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My Meandering Path To Writing

It took me a long time to realize I wanted to be a writer. It was never on the list of what I might be when I grew up. I didn’t take creative writing classes in college. I didn’t grit my teeth through day jobs, hoarding spare moments for time alone with a Moleskine notebook. So, people close to me were surprised, and I was the most surprised at all, when at age 58, I set fingers to keyboard and hunted-and-pecked out my first words of fiction. Well, almost the first. I’ll get to that.

What I always had been, was a reader. As soon as I learned to read, my attention was drawn irresistibly to any words that fell within my field of view. I was the only child I knew whose parents were constantly demanding, “Put that book down and go out to play!”

Somewhere around age 8 or 9, I was reading a book I loved so much that, as other readers will understand, I couldn’t bear when it ended. I figured the only solution was to continue the story myself. I begged my parents for a typewriter, because after all, I wanted my work to be professional. They gave me a used one for some occasion, maybe a birthday. I sat down and got to work.

All of the brilliant ideas I’d had for the story vanished in that instant. I managed to get through one sentence. Even at that age, I knew it was an incredibly dumb sentence. I suddenly realized writing was hard and went off to find something else to do—which probably meant picking up another book. That sentence was the last fiction I wrote for half a century.

Time passed. I became an architect, practiced architecture for a good many years until I realized: 1) Practice doesn’t make perfect, 2) This isn’t much fun anymore, and 3) With careful attention to budget and finances, I could quit. But if I did, how would I fill all of that newly available time?

At about the same time, for several months, something new and unexpected had been going on inside my head. A story and several characters had taken up lodging there and refused to leave. They would have long, intense conversations while I was driving to and from project meetings that distracted me while I should have been thinking about architecture stuff. There was only one solution. I’d have to write them out of there. But how? It took a surprisingly long time for me to realize this was the task all that post-retirement free time was meant for.

The day after I left my job, I started to write, hoping I’d get further than one sentence this time but convinced that I wouldn’t last long. I was certain I’d run dry, maybe after ten pages, maybe 30. Surely 50, tops. I was completely astonished to find myself, 3 months later, with a 75,000-word draft of a novel and a newly-discovered infatuation with writing.

That draft was garbage, of course. I didn’t know the first thing about how to structure a novel or write at a professional level. But there were remedies for that: books on writing, classes and workshops, videos, podcasts, and best of all, the GrubStreet writing center in Boston. I’ve learned an incalculable amount from all of these and more. Most importantly of all, I keep on writing. Because practice may not make perfect, but it’s the only thing that’s sure to get you closer.

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