so convincing that the bus driver pulled over to see if he was okay. Kids would kick the empty seat over if they saw me coming to sit next to them, or they would beg my teacher to be partnered with someone else. That was a kind of rejection that puts all future rejection in perspective.

I spent years pitying myself as the victim, not understanding what I did to warrant that kind of treatment. The truth is it doesn’t matter. Bad things happen. If we choose to let those times teach us rather than beat us, we are stronger and better for it.

12 comments

  1. A great perspective on childhood trauma, and really moving. Plus some great little heartbreaking stories. I got more ignored than bullied, but bits of this could apply to me. Thanks!

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  2. You’re such an inspiration Tracy. You’ve made me thing about my own childhood and how it played a huge part in wanting to become a writer as well. I was so quiet as a kid, just praying that everyone would ignore me, and I had a similar experience. It made me a much better observer and made me love reading. Thank you for sharing. And thank you for making me see that rejection pales in comparison to things we’ve already been through 🙂

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  3. One of my most favorite posts of yours – I feel for the young Tracy who went through all this, but am thankful you chose to grow and become a better person in spite of it. Your compassion comes through. 🙂

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  4. I love this post. I look back on all the kids who bullied me, and I am some what almost thankful for them. Being bullied taught me self-reliance and independence. I read more, studied more, had more time to focus on writing — it helped me become goal oriented.

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    1. I’m glad you were strong and able to grow from terrible, undeserved treatment. I think most of the successful, creative people we look up to had similar backgrounds.

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  5. Very brave writing on how you turned a hurtful situation to your advantage. We were pipeliners when I was a kid. We moved on average every 2 1/2 to 3 months. That is about 3 to 4 new schools every school year.

    I would not trade my childhood or those experiences, both good and bad for anything. Sometimes, not even the teachers liked us. We were transient. We developed an attitude of… “it doesn’t matter what they think, we’ll be gone soon and never see them again.”

    Some places and people were very nice. Some were… not. We were more often ostracized than bullied. I do recall several fights. I was running home one day after some kids had been mean to me and my mother was standing in the door. She told me I better get back out there and take up for myself if I wanted to come inside. Seems harsh, but it worked. I learned to take up for myself and others. I also learned not to worry too much about what people think.

    I have an author friend who is fond of saying, “It’s all grist for the mill.” And she’s right. I use my experiences all the time in my writing. I use my understanding of people for my characters. There are few truly evil people, most are just complex, unhappy, or insecure.

    Really brave post and right on the money.

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    1. Wow that’s an incredibly interesting childhood you had and I can’t imagine how much it must influence and inspire your writing. It’s so strange how each school and community can treat newcomers so differently. I wonder why that is. Thank you for sharing your story and sending the support 🙂

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  6. …not ugly or a freakazoid anymore. :-). I for one believe in the “ugly duckling”,….. it happened to me; so I’m told? 🙂

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