On Becoming a Writer: Part 1

February 25, 2016

 

On Becoming a Writer: Part 1

 

How did I become a writer? Well, I’ve always been a reader. For as long as I can remember, I've also had the urge to write. Note that word “urge." It was an urge, not a passion. After all, I had to make a living. Any number of times I started a story flush with ideas, but there were always other things to do. Postponing serious writing work was easy to rationalize. After all, I wasn’t a real writer. Real writers wrote the books I loved to read. I could never do that.

While I pursued a career in academics, I had to do a lot of writing—a lot of writing. I could write, and I did write. But all my serious efforts involved writing stiff, turgid prose that met scholarly requirements. I was writing to and for other academics. Along the way, I kept having story ideas, and I even started stories now and then. A few I even finished. They suffered from the stylistic habits practiced in academe, but I had fun telling stories.

What finally tipped me over the edge to get serious about writing was my dissertation, a major, book-length academic writing project. Once it was completed and approved, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I was sick of being serious and creating nothing but heavy, cast iron, academic prose. In a reflexive counter action, my long-suppressed writing wild hare flared up. I sat down wrote a completely trashy little short story that made me laugh.

I finished it. I liked it. Most importantly, I had fun writing it. I knew I could write. I enjoyed writing. All that I knew before, but post-dissertation, I knew I had the gumption to finish a book.

A couple of years later I took on a major writing project, but this one was fun. I was a long time member of a community band, and the band’s one hundred fiftieth anniversary was approaching. (Our band is something like the third oldest, continuously-performing band in America.) An anniversary like that is a major event—at least locally. The director asked me if I would “put together a pamphlet or something” to tell the history of our band. I readily agreed.

At the time my wife was doing a lot of genealogical research. While she reviewed the microfilm records of area newspapers, she made a copy of any article she found about the band. With the other files from the band’s records in the local library archives, I soon had a tall stack of raw data—enough material to fill a book.

The band project had me writing non-fiction again—taking notes, organizing information, and all that academic-type stuff. The work might have been the same, but the subject was different. People joined the band because they enjoyed making music. They were out to have fun. Fun loving people do colorful things. The notes had a wealth of human and musical interest stories. All I had to do was organize all the information and tell the story. Fun! In fact it was so much fun I did two more local histories including one about the Spangler Candy Company, the maker of Dum-Dums®.

At that point I had an epiphany—I was an author! I had written books. The books had been published. I liked telling stories in writing. People asked me about my books. I spoke to groups about my books. The evidence was incontrovertible. Thinking about myself as an author made the next step possible.

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