What got me started into writing? Any of us, for that matter? For me, it was never an intentional thing. I didn’t write tons of stories when I was young, as some writers. I did get started with a little blue diary or two, probably starting off in grade school, the ones with the tiny metal keys to lock/unlock. Sometime a while back I found my diary and picked the lock. Had to. The key’s long gone. I read one or two of my random and sparse entries. It was just an end-of-the-day recital of some of the things I’d done that day. I had no idea about what writers wrote about or how they wrote. Nothing like that. My main experience with writing would be, over the next few years, just what drivel we wrote in our classes. The ever-unpopular book report, or the research report. I do, however, remember a stab I took at writing a science fiction/horror fiction piece for my sixth grade class, thanks to the liberal and imaginative teaching of my first male teacher, Mr. Hardy.
But nothing really pulled me to writing. I never really got fired up about it. Besides, I was on a science/math track. I wanted to crack wide open the universe’s secrets – invent a time machine, or an anti-gravity device, something like that. I wanted to eventually be an inventor. But for some reason that dream never got off the ground. And writing still consisted of reports and diagramming sentences.
Then in high school I got lucky. No, not that way. Get your minds out of the gutter. I landed a couple of English Composition classes that focused on creative writing. Finally, things opened up. Not all at once, but gradually. One of my teachers told us in class one day about how he approached a writing assignment. He said that he would sit there at his desk for a while and just let his mind percolate before putting pen or pencil to paper. Well, that idea I liked. He didn’t say anything about outlines or any of that jazz.
Almost but still not quite there. The drive to write was missing.
Another creative writing class in my senior year, and we played around with a few different styles. I don’t remember anything specific, but I do remember getting into some free writing.
Okay, I graduated from high school, rebelled against pretty much anything and everything, and I read most anything. I got into that Angry Young Man phase, wearing my five dollar army jacket, smoking cigarettes, living at a 24 hour restaurant called Sambo’s, carrying at least one paperback with me at all times, and doing the whole writing on napkins things. Then I started opening up more, playing with words, reading Castaneda, stretching, testing the limits. And I wrote the occasional piece, just a commentary or two, about my thoughts, frustrations, that sort of thing.
Still I never thought of being this thing called a writer. That was for other people. That was for, well, writers. I certainly wasn’t one, even though my buddy told me one of the pieces I wrote was publishable.
Publishable? You kidding me? I’m going back to college to become an engineer, not a writer.
Then, other life events happened, as they will. I kept journals. I’d go back over them and discover some glass-clear truths. And that’s when I started to see. This thing called writing, it wasn’t about book reports or research papers. It was an entire universe of possibilities. I began playing with words, writing in different color inks, writing upside down on the page, splitting and tearing words apart. I finally gave myself permission to put anything, anything at all on paper. Now, some of that stuff has since met the recycling bin, but I was starting to see just what I could do with this thing.
I wrote a handful of children’s book manuscripts (nothing published yet), joined writing groups, met my wife in one of the groups. All the time I experimented and played with words. Then, several years after Wendy and I were married, I was writing movie reviews for a local paper, the Georgetown News-Graphic. I wrote a few magazine articles, too. But each time it was work. I had to reach for the words. But one day, by accident, something wild happened. My editor wanted a short review, shorter than normal, of a movie I went to see with a buddy of mine. I had a deadline that afternoon, and we wanted to do something else after the movie, so I fired something out in half an hour or less. I didn’t bother to read it over, just sent it to my editor. I felt it was not up to my usual stuff, but I sent it anyway.
Later that day I got an email from my editor. He said it was probably my best review ever.
What? No, that’s not right, I thought. I just threw stuff together without thinking. Without overthinking. What I had just discovered was stream-of-consciousness writing. Of course, I didn’t realize there was such a thing. All my training taught me that was wrong. You had to plan, then write. You couldn’t just slam words on the paper. It was against the law and I was violating it. But I was intrigued. And worried. ‘Cause now I put pressure on myself. How could I, a borderline control freak, let loose every time and let words fly? It wasn’t supposed to work that way. So, for a while I stubbornly persisted, writing the “normal” way, with a plan, sketching stuff out, going step-by-step. But every so often I’d let myself go and just step on the gas and write. The times I did that I felt really good.
Now there were a lot of crashes. Sometimes I’d produce some hideous crap. But every so often I’d strike gold. I’d find my muse and, as I call it, write like jazz.
Which led me, finally, to start a blog. It’s the perfect laboratory for my Frankensteinian word play. I still struggle. That’s what we do, anyway. I’d heard a quote some years ago that artists must contend. Or words to that effect. I fight with being what I think of as a “pure writer”, the writer who is not concerned about feedback or publication, but writes simply to create. And even though my main style is stream-of-consciousness, it doesn’t always work for every situation. But my main motivation is to write. Write like the (bad pun alert!) Dickens. Every time I sit down I wrestle with my inner editor. I wonder if I can lay words on paper. There are times when I’d rather play a video game. But I still write. For whatever reason it’s in me. It’s in all of us creative. One thing, at least, I’ve learned (but still have to remind myself of) is not to stop. You must write, even and especially when you and everyone else says not to quit your day job. So, pick up that pen, pencil, computer, or papyrus, and toss some words around. You’ll be glad you did.
‘til next time… Adios.