Being asked how long I’ve been writing has always been a trick question. The easy answer? Technically, my first published pieces were a couple of poems I’d written in 7th grade that the teacher printed and bound with string. Cool? Sure, but the entire class had poems in the book. It’s not that mine were all that special. I also have a couple of notebooks full of really bad song lyrics that I wrote in HS in the late 80s. Let me tell you, Faster Pussycat had nothing on me.
But if they want to know how long I’ve been writing SERIOUSLY, then that’s another story altogether. That didn’t start until I went back to college at the age of thirty-five…
(Cue the harp and flashback waves.)
When it comes to getting a college degree, there are core classes that must be taken despite your course of study: basic sciences, math, history, humanities and English. And that’s how I met the first of several people who have guided me on this path of becoming an author: Ms. Beki Test.
Thinking it might be fun, I elected what would become (unbeknownst to me at the time) the first of many composition and writing classes. Up to that point, I’d written four or five fairly rough short stories. And by rough I mean bad. Really bad. At least in my eyes, and that’s all that mattered because I hadn’t really shown them to anyone.
That was about to change.
One of the class assignments was to keep a weekly composition journal. Ms. Test would collect them every four or five weeks, grade the entries and hand them back, occasionally with comments written on the pages. Now, similar to my struggle to come up with blog post ideas, I could never think of anything to write about. Once I had a topic, I was fine, but getting to that point usually left me with a dented forehead from beating it against the wall.
As the semester wound down, I found myself in need of two last entries. For one, I expounded on how cool it would be to be a writer. The romance of it all, being published and having your name on the spines of books gracing the shelves of bookstores and libraries all over the world. Because to me, that’s what being a writer was. A dream so far out of reach for a regular guy in Ohio, that the very idea of being a writer never occurred to me, despite my lifelong love of books.
Still, I needed one more entry. As time ran out, I sucked it up and simply included one of my shorter stories for my final journal entry. The very thought of sharing it with someone made my stomach hurt, but I needed to cover my ass and complete the assignment so as not to tarnish my grade. (I was, after all, on the Dean’s List. Can you believe that? Yeah, me neither.)
Our journals were returned on the last day of class. Initially, I didn’t even bother opening it. I knew the story was bad, and the last thing I needed was some uppity English professor ripping it to shreds. (She wasn’t really uppity at all. It was just my insecurities building up their defenses. It happens.) But, a couple days later, my curiosity got the better of me and I finally broke down and flipped through the journal. You know how it is, no matter how bad you think you’ve done on a job, there’s still that small part of you that hopes for praise. Even a simple, ‘that’s actually not so bad.’
Surprisingly, the feedback I got proved more beneficial than that, and more than I’m sure Ms. Test was aware. Her feedback changed my outlook on what the essence of a ‘writer’ truly was. There, on the bottom of the last page of the story, right after the entry about how cool it would be to be a writer, were four little, yet significant words written in purple ink:
‘You are a writer.’
It sounds so simple now. Of course I was. I wrote, didn’t I? But it never dawned on me exactly what a writer was. I’d glamorized the talents of King, Hemingway, Puzo and all of the other authors I grew up on. Put them on such a pedestal that, skill and talent notwithstanding, a regular guy from Ohio could never attain such a position. But here I was with a very intelligent and respected English professor calling me (gasp) a writer.
Now, the story still sucked. But suddenly, that wasn’t the point anymore. The point was that you have to start somewhere, no matter where, and work up from there. The important thing is just to do it. Is my name gracing the spines of books in bookstores all over the world? Not just yet, but we’re getting there. The real question is, am I a writer? And my answer to that question is, hell yeah, I am. Not because of some status or position I’ve reached, but because that’s what I do. I write. So when someone asks me how long I’ve been doing it, I now simply say, ‘all my life.’
Till next time, my friends…