It is the middle of a carefree night as I write this, after one o’clock and the world sleeps. My dogs are softly snoring, and I hear no cars roaring by outside my window, but I cannot sleep, even in this external, blissful silence, because noise is rustling through my mind, running like wild paragraphs. There are words in my head, words that are forming into something. So here I am, at the computer, putting words on the screen. I’m not sure why I decided to write this essay, as if anyone would care about how I “became” a writer. Perhaps it is vanity? Maybe someone will read it? Maybe no one will. It doesn’t matter. I’m writing it because I want to.
I think it’s impossible to say one can “become” a writer. You either are, or you are not … although it might take some longer than others to realize it. I was one of those people. As I have said before (read “About Me“), I wrote my first “novel” in elementary school, but I never fashioned myself as a writer until much later. In high school, I wrote poetry and short stories for the creative writing magazine, along with articles for the yearbook. By the time college rolled around, I had written a few pieces for music magazines. I also started my first real novel, that which would become “From a Vine,” but I had no inclinations about “being” a writer. For me, writing was something I enjoyed and it came easy to me (but that does not mean it was without great practice and patience).
I also enjoyed acting, and nearly everyone told me that was not a viable career path. So I had two skills – writing and acting, which, of course, meant one thing – I wasn’t good at math. Luckily I was headed down a path that involved very little math skills! After taking the required Composition I class and getting high marks, the journalism department asked if I would consider their major. I did and it worked out nicely; however, I never completely saw myself as a journalist either.
I went far beyond news writing and ended up taking every writing course offered at the university. I learned everything from poetry writing to speech writing. If it needed to be written, I knew how to do it. I could write savvy business proposals, heat up debates with my speeches, and draw laughter or tears from my fiction. Still, because I was bull-headed and dense, I never gave much thought about “being” a writer. At this point, I had my heart set on some grandiose idea of being a publicist. That’s a story for another day, but I can tell you the ending – shy people don’t make outstanding publicists.
Anyway, as my college lessons progressed, and as I learned all about promotion and public relations, I devoured the novels and poetry of great writers, which taught me more than any course book ever could! I read the poetic and meaningful words of Toni Morrison, learned about the Gonzo stylings of Hunter S. Thompson, reveled in the plays of Tennessee Williams, and swooned over John Keats. From these wonderful beings, these fantastic, passionate artists, I learned how words could sing. I have always enjoyed the sound of words, the rhythm and the rhyme. Words resonate, and assimilate, and alliterate. I learned the different styles of many great writers, and slowly, I started to create my own style. It was much like Michael Jackson learning dance from Fred Astaire and James Brown, and turning it all around, upside down, evaluating and contemplating, and then creating his own steps. To be a great artist, one must first learn from the masters who have come before!
People always ask me for writing advice, and I always say the same thing – read good writing. That makes all the difference. If one wants to be a great chef, learn from a great chef. (Never learn cooking from me, unless you like burned brownies.) It is important to know the ingredients to make a cake, then create your own recipes. Learn from those you wish to emulate, then smash it like a glass vase, pick up the pieces, and arrange them in your own way.
All of these ideas were coming to me, but I was never consciously aware that the words of these artists were sticking to my ribs and soaking my brain. They slept within me like a lingering dream. Every time I sat down to write, they whispered to me like ghosts. My novel, it kept coming to me too, in little spurts here and there. As I worked my way through college, I took a gig as a feature writer for an A-list celebrity’s magazine. It helped my writing skills, and I came to a conclusion – I did not want to be part of the celebrity B.S. machine (and this meant no offense to the celebrity in question). As I reached the end of my college career, who I was and who I wanted to “be” emerged more clearly like fog fading from a window. I could see through it now, and I knew what waited outside. I started handing in chapters from my novel to my professors. I let them (and my fellow students) give me feedback and advice. The novel really started to take shape, so much so, that by the time I graduated, I had a completed novel, meaning it had a beginning, middle, and ending.
I had learned a lot about writing, and the original chapters had evolved considerably. It was just dumb luck that I happened to know someone at a major publisher who copyedited the book (typos in a novel are just bad form). The novel went through many revisions over several years. The original, compared to what is in print, is nearly unrecognizable. While that publisher, ultimately, did not take on my book for publication, I finally understood one very important thing – I am a writer, and no publisher, or any other person or entity, can change that. Whenever someone asks, “What do you do?” I say, “I write.” You may not know my name. I do not drive a Ferrari. I do not live in a fancy mansion. I do not care if I ever sell one book (although it would help pay the bills and feed my Krispy Kreme donut addiction). The joy comes from the writing … just as it does right now as I write this essay. It doesn’t matter if no one reads it.
Obviously, I did end up publishing three books (and I hope I’ll be inspired to write more), but I know that I will always “be” a writer. I always have been. Writing, to me, is no different from breathing – until I’m dead, I’ll be doing it! And, in fact, if I look back on my life, I see it as a progression of type on a page. I kept typing, and eventually those random letters and words became a “thing.” Every click of type pushed me onwards. I typed without ever looking up from the computer screen. I saw nothing but type; all other options slowly faded, becoming visible only in my peripheral. I have no doubt that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing. I’m write (I mean, “right”) where I’m meant to be … clickety clackety moving along down this fantastic blank page and seeing what I can create … and create again … just for the fun of it!
P.S. People have a strange misconception about writers (well, we are strange types). I certainly did not write this entire essay, as it reads now, in the middle of the night. Sure, I got up and wrote something, then I ate Cheetos, then I went to sleep, woke up, read it, edited it, switched things around, added bits, deleted bits, and kept doing this throughout the day until it said exactly what I wanted to say, the way I wanted to say it, to the best of my abilities. Writing is work. Lots of work. Hard work. No one sits down and writes a novel word for word without editing. If someone can do this, this person is God. I have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t suffer through every word, pondering, rewriting, never ever feeling completely satisfied with the final product. That’s writing.