A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 3: About that writing journal

There were more than a few things that I had to think about for a while when I wanted to try and become a more consistent writer. One of those things was accountability.

When I went for years, at times, without writing, nobody really asked me why I wasn’t writing. I had told a few people writing interested me, like my parents, my wife, and some others, but there really wasn’t anybody hectoring me to get to writing if I had stopped for a while. Yeah, there were people reminding me to mow the lawn (wife) or play with them for a while (kids), but I realized that if I was going to get back on the writing track, I was going to have to be the self motivator.

A couple years after I started to get back into the swing of things, I began thinking that it would be a good idea to try and record how much I tried to write on a daily basis. I had heard of writers who had posted stuff on places like Reddit’s r/wordcount. I made a couple of half-hearted tries at it for a couple of years, but nothing happened. It was too much of an ask for me at the time, trying to be that dedicated every day.

I started keeping a record of the amount of writing I did every day beginning in 2013. There were many days when all I had to write was “zip” because that was exactly how much I wrote. But, I was no longer regularly going weeks, months, even years between writing. When I had a dry spell, it usually never went longer than about three days. (The most I have ever taken off from writing or revising since starting the journal has been 3-4 weeks. Those times are unusual.)

It immediately began to pay off. When I first started my journal was when I started doing the first draft of the novel that is just beginning pre-publishing now. My writing process has grown exponentially since then. From beginning the rough draft of my current WIP to now heavily into beta reading and revising has just lasted two years.

Whether I will be able to learn anything from past years might be problematic. I have often said to my students that I have yet to come up with the perfect planning system after 20-something years of trying. It’s taken me about five years to refine my writing journal.

For anyone who saw my first journal on this site, you’ll realize that I was just counting the amount of words I was writing for my books. I was not counting blogging toward those totals, even though some of those blogs were just as creative as anything in my novels. Also, I has no idea how to properly gauge the amount of work I was doing on revising. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I finally settled on daily writing/revising goals and have stuck to them.

But, the minute that I thought of creating this blog, I decided I had to publicly hold myself accountable with how much work I did do and how much work I didn’t do. And it’s worked for me. I have no idea if it would work for you, but I know that something can work to motivate you to write if you really want to be a writer.

I’ll be interested to see the new numbers in a few years. It would be great to see the production take off.

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A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 2: On nonfiction writing and abandoned projects

I was going to tell you a story, right? But, I got distracted by explaining some back story. Honestly, though, I probably needed to explain that back story to understand some of it myself. Apparently I’ve been writing a memoir for just over a year and I didn’t realize it.

(OK, that’s it for the hyperlinks. 🙂 EDIT: Sorry, lies. (see below))

I’ve had experience writing nonfiction as a journalist. I think that I’m doing well as a writer of fiction, and I’m a fan of writing book-length works.

However, when faced with the opportunity to write book-length nonfiction, I considered it for a while. At the time, it seemed like a great idea for a book.

In the end, though, I wound up walking away from the project for more than just one reason. Even though that project was not a story I eventually wanted to tell, the story behind that story might be worth a post.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 2: On nonfiction writing and abandoned projects”

A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 1: What made me start writing again?

black click pen on spring notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The title of the piece is the big question. I might have alluded to this turning point, at different times during this blog. But I really haven’t described the process behind going from someone who talked more about being a writer than actually someone who wrote. It’s probably about time I talked about that, right?

In the movies – hell, in plenty of novels – there usually is some sort of turning point scene, one moment when the protagonist’s life pivots and moves in a new direction. It is one moment of clarity, after which that person’s life has forever and irrevocably changed.

It wasn’t really like that for me. In looking through old word document files in my “fiction” folder, I see several starts and stops among the last decade. Some of them I talked about before; others fell stillborn after a few months of typing and procrastination. Then there was the anonymous blog I ran for a few months somewhere in the past decade. However, it really didn’t have any focus except as an emotional purge, and I eventually decided that I needed to shut it down to avoid any static in my real life.

But like St. Augustine once prayed during his youth, “Oh, Lord, make me chaste… but not yet.”

I think things started to coalesce in my head right around 2010. That was an interesting year, to be frank. I’m not planning to get into in here, but there was a bit of turmoil and uncertainty in my professional life. For a brief moment, I had a dream of becoming a college writing instructor full-time rather than teaching for a couple thousand per class. I say a dream rather than a goal because I only had a vague idea of what the job involved and how I would achieve it. (After a few years and different circumstances, I’d set that idea aside. An earlier version of me – maybe the guy featured in Volume II of this series – would have been disappointed. Nowadays I barely remember the idea.)

Recently, I had a chance to read through a notebook I was writing in for about three months or so back in 2010. I tried to read all of it, but it was a cursive scribble stream of consciousness. It was lists and lists of various things I was both positively and negatively obsessed with, among other things.

In reading through that notebook, I think I did what we used to call “burying the lede.” Others, like writing teachers, might call it an implied main idea. What I think I was describing in those entries was being addicted to distraction. Anything I could use to procrastinate from doing anything, thinking about anything, I’d be into.

I’ve discussed those tendencies before. But there was a time in my life that they would dominate me. For several years of my life, it seemed being entertained, being satisfied in whatever way, was more important than anything else that wasn’t my family.

Around 2007-2010, right after I moved back to Muscatine, I really started heavily surfing some backwaters and little-known areas on the Internet. It may have given me a couple of writing ideas, but mostly I was looking for, as I normally did, for a distraction.

Back in those days, I often read the web site Postsecret. It allows people to anonymously send it postcards on which they write their deepest and darkest secrets that they would not tell anyone. Around 2010, I read this postcard on the site:

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For me, that had two effects. First, it gave me hope that it really wasn’t too late to get started (or restarted, whatever you want to classify it as) on my dreams of becoming a writer of novels. I always heard about people like Frank McCourt writing their debut books when they were in their 50’s, 60’s, or beyond.

Secondly, it was a prod in the butt, something that said yeah, if you’re about as old as this guy, why not get started now?

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So, did Liegois actually take the postcard’s advice and Rollins’ advice and move forward?

As I said at the top of the article, nothing that dramatic happened. Someone’s personality and habits – at least, not my own for sure – is not something that can change direction like a fighter aircraft or speedboat. The process more resembles having to maneuver a jumbo jet or mega-tanker a few degrees of course.

Did your life actually change?

Over time, yes.

It was soon after that time that I began to reminisce about some of my days in journalism, what was happening to newspapers in this country, and the weirdness of the time specifically around 2008. Going by my computer file history, I’d have to say that I started to play around with the idea of doing a journalism/political thriller around 2011. By 2013-14, ironically when I was taking one last adventure into journalism, was when I finalized a rough draft.

It was somewhere around 2013 that I began keeping track of the word count that I was getting done on a daily and weekly basis. Although not effective at first, I think that having to keep track of what I am actually writing or revising has helped me be accountable to myself and have goals to work for, even though I rarely have weeks where I meet my daily goals throughout the entire week. (This is probably worth a separate post at some point.)

It took me until 2016 to get another draft of the piece I was now calling The Holy Fool done – I had to do a little bit of cutting to trim it to well under 100,000 words. By 2017 I had revised it into its current form and had begun shopping it around to agents and publishers. I’m now awaiting the publishing process.

Also by 2016, I had worked up the courage/willingness/audacity to write a novel about someone who played a sport I hadn’t played myself since elementary school and located in both a state I hadn’t lived in since I was five and another country I had never visited, much less lived in. However, I was ready for the challenge, and by the next year, I already had a rough draft in the bag for my next project. By this year, I’ve gotten deep into the revising process with it, and I’m liking how my refined techniques have sped the writing process along.

Would I say that I have fully defeated my addiction to distraction and procrastination? Not by any means. I still exhibit those behaviors today, in doses both big and small. However, I’ve just started to get to the point where I’ve been able to manage this addiction to the point where I’ve become a productive writer. And I want to stay that way. I’m not exactly sure how long I have or how many books I have in me, but I want to make that time count.

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(Btw, I take horrible photos so I put them through some weird effects like what you see below. Enjoy if that’s your thing.)

Tuxpi photo editor: https://www.tuxpi.com

Anyway, welcome to the start of the current writing experience. That’s it for now; I’ll write more later.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 5: My time in journalism

Last week, I met with an acquaintance at my house. The guy, Dale, was picking up some old files from me for a writing project that I was dropping and he was passing on to another writer.

As I asked about the writer, I learned that he’d worked at the same newspaper as Dale had years back. That was more than a few years back, “before the buyouts.” And just like that, for a few moments we were swapping stories back and forth – the buyouts that had hollowed out Dale’s former employer, the cuts at the hometown newspaper that I used to work for that left it more of a zombie publication than a living, breathing institution.

I was flashing back to my time as a journalist. I call myself an old retired journalist, even though I’m 20-40 years younger than most of the people who claim that description as their own. In years past, I would have been in my prime as a journalist, with honors aplenty and years left to go in my career. Now I’m retired from the profession, with no foreseeable way to return to it, or any real desire to do so.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 5: My time in journalism”

A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 7: The Old Library

Yesterday was the last day that I checked out books from the library of my childhood.

 

It’s not like my community (Muscatine, Iowa) is losing a library, like too many others have in this country and others. In about two weeks, the current location you see above will be closed for four weeks. That’s why I decided to stock up while the getting is good – and got all of my library fines forgiven, as well! Classy move from the librarians. (I admit I am an inveterate book hoarder who has been fined by libraries in four different Iowa counties.)

Afterwards, the Musser Public Library will reopen as the HNI Community Center and Musser Public Library. (HNI makes stuff like office furniture, so if you work in a cubicle you might be sitting on or working on something they made.) This is what it’s going to look like:

HNI Musser Public Library

I mean, it looks classy, at least. HNI had an old headquarters building that was just sitting around and said why not let the city have it, since the older place was getting a bit run down. Here’s some info on the project if that kind of thing interests you.

I think there were things like roof issues, foundation issues, and some other things that required the old place to get retired. They first built the library that I used nearly 50 years ago. I mean, it looks ultramodern and slick from the outside, but it was built in the past century… like me.

Musser isn’t like a nickname for Muscatine or anything – it was the name of one of the old families here in town beginning in the 19th century that were some of the first to make some money – I think in the lumber business. The original library, build around the start of the 20th century, looked like this:

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If I went to libraries in Illinois and Texas when I was a young child, I do not remember them. I remember the first school library I had at Grant Elementary, a modest room overlooking the parking lot where I first started sorting for books. Central Middle School had a third-floor library, tucked away from everywhere else. I managed to plow through all the books they had of interest before I left.

The library of Muscatine High School, where I spent four years, was an ultra-funky layout that spoke to the building’s 1970’s origins. It was and is located in the center of the main building, on a mezzanine level between the ground and second floors. Back in the days when I went to school there, the sides of the library were open to the walkways of the ground floor below. A few years after I had graduated. apparently some students had thrown some smoke bombs from the library down below into those walkways to cause some consternation among the faculty. Well before the time I returned to the high school as a substitute teacher, they had walled off those open areas with paneling to prevent that from happening again.

However, it was the Musser Public Library that soon became my home. It’s a little difficult for me to recall how I first started getting there. I have to assume that my parents were willing to take me there as a child, to drive me there. After all, the location was catty-corner from the building where my engineer father spent the vast majority of his professional life as an engineer.

What I remember about those times, both before and after I started hauling myself to the library on a moped and then in a car, was how every topic I wanted to read about was there, open for me, at the library. That was where I was able to indulge my love of Stephen King, and, years later, Richard Laymon. I started learning about how good biographies could be, and how a book about building a castle could keep my attention until it had finished explaining how such a structure could be built. That’s where I learned about tourism guides and how they could become useful tools in my research. I believe that’s also where I learned about young adult writers like Julian F. Thompson, on Koertge, Paul Zindel, and others. I also got into Michael and Jeff Shaara and more historical fiction than I could shake a stick at.

I also remember the big comfy chairs, either over on the side or in the new additions area, where I hunkered down and started reading stuff. I would spend hours there, and had to make sure that I had enough quarters there to feed the meters or I would have to pay paring as well as book fines. (That didn’t always work out.)

That library was one of the main influences on wanting to write. I wanted to see if I could create something that could sit on the shelves along with all of the other works. I still might manage that.

 

A Writing Biography, Volume II, Part 4: Reviving An Old Writing Project

As a kid, I took my music seriously.

When I was into rock and roll, I really dived deep into the history of the music, especially Sixties and Seventies rock. I grew up as a little kid starting to hide my interest in heavy metal and punk from my mom, who thought the music just a little harsh for a kid my age to get into.

By the time I was off to college, the alternative rock and indie rock surge was all around me and I truly got into that. Nirvana was one of my biggest bands and I still remember driving in a car when they announced Kurt Cobain killed himself. One of the things that I did admire about Kurt was how he promoted and discussed his musical influences, the musicians not only from the Sixties and Seventies, but the underground rock acts of the Eighties that helped pave the way for bands, like his, like Black Flag, The Minutemen, Husker Dü, The Replacements, Dinosaur jr, and many others.

In the years since then, I’ve expanded my musical interests into many other genres and styles, but I still appreciated music made by people who believed in authenticity and emotional honesty. From that love of the music started to come the origins of an idea.

What if I wrote about a fictional band from that 1980’s era of underground rock? What if I was able to put together a whole fictional history for that band, make it my version of some mix of Nirvana and Sonic Youth? And like Sonic Youth, what if that band had overcome personal and professional adversity to make it to widespread fame by the 1990’s?

So, I started writing a book, several years ago (closer to the beginning of this decade than the end of it). I got into the origin of the band, spouted off a lot of word salad about the meaning of music, and the effort petered out after I got somewhere around 35,000 words. I’ve talked before about how I used to work; that was one of my creative casualties.

So, after I got finished with the first draft of The American Nine this year, I was sort of puttering around and decided to take a nervous look at what I’d produced and see if there was anything worthy of getting on with. My verdict:

  1. I was very happy with the characters I’d produced, especially the band members. All of them had different personalities and had different reasons to come to the music, but that mutual interest and respect drew them together.
  2. It was way long-winded, back in the days when I never worried about word counts except for the time or two I tried to do NaNoWriMo. Managed to cut down what I had to just over 30,000 words without too much trouble.
  3. Even with those cuts, I think I’m still going to have a book that’s not going to be able to fit under the 100,000 mark. I have the feeling it might fit more into a series – a trilogy, actually. If I do a trilogy, the ending of the first book will have to take some planning, but I think the rest of it is coming together.
  4. I think this is something that could work.

So, that’s my initial impressions of the new project. The advice that I would give you today is that even a project you think didn’t have potential might look better after some time away from it. Don’t ever throw away mistakes – you’ll never know when they’ll be, as Bob Ross once said, happy accidents.

 

A Writing Biography, Volume II, Part 3: Procrastination

There could be epic poems written about the concept of procrastination. Despite my best efforts, I would not classify myself as a poet. So, this will be about the best effort to do this that I can muster.

I have been an expert at wasting time for as long as I can remember. My natural state is to be at rest, and now in my 40’s, I have the physique that indicates that. But exactly what distracts me is a little harder to place.

What I have found is that I don’t believe that there has been any one distraction that has kept me away from writing. Anything that has distracted me from writing, has also distracted me from other opportunities as well.

Those distractions, as I’ve said, have been varied and changed over time. Reading and movies have been big time sinks over time, but I also sincerely believe that reading is necessary for a writer to help develop their vocabulary and tools. Video games used to be a big time sink, but has faded over time. Right now the biggest game I wind up playing is Football Manager on my mobile phone.

Here’s the question that’s been lingering around my head for, what, 10 years or so?

Am I an inherently lazy person?

Whenever I think about that, it reminds me of job interviews where they ask you to mention what you consider to be your weaknesses. Who ever wants to be considered lazy? Isn’t that supposed to be a sin, Christian or secular, in this world?

Not to stray too far away from writing here, but I think this fear about being called lazy fits into the American dogma of how individuals can always improve and better themselves through hard work alone, no matter what the circumstances. As for me, I have seen enough science fiction and current events to ponder what the advent of artificial intelligence and the Singularity will do to this culture. I believe that it will leave a lot of people in the world, much less America, out of sorts.

How do you change procrastination (or being lazy, if you’d prefer that term)? For most people who can’t afford extensive counseling or life coaches like a Tony Robbins, I think the only answer to that is very slowly. Sometimes you just grow out of certain behaviors, like what has happened in recent years with the author Tucker Max.

For me, the situation has become more that I’ve gotten tired of not accomplishing anything. I’ve gotten tired of talking about being a writer and not actually writing. The whole point of this blog has been not to showcase the brilliance of my writing (it might do that someday), but to get me into the daily mode of being a writer. Have I fully accomplished this? Not at all. Maybe I’ll never fully accomplish it, whatever that means. But I am getting better.

[NOTE: Doing this forced me to pull out some of my old journals, etc. I may have to do a few posts regarding what I wrote in recent years.]

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part Two: The NaNoWriMo Experience

It’s starting up again as November 1 draws nearer. Nobody seems to talk about All Saints’ Day anymore (at least that’s what it seems on my social media feeds, but it’s not like that covers a true cross-section of America or the world or anything like that).

Yes, the new secular writing holiday, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us. For those not familiar with the event, it began last Thursday 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area. The goal is for participants to write a full 50,000 word novel in the 30 days November provides. It’s the idea that you can finally get that novel out of your system.

If you do not know already, word count and writing production is something that I’ve become a bit obsessed with. To make it to 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to write around 1,667 words per day. That’s a pretty fast clip. 50,000 words is not a massive novel, by the way – it’s pretty short by today’s standards. It’s not quite novella length, but it’s a short read. The Great Gatsby, Brave New World, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer all clock in around that length.

I think that it’s a great idea. NaNoWriMo is the perfect argument against “Well, there’s no way I could ever finish a book.” Right now, people around the world are gearing up for the fastest writing sprint there is.
As the image with this post indicated, I used to be one of those participants, and a successful one at that. And it resulted in the second completed book I ever wrote.

2005 was a lot different for me, other than the fact that I was 12 years younger. At the time, I hadn’t worked full-time for three years. I had been a freelance journalist during that time, doing some odd jobs, and looking after my two kids, who were preschool-aged then. Halfway through that year, I returned to school, the beginning of a nearly two-year-long process that resulted in the beginning of my teaching career.

The point being, I had a far more flexible schedule than I do now. And so I took one look at NaNoWriMo and said, I can get it done.

The story I had in mind was inspired by the rush of school shootings that had occurred both before and in the wake of Columbine. One question had come to my mind: If some of these kids survive and do their time in prison, what happens to them next? That got me thinking.

What I came up with was pretty good, but I think the original title I used (which I won’t say here) ended up being too gauche, to be honest. If I was going to re-title it, Excitable Boy sounds like a good one.

My Main Character (MC) was a 16-year-old boy with an undiagnosed psychotic disorder. Bullied at school by kids put off by his odd, secretive nature, he snaps one day in the middle of a delusional episode and kills two of his tormentors.

It was a tragedy all around. The MC’s father (his mother died of cancer a year previously) commits suicide when he learns of the incident; he has been in denial of both his and his son’s mental issues. The MC was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental health care facility.

The MC is released after five years at the center. He is reunited with his only remaining family member, his older brother, a law student at the state university. He goes to live with his brother and his brother’s longtime girlfriend, while he tries to figure out what he is going to do with the remainder of his life. But, there are a rash of murders around campus, and people are starting to look at him as a possible suspect. In time, it’s up to him and his brother to find the real killer and find out why somebody might be setting him up…

Looking back on it, the NaNoWriMo experience for me was two steps forward and maybe a step and a half back. I always felt that if I wasn’t producing that amount of writing, I wasn’t going to be a success. That bogged me down a lot when I started teaching and didn’t find (or couldn’t make) time for writing. Also, I think I wound up using too many characters, including a supporting character that wound up being too much of a Mary Sue for my taste. I think I tried to sell it at one point, but that never went anywhere.

I’ve just looked at the book again, maybe for the first time in… eight years, maybe? Unlike my first adult attempt at a book, there just might be a decent story in here. If I get motivated, I might want to take another look at it, trim down some characters, make the story simpler, and see what comes out of it.

But for now, I’ve got the new project to work on. Another time, maybe. It might have potential.

 

A Writing Biography, Volume II, Part 1: First Attempt at a Novel

For years, I thought about writing a NOVEL, a big old pile of words that would amaze everyone who read it and announce that a new talent had arrived.

You were that deluded when you were younger too, right?

After fits and starts and humbling hits of procrastination (I also breezed through my college years in the process), I finally decided on a tale. The book was entitled Buried Secrets and it was somehow generic and convoluted all at the same time.

TL;DR version: A high school senior with interests in journalism and/or law enforcement learns that a mysterious girl his age is living alone in a house that seems to be abandoned. He gets to know her and learns that she is trying to find out the identity of her biological mother and father after her adoptive parents died (car accident? I’m too over it to actually go into the document and look). She came to find out that they were both residents of his hometown (a small eastern Iowa town, hint hint). He agrees to help her out with his knowledge of the town, and they begin to have a romance.

At the same time, he learns that some members of his school’s football team committed a sex crime against one of their classmates. (Taking a cue from a real-life incident in the national media, the first drafts had this person be a girl, but I eventually changed it to a guy and the secret boyfriend of my main character’s best male friend). As he’s trying to help out this girl, he’s also trying to solve a case that will eventually involve his two closest friends.

All of the possible first-time mistakes writers made with their books, readers, I wound up making. It was too autobiographical, even though none of the supporting characters were based on people I’d known in high school. It was too convoluted, with two main plots and me trying to interweave them and make sense to each other. I got too caught up in the love story, I think, to make the female love interest relevant, even though I tried to do that. And, there was too much talking and debate and not enough action.

I wound up taking the book to an agent who wound up charging me $120 to take it around and sell it to some publishers. After a year and no sniffs at it, my agent said to give her another year. I decided to save my cash instead. There were no other takers among publishers or agents.

About four years ago or so, as I began the slow process of beginning to restart my writing life. I decided to take one more look at Buried Secrets and see if there wasn’t a viable story in there. I spent about a month attempting to see if I could carve it down, convert it into something that could be a good story. I couldn’t relate to the story anymore; more importantly, I couldn’t relate to the main character who I’d all but intended to be my surrogate but was now simply a ghost self of someone I no longer recognized.

By the end of it, I left it on my external hard drive, sitting there like a patient I’d had to cut open and save but who ended up dying in the attempt. By then, it was just lying there with its insides out, and I couldn’t make it into something good. The only good thing about it being a book rather than an actual patient was that I didn’t have to go through the motions of sewing the long-dead person up again just so the sight of it didn’t freak everyone out. It was Buried Secrets, and now it is properly buried, now simply something to learn from rather than a symbol of what could have been.

I wasn’t ready to be a writer then. That came later.

A Writing Biography, Volume I, Part 6: Stephen is Still The King

Last weekend, I happened to catch the new film version of IT at my local theater, at the suggestion of my daughter, who happens to be into horror more than a little bit. I have to say it was of a higher quality than the 1990 miniseries. After the movie, over dinner, we wound up having a lively discussion regarding why they moved the plot setting 30 years ahead of the original book (cheaper and more readily available 1980’s items than 1950’s items nowadays) and how the plot progressed fairly closely to the original text. I was surprised…

 

[SPOILER]

 

… that the filmmakers decided to split the story into two. But with that decision made, it made far more sense to me that they decided to focus on the Losers’ adventures as kids rather than going back and forth between teen and adult adventures. It made for a far more coherent plot line, all things considered.

 

[END SPOILERS]

 

As we watched the film, I kept thinking back to the prominence that King has had in my writing life. It is a place that has hardly diminished from my teen years, and it’s only recently that I’ve started to come to terms with what it has meant to me.

My mother was – still is – never a horror fan. I was not going to be able to buy any of King’s books or watch his films in my parents’ house. I still had to respect that. But there were libraries, other opportunities to get involved with his work. And I did.

If there has ever been someone that I would count as a literary idol in my life, it would be Stephen King. I can’t remember the first King book I read, but I know that I read the vast majority of them from when I was a kid to now. I don’t think everything he wrote was great – not even he thinks that everything he wrote was great – but he has had way more hits than misses, and I firmly believe that the hits are keeping on coming even though he’s now in his seventh decade.

There were so many things about King that I dug so much. His plots… well, plot was never something that he was into, more interesting situations with interesting people. An outcast girl who has the telepathic powers of a demigod? Sign me up. Recasting the Dracula myth into an American ethos 20 years before Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I’m down. Writing two insanely long books that, in turn, aim to be the definitive apocalyptic thriller and the Great American Novel of childhood and growing up? Sign me up, brother.

As a kid, I was interested in the graphic nature of the material, but it was the psychological horror that really got me. There was plenty of guts in some of the books, but one scene that has stuck with me more than any of those was the one in Salem’s Lot where the father was so distraught at his son’s funeral that he jumped onto the coffin. (On a related note, Salem’s Lot probably had one of the most devastating endings I’ve ever read.)

Whenever I read King, I read someone who was in love with the art of storytelling. With King, I gained more insight into the people and country I lived in. I also managed to get a lot more insight than I ever anticipated about the culture of New England. (I still will argue that King should be classified just as much as a regional writer as he is a horror/scifi/fantasy author.)

Then I read his book On Writing when it came out. I still rank it as one of the best books on writing that I have ever read – so simple, such an easy read, a mix of his writer’s biography and whatever advice he gave to be a writer. I’ve used adverbs sparingly and watched out for the passive voice ever since – a lot of my students got the active verb/passive verb lesson from me at one point or the other.

More than the individual pieces of advice, it was a literal dare to me. As I read it, I realized, this was what it meant to be a writer. This is what it takes to really dedicate yourself to being a writer, never mind a successful writer, however that’s defined. Are you ready to take him up on the challenge?

Reader, for many years, I was not.

Why I was not ready to meet that challenge, after years of saying I wanted to be a fiction author, writing tons of journalism that some people read and others disregarded in places that were never hotbeds of news, and teaching more than a few people how to write better themselves?

Man, that is a massive question. In fact, it’s probably such a massive question that it will likely dominate Volume II of my writer’s biography, which I think will soon start. (Don’t worry, I’ll likely put out some more stuff about reading as a kid, AKA Volume I stuff).

But to start answering it, I have to mention about how I always compared myself to King. I saw in him someone who was inherently a writer, and I always pictured myself as lesser than him. I didn’t get started writing serious fiction until I was much older than he was when he got his first book published. He’s put out more fiction than entire towns of authors. I’ve come to accept I’m not going to write as many books as he will, much less James Patterson. (Yes, I know Patterson has help.)

I’ve accepted that, though. I’ve accepted not being a literary superstar because that’s not really the reason I’m writing anymore, even though I’m really interested in finally getting my fiction published somewhere, in some capacity. But it’s OK to have something to shoot far, even if you miss the target. I get why Joe Hill hid his name for a while, took some time to become his own person before his name got out in the world. He’s a damn good writer, too.

Now I just want to be me as a writer. With my recent work, with this blog, I might start to finally get there.