Becoming A Writer

WriteHow did you decide to become a writer? I would like to hear your story and so would others who read this blog.

Here’s my story:

In 1983 Kathy and I owned a mom and pop greenhouse in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We lived right next to the greenhouses, so both of us were involved with raising our two children. The lines between work and home disappeared.greenhouse

We raised petunias, impatiens and tomato seedlings for spring. Even though our greenhouse was prospering, something was wrong. My life was planting seeds, growing tiny plants and selling vegetables and garden plants in the spring. I was becoming what I grew – a cabbage or maybe a petunia. petuniasMy mind was dying and I knew it.

I started playing around with writing. After supper every night I would go out to my ‘office,’ a little added-on room between our house and the greenhouses. It had windows to the front and back and a space heater that was adequate for spring and fall, but not winter. I would sit down at the typewriter and follow my creative muse.

Whole worlds opened to me. I wrote about the area behind my childhood garage where I practiced pitching and dreamed of reaching the major leagues. I wrote a short story about a group of prisoners on an island. I wrote a poem about getting along with the Russians.

Hours passed. Suddenly, as I wrote, an alarm would ring in the house. The alarm meant I hadn’t turned the heat on in the greenhouses. I had to shut the door on the vibrant world that grew on the paper in front of me and hurry to the greenhouses to start the furnaces.

An hour later I’d be back at the typewriter. Type a sentence, stop, look at it, realize it wasn’t quite true and then search deeper. Layers of middle-aged half-truths disappeared, the comfortable maxims I had surrounded myself with – “Business is good. Don’t make any changes” and “Relax. You’re getting older.” The fires of my youth burned again – civil rights, world peace, a place in the sun for every person. The idealism that had lain dormant for eight years sparked back into life.

Isaiah was on scene again, reminding me of the words I read in the seminary:

  • I have appointed you
  • to open the eyes of the blind,
  • to free captives from prison
  • and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.  (Chapter 42, 6)

As I wrote, I dug, I searched always deeper, trying to reach the truth. It might be easy to speak a lie, but it wasn’t easy to write one. I started to unravel the tangled skein that was me.

These revelations came, not from writing philosophy or self-help dictums, but from writing fiction. Put a man and a woman in a fictional situation. What does the woman really think? What does the man think? Is this real? Is this how people are? Where do I get my ideas? What is human nature all about? Who am I?

For example, as I wrote about the prisoners on the island, I got to know each one of them. How did they get into crime? Why were they different than me? Did they have religious education as I did? What did they think about God? Was God a mean father for them or a gentle parent? What did I think about God?

Amazing. When I was in the seminary, they had tried for twelve years to teach me how to mediate, and here I was doing it while I wrote.

I want to be a writerWhat a wonderful gift this was. I talked to Kathy about it one day as we worked together in the greenhouse. It was February, cold outside. Kathy stood at a transplanting bench in the boiler room, moving little plants from seed flats to larger, sectioned containers. I shoveled dirt up to her bench and moved her finished product out to a greenhouse.

A fluorescent light hung over Kathy’s bench. The area was dingy and the temperature inside almost matched the outside. When the old boiler kicked in with a big whoosh, Kathy’s face lit up. “Heat,” she murmured. Soon hot water would flow through the pipes.

I took a break and stood by her bench. “I’ve decided to become a writer.”

She turned to me with a wary look. She swept her arm around in a half circle. “You’re not leaving me with all this, are you?”

“Of course not.”

“So? What do you mean? How can we work the greenhouse, if you’re off writing?”

“Like we talked about,” I responded. “We’re both getting tired. Maybe you should switch jobs, too.”

“Like what?”

“Like you seem to enjoy volunteering at Kevin and Kerry’s school. Why don’t you become a teacher?”

“I’d have to go back to university and take more courses. Let me think about it.”

Kathy talked to our children and asked them what she should do and, without prompting, they both said she should be a teacher. So she signed up for more course work at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

And I signed up for my first course in writing. That was almost forty years ago and I’ve been a writer ever since. I’ve written five books and I teach writing in my community and in prison. It’s been a great life.

Now what’s your story of becoming a writer?

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9 responses to “Becoming A Writer

  1. Why did I want to be a writer? I’ve been wondering that for a while now. I go back many years to a scene in the bedroom I shared with my sister. She was sick and I was trying to entertain her by making up an adventure story, using little figurines from the toy box. It struck me that she was fully concentrating on what I was saying, and the attention sparked something in me. I’d been a reader for as long as I could remember. If other people could get that kind of attention by telling stories, why not me? But I guess life got in the way. I seem to have been “tinkering’ with writing all my ife, even worked as a reporter for a while, and have had a few successes. But nothing earthshaking. I don’t know why, but I feel happier when writing than when doing anything else. And if I can entertain someone with a story, then I guess that’s the best reward, though making some money along the way would be nice. Taking the next step, to getting published in a paying market, is the biggest one I can think of.

  2. Ed, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in 3rd grade and read “Little Women”. I’ve dabbled in it for a long time, always longing to write something for someone to read and understand. I had jobs where I could write…social histories for psychiatric patients, grant proposals, reports…but didn’t dare to think I could actually one day do this for a living. For me, the best part of being a social worker or a teacher or a fundraiser was writing the reports! I thought that I could assuage that desire by doing that…but I couldn’t. I had ideas for stories, novels, series of novels, feature stories, self-help tomes, prayer books, memoirs…but I couldn’t force myself to put my writing out where anyone could read it. Finally, I had a good idea for a series…consulted someone I trusted about the idea and received the encouragement I needed. So, at the age of 55, I started my book. Then, l started my blog and received encouragement again. I have never been happier. I’m not making a living at it yet, but I believe with all my heart that I will. Suddenly all the things that I wanted to say and share through the years are relevant again.
    Thank you for sharing your story with us. Again…I feel encouraged.

  3. AND…like Dave, I also worked as a reporter for a while and continue to do that on a freelance basis. Nothing makes me happier than finishing a story and having someone read and understand it.

    • Right. A woman in prison told me once that she knew what I was trying to do with my novel, Prisoners of the Williwaw. This novel was kind of an action/adventure and there was never a clear goal stated, but she got it 100 percent right. She said, “you were trying to show that regular convicts could do something worth while, not just innocent guys caught in jail like Hollywood does. Your convicts were guilty, yet they did something good.”
      She had it perfect. It is great when somebody “gets it.”

  4. I love your story. You are so generous with your time and learning. What you’ve done with your life just amazes me.

    I became a technical writer because I got tired of repeating myself and helping people with the same thing over and over and over again… So I guess you could say I got into writing because I’m lazy and selfish. LOL

    I have talked for years about writing books. I’m still not sure if I really want to be a fiction author. I am committed to a series of short stories to go with the Jewish vampire book to make it all work the way the characters are demanding I write it.So I get the whole thing that my author friends talk about. I have a whole word-building thing going on which I never expected it started out as this easy lark. I guess we will see where it takes me.

    • In University, I took community organizing, (like Obama). My supervisor told me once that I parroted the last person I’d talked to. Well, maybe, but now I parrot my writing group. We are very business like about our meetings and our work. No social stuff.
      I keep trying to write about prison reform. I go every week and it rips me apart. So, I know people like humor and often you can get your message across by humor, so I tried it. A family from Kepler 22b is sent to earth to check things out. They were to subsume the Hogan family in Surrey, BC, Canada, but the husband got separated and ended up in an area prison. Then the fun begins.
      My writing group loved it, so I kept writing, ignoring 2 novels on the go, one almost finished. I submitted the opening to a local contest and it won– shared — third prize. That’s almost like Monoply’s second prize in a beauty contest.

      Maybe i do listen to the last person I talked to.
      One of those people is you and I really appreciate knowing you and working in a project you sponsored. You are a good and caring teacher. Thank you. I debated and debated joining your next group, but I thought I’d better get some neglected work done… and the damn doctors keep demanding things.
      This is all a round about way to say, Thank you, Tasha

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