what my hair taught me about writing

From the day I was born until the time I started school, I loved my hair. I had no reason to believe that it wasn't beautiful. 

But when I entered Grade 1, teachers told me my hair didn’t look “neat” enough, even when it was tied up. In Grade 2, a girl started calling me "Frizz Pop", which was a clever pun because we used to eat these lollipops called Fizz Pops, but which nonetheless humiliated me. By Grade 3, when I was eight-turning-nine, I’d realised that my hair was not what most people considered beautiful. All my friends were girls with very pale skin and long, glossy hair. I had olive skin and wild curls.

I didn’t fit.

I spent about the next ten years fighting with my hair. I used to tie it up, still wet, in a tight band, gelling it down in the front to tame the soft baby hairs that stood up obstinately. When I got a bit older, I’d get it blown out at a salon every now and then and people would say, “You look so pretty with straight hair!” not realising the insult contained in their compliment. I would spend one or two days feeling good about my hair, but eventually I’d have to wet it, and the curls would come back, and everyone would go back to saying, “You’d be so much prettier if your hair were straight.” I believed them.  

But then something changed.

When I was nineteen, I went to Israel.

For the first time in my life, I saw girls and women celebrating their curls. They had cropped bobs and wild pixies, capes of dark curls down their backs. Their hair looked like mine—but they didn’t fight against it. They loved it.  

When I got home, I stopped straightening my hair. I started being gentle with it. I combed it with my fingers and left glossy beads of conditioner in it and I let it be. I loved it. And it loved me back.

I never get insults about my hair now. In fact, it’s the opposite. Most of the time, people tell they wish they had hair like mine. Maybe it’s because I’m not in school anymore, or maybe it’s because I take better care of it now, but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s because I love it.

So what does all of this have to do with writing?

Well, your writing style is a little like your hair. You’re born with it. Sure, you can improve and develop. But there’s something at the heart of your writing that’s there from the get go. What you notice. What you care about. The kinds of words and sentences you like to use. 

So treat your words like I treat my curls. Be gentle. Honour them. Don’t mess with them too much—with the words and themes and stories that spring naturally from your being. Let them be.

Your job as a writer is to love yourself, just as your job as a person is to love yourself. (Yes, your job is to send love into the world, too—but how can you do that if you hate yourself?)

If you love your words, they’ll love you back. And others—not everyone, but the right people—will see them for what they really are: beautiful and strange and unruly and awesome and completely, completely unique.

No blow out required.