Monday, December 23, 2013

Being stubborn, my problem with authority, and a classroom full of girls.

Easily, the most popular question I get is, “How did you start writing novels?”  Like most life-changing events, it isn’t a simple question, nor is the blame easy to pin down.

I suppose it all started in high school.  I’d heard a rumor that the journalism class was always full of girls, so I signed up.  Turns out, the rumor was true, and for two years I learned a great deal.  I also discovered that I liked to write.

Still in high school, I took a creative writing class, and I think the assignment was to write a paper using symbolism.  Simple enough, I wrote that paper with enthusiasm, it was highly caustic, critical of the school administration on a wide range of issues.  In a nod to Orwell, all of the guilty were thinly veiled as various forest creatures.  Symbolism assignment completed—but instead of a graded and returned paper, I was walked to the principal’s office.  Looking back, I’m still not positive how the principal became aware of my work, obviously there was some sort of agitator trip-wire mechanism in place, and I’d set it off.  To my dismay, my teacher defended me, she told the principal that I was a writer with potential, and that she’d given me an A.  I was told that I would keep my A, but the paper would certainly not be returned.  Then the principal glared at me, leaned in, and told me to “knock it off.”  I walked out of that room with the very serious misconception that if I could cause so much trouble with a typewriter, then certainly I must be a writer.  Even more damning, was from that moment on, I believed I possessed potential.

The next act that forever sealed my fate as a novelist took place freshman year in College.  It was English 101, and the assignment was to write a magazine article.  I was already a licensed pilot, so I wrote about flying.  The instructor gave me a B.  To be blunt, as someone majoring in journalism, I was not amused.  Armed with nothing but the previously mentioned misconception of my literary abilities, I stubbornly submitted my barely above-average paper to a magazine.  Four weeks later a check arrived.  Just like that, at the age of eighteen standing at the mailbox, I turned pro...they’d published my article.  To answer the next question, no, she didn’t change my grade.  

Down the road, there came a time when I made the difficult career decision that would forever change my life.  Should I pursue my love of writing, or my love of airplanes?  I chose airplanes—with one caveat.  I promised myself that someday I would write a novel.  I mean, how hard could it be?  Write stuff down, send it in, and get a check in the mail.  For almost three decades I cruised along immersed in complete ignorance, thinking it would be a snap to churn out a novel when it was time.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Years, and a multitude of setbacks passed before I saw any success.  The reality is that writing novels and being paid for it is not easy, but it’s worth the effort.  Oh, and the part about me being stubborn.  Good thing.


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