I’ve always wanted to write. In my teens I had a love for speculative and science fiction. In particular, I loved dystopia and post apocalyptic stories. Books like, Earth Abides, Alas Babylon, 1984, Brave New World, and On The Beach, were subjects that interested me. In the movies, Planet of the Apes, Phase IV, THX1138, Silent Running and other similar stories drew me in. I wanted to write those kinds of stories.
At sixteen I even started to write a post nuclear war novel that I titled, The Day After. Sadly in 1983, after years of little progress that title was stolen from me by a made for TV movie of the same subject. Figuring I’d never sell the title, I gave up writing it. Likely for the best as I’d gotten stuck writing endless descriptions of the tools the people used with very little story or character development.
After that my writing went in two different directions. One was professional, on my job I did a fair amount of technical writing (procedures, manuals, theory of operation guides) and the other was short stories. My fiction writing was undisciplined and I tended to writing bursts, sometimes with years between producing anything. Some of it was okay, but most lacked the polish a good story needed.
My tastes in books started to change as I entered my mid-thirties. I read less fiction and more religious books on theology, preaching, the Bible and so on. Most of my writing during this time of my life was actually sermons I wrote for church or various workshops I attended. Again, my writing was in binges, based in inspiration that rarely came. It was frustrating writing, with only occasional flashes of quality.
It was about this time that I started back to community college with an eye toward completing my BA. I was already employed as a software engineer and after having to retake calculus twice, I decided that I’d pursue my dream of being a writer. I left the engineering and math classes and entered the world of English and literature.
It wasn’t easy. In addition to a lack of discipline, I also suffered from three problems when it came to writing:
- I couldn’t spell – seriously, I almost failed the 6th grade because I couldn’t remember how to spell words. Once I asked a teacher how to spell, ‘of.’ If it wasn’t for spell checkers, on-line dictionaries and my wife, I couldn’t spell anything (really, took me three times to spell that word ‘anything’).
- I couldn’t read my own hand writing. They almost held me back in the third grade because no one could teach me how to write with a pencil. If it wasn’t for typewriters and now computers, I’d just be one of the carpenters banging nails into your house.
- Proofreading was a mysterious art beyond my comprehension. I’ve been told the theory, even took a class in it, but for the life of me I just couldn’t seee tpyos.
I had to find ways to cope with these impediments. A good computer, word processing software and internet access has helped tremendously. On the proofreading front, it’s my wife who graciously does most of the copy editing for me. Without the tools and help from my wife, I wouldn’t be able to write as I do today. I still struggle with these issues, but I make small improvements with practice.
Progressing through my English degree, I learned to perfect my writing skills as I wrote paper after paper for my classes. Each had tight deadlines and specific requirements. This helped give me more discipline and control over my writing process. There wasn’t anything magical in the education, just a willingness to work hard.
Something else happened as I progressed through getting married, and studying English – my tastes in literature changed. While I still like a good SciFi story, it’s no longer the first thing I reach for. I am more likely to pick up a history book or a biography.
Along the way I also ran into Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. If you haven’t read it, you should. Cameron’s concepts have refined many of my notions on what writing and creativity is all about. I am especially mindful of her notion of “Breathing in.” That is, doing things that feed your artistic soul or in her terms, the artist’s date. For me that is things like hiking in the woods, reading, working in my wood shop, visiting art museums, seeing movies and so on.
Writing doesn’t all happen at the keyboard. Much of it happens in the car on the way to work or while walking around the roots of a redwood tree. This part – the words on the page – is just the result of a longer process of creativity. That was a notion I missed in my early years of writing.
Today I write in ways I never intended as a teen. Most of my writing is on my blog where I’ve managed to mostly keep up a weekly writing routine. This writing is generally personal essays, light humor and poetry.
Poetry is the other major change in my writing. Until recently, I wasn’t much interested in poems. I studied them when I had to at the university, but never had a passion for them. Some of my professors did note from time to time that my writing had a ‘lyrical’ quality. Oh, I wrote a few poems over the years. Some in my 20s, a couple in my 30s. There was a poem about a computer, a house that burned down and even a love poem or two.
But there was one transformational experience that has changed my writing. In, 2011 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The radiation treatments have worked and I am three years post treatment with no re-occurrence. Last year I thought it was time I wrote a book and thought I’d start with a book about my experience with cancer. I’d blogged about it, so the theory was that I’d just tidy those posts up, add detail to them and expand it into a nice work of prose.
I sat down to write
and just couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t get past the emotion of
A sentence wasn’t long
enough to contain
that short punch to the gut
of the call
from the doc.
Only in abstract,
only in vision,
only in emotion,
could I show that tale
where the world shifted
and perception changed.
Holding the feeling my hand
and seeing with my heart
was the only way
my brain could paint
a story for your eye.
Today I write different
Today I think different
I embrace change
and let my words take flight.
That book of poems,
now sits on the coffee table
with a red pen as Heather edits
and I contemplate the next step.
So I’ll close with this thought:
embrace the change that is you
and keep writing however you can.
Good history, Andrew. I like the progression from fiction to poetry. It makes a lot of sense. As you say, it’s important to make writing work for your personal needs. It’s flexible like that.
I believe in following the writing energy. As much as I want to write fiction, my soul keeps turning out poetry. I’ve learned to just follow.
Thanks for this look at your process and the entanglements we face on the blank page. Your last two lines resonate deeply within me today. Ω
Thanks for your kind words. Keep writing.
Andrew, this is a reflective look at your writing journey – thank you for sharing all the personal hazards you’ve overcome, and still struggle with. I’m a stickler for correct spelling and punctuation (because it makes reading any article so much easier) but I understand those skills or lack thereof have no affect on intelligence. Seems you might suffer from dyslexia. You’ve certainly worked hard to get it right, and now you get to write!
So good to know your cancer is defeated.
It wasn’t an easy road and there are times that spelling and punctuation cause me a bit of anxiety. I’ve never been tested for dyslexia, so I don’t know for sure.
OK, now I just screwed up – should be “effect” not “affect.”
🙂 I do that all the time.
A dance with cancer is always a life changer in my experience, Andrew. It gives you the impetus to grab hold of what it is you really want to do while the rest of us just dither along. I’m glad you’re making the most of your life. 🙂
It does help focus one’s thoughts. I now believe in living life everyday.
Enjoyed this post so much. You have genuinely mastered the skill of ‘classy self disclosure.’
Your posts are always such a joy to read because they are personal but touch on the stuff of being human that we all share.
Julie Cameron is one of my favorites and I find that, about every ten years or so, I return to the Artists Way for a retooling of sorts as my creative interests change and need focusing.
Cancer certainly does make clear what is of value in life.
All my best to you.
Thank you for your kind words. I found the “Artists Ways” to be one of those books that put into words exactly what I had been feeling for a long time. I do reread it from time to time.
I too love Cameron and the book, “The Artist’s Way.” I keep it on hand and refer to it from time to time. The artist’s date is a great way to get in touch with yourself. Loved your poem!
I go back to that book from time to time. Lots of good lessons there.
Yes indeed. 🙂