Saturday, January 19, 2008

Loving to Write - the short story

Writing the top five reasons I love to write list brought up a lot of memories about how I have come to be a writer. There are a lot of myths, rumors and misconceptions in general about how people become writers. When someone my age appears to be starting to do writing it is frequently attributed to boredom, or just end of life reflection, or another fruffie reason, but there are lots of substantial reasons why a more mature person starts to write as well.

In my case I am not so much beginning from scratch but rather picking up where I left off, even though that has meant doing some refresher work in the process. Writing out a shorthand version of my journey into the world of writing and writers brought a lot of clarity to my thinking. I thought it might help or encourage someone else to revisit their writing journey so far. So this is part 2 about “Loving to write:”

In the beginning -

I have to confess I probably took longer than most to realize and acknowledge that I wrote because I loved it. My relationship with writing started out not unlike Loretta Lynn’s relationship with music as illustrated in the film “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Initially I wrote because it was something I could do. I didn’t think about whether I loved it or not, really love wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary back then.

In tenth grade I moved to a new town and a new school. John Dubbs taught my Composition II class that spring. He was not the typical high school English teacher with his wiry manner and the way his face would light up when he had an idea. At the end of the session he suggested that I apply for his two-part introduction to Journalism series for the next fall if I hadn’t made my selections yet. I really didn’t get why he would do that but I had never had a teacher personally invite me to join a class and I wasn’t letting the occasion get away.

Mr. Dubb’s brother was the editor of the local paper which served as inspiration for class material. Because of those classes I started getting more school paper assignments than just the class requirements. After a few weeks I was invited to join the local paper’s high school journalism workshop which produced a half page of school news for each participating district every week. When I received one of two awards given through the workshop that year another door started to open; going away to a college that offered a journalism program.

Until then my parents’ line had been that my only choice was to live at home and take the vo-tech LPN program. I have nothing against vo-tech schools or LPNs but that was never what I planned to do the year following high school. Mr. Dubbs on hearing this started spending his lunch hour baiting my dad with reasons why it would be a crime to waste my potential.

Then came the flood -

Of course getting into college and a journalism program is one challenge. It is quite another thing to survive college and the demands of an intense program when most of the parts of your life and worldview are getting blasted beyond recognition. It didn’t help that I was academically and socially ill-prepared for the college experience; I couldn’t even type. After three years of swimming upstream I floated to the side, got out of the water, and declared I was done fighting the current. Really, I didn’t know what I was saying; life was at a very low point and it would be decades before I would understand why.

Over the next 25-27 years I did writing when it was part of other responsibilities, but I didn’t choose work in order to be able to write. I didn’t seriously start writing regularly or even think about writing for writing’s sake until I started journaling in 2000 as a way to sort out what happen all those years ago. The thing is that the more I wrote and sorted, the more writing looked possible and not closed. At the same time, finishing my bachelor’s degree started to look possible as well.

Rainbows and aftershocks –

So I started looking into college programs through which I might finish my fallowing degree. I finally decided on a small Lutheran university nearby which had just opened a Communication major. The size was perfect, it offered adults a free credit evaluation with a generous acceptance policy, and it offered special fee schedules for adults who only took classes and didn’t participate in student life. There was just one tiny hurdle – okay, maybe it wasn’t so tiny.

The evaluating dean was a former professor of mine at another school during a semester overseas. At the time he expressed the opinion that I was underperforming for my potential but I had no means to explain how bad things were outside class. So after the scariest two hour interview I ever prepared for, I came away feeling foolish over my angst and elated that he thought I was a good match for university’s rigorous program. Three years later, exactly 30 years after I should have originally graduated, I received a BA in Communication (ML).

Making the transition from academic writing projects to professional writer has been a path riddled with landmines and gophers holes. I am happiest when I am working on my writing but I have yet to hit on where, how and what to write. I currently have a contract neighborhood column for a local newspaper which keeps my deadline, headline and source cultivation skills from drying up. I also show up here on this blog several times a week and try to amaze you with clever prose. Really though I sense I am marking time, waiting for something or someone to appear. But I believe it’s on its way and I’ll know it when it appears.

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chelle said...

What an amazing story of triumph! Congrats on your degree and it is always better late than never! I am not sure what paths I will venture down in this life, but inspiring stories like yours help diminish the past and look towards the future.

AuthorMomWithDogs said...

Yes, quite an amazing story! Finishing what you started thirty years later... Awesome!