Monday, January 3, 2011
Resolution 1 - Write and Get Published
By the time I was in high school, though, it was clear to me – I wanted to be a writer. Whatever chain of events led me to such a desire are lost to history. I’ve found stories that I wrote when I was still a young boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, that are respectable, even though the topics are pretty common. There was an adventure with Lassie (the collie) and a trip with some green aliens on a flying saucer. By the time I was settled into my miserable high-school career, I was writing poetry (don’t all teenagers?), starting mystery and suspense stories, and constructing essays that explored my views on everything from feelings about girls to religious convictions to the problem of excessive violence in the world.
In 11th grade, I believe it was, I signed up for a typing class. Those were the days before word processors or computers, so all the paperwork in an office had to be spaced and centered and lined up on manual or – if you were fortunate – electric typewriters. I had no interest in being a secretary; I just wanted to learn the keyboard well enough to type my poems and stories. The school year, in those days, was divided into six-weeks for the purpose of reporting a student's progress (or lack thereof). By the end of the third six-weeks, my grade was down to a not-so-respectable…zero. That’s right. I was typing away every day, but I didn't complete a single class assignment – for the entire six weeks! Finally, my teacher told me if I wasn’t going to do the assigned work, I might as well just go to the library. Fine, I thought. So, for the next two weeks, I sat in the library reading. Then one afternoon, Ms. Smith showed up at the library. Framed in the doorway, arms akimbo (she didn’t come in – I was sitting near the door…in case friends walked by), she said, “I’ll tell you what. You come back to class, and do half the class assignments. The rest of the time you can write whatever you want, and I’ll count that.” I walked back to class with her, and by the end of the term, I actually passed with a 76, and had lots of story starts, poems, and essays.
After high school, I went into the Marine Corps. I spent the next 3 months at Parris Island, South Carolina, undergoing the grueling program of training to become a United States Marine. Most of the writing I did for those months was in the form of letters home. During the few minutes of free time we’d have in the evenings, I still wrote a little bit. After boot camp, I had electronics and avionics training. Along the way, my interest shifted to comic art. I still wanted to be a writer, but more than that, I wanted to be a comic book artist, or maybe even an animator. I still wrote, occasionally, but most of my creative energy was spent practicing drawing superheroes, silly animals, or Disney characters.
Through the years, writing has always been a very pleasant obsession. I don’t want to mislead anybody – I don’t write enough. Never have. During college and seminary, I wrote a lot of academic papers, and along the way received frequent compliments on my writing, and a few suggestions that I should be a writer. If I had been more focused and disciplined, I might have had several best-sellers by now. Actually, my writing (much like my music…more on that another time) has mostly been a very private thing. With fits and starts, I have begun projects, filled notebooks and folders, written and re-written, and had things published in school papers, church and denominational newsletters, and local newspapers, but I haven’t been the successful writer I dreamed of becoming all those years ago.
It’s time. I have been actively working on a novel, and I have several other projects in the works. “What’s your book about?” people ask. “Uh, I guess you could say it’s a contemporary fantasy.” I don’t like to talk about my work. It has been encouraging to find out I’m not alone among writers. Most, if not all, writers of any merit don’t talk about their work in progress very much, unless it’s something under contract to a publisher and they want some advance publicity. I found an imperative in a book I recently bought, another inspirational book for writers, Page after Page, by Heather Sellers, but I will have to paraphrase, because I can’t find the exact sentence again, after looking though the book for 10 minutes – don’t tell people what you’re writing. Yes! I had to show this to several people, I was so excited.
Writing is hard work! There is no way around this. I confess, I avoid it more than I do it, but I am going to change that nasty habit this year…this month…this day! I am a writer. Even though I have no books on the best-seller lists, or essays in prestigious journals, or a short story published in the New Yorker, I am still a writer. Just like I am a musician. I don’t have any albums out. I don’t play with a band or perform in concert. But I play instruments, and I sing, and quite frankly, I’m not half bad at it. Same with writing. I’m not half bad at it. But this year – I will write. I will publish!