Saturday, May 30, 2015

How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life

I am participating in the Writing Contest: How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life. Hosted by Positive Writer. When I got notice of this contest in my inbox, it made me think back to how this all started.

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A few years ago, I mentioned off-hand to a student of mine who was a highly skilled writer (she still is, though I can’t seem to convince her of that) that I had started a novel several times but had never quite finished it. And by not quite, I mean I wrote the first fifty pages or so over and over again. Not the same first fifty pages, but the same general story about a private detective name Harry Shalan and his brilliant, beautiful wife Deanna. This young lady, seemingly more convinced of my abilities than of hers, hounded me for the rest of the school year until I agreed to finish that darn book. And I did. I enjoyed it so much, I almost immediately started on the second of what I intend to be a long-running series. And the rest is history, as they say. All of my books have spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and have received rave reviews from every single critic on the entire planet.

Yeah, that last part was a bald-faced lie. I have sold some books, but not enough to say I’m a professional novelist. Somewhere in the hundreds for two books. Not enough to say at this point that I’m participating in more than a relatively expensive hobby. And yet, I would not go back and change my mind about finishing that first book. Writing has had an amazingly positive effect on me. More than one, actually.

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Finishing that first book gave me such a sense of accomplishment. It made me feel like I could do a lot of things I had not thought possible before, the main one being to be an actual professional writer. When I was young, there were three things I really wanted to be: a first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, an author, or a teacher. Well, if you ever saw me try to hit a curveball, you’d know that dream was of the pipe variety. Writing seemed a little more doable, but the job market for writers is awfully iffy. It was even more so back then when the only way to get published was through the giant crapshoot that is querying your work to agents and publishers. So a teacher it was. And I’m genuinely happy with the choice. I love my kids.

I settled for watching baseball and playing slow pitch softball. I’m still not really very good, but they don’t pay me, so it’s okay. And I thought I might finish a book someday, though I wasn’t sure I really could. I’d written some halfway decent short stories, but a novel is just so many words. And, hopefully, not the same eight or ten words over and over again. Lots of different words. But I was an English major and they prefer you to know several words, so there was still that tiny glimmer of hope that someday…

Photo By Hide ObaraAnd the someday came. I still wanted to be a “traditional” author, so I spent almost two years getting rejection notices weekly. The old cliché of using them to paper my bedroom walls didn’t really work, since they were nearly all automatically generated emails. But it didn’t matter. I wrote a book. I thought it was a pretty cool thing and my friends agreed. And ever since I took the plunge and self-published, even strangers have said so. A woman in Chicago (I live in West Virginia) tweeted me to say she’d won my first book in a contest, loved it, and was buying the second the day it came out. Chicago. Chicago, Illinois. A metropolis with more people in it than my whole state. I smiled for days that someone in a big city almost 500 miles away liked my books enough to take the time to tell me.

book, pages, readingSadly, she hasn’t gotten hundreds of her friends to buy their own copies, but that’s okay too. I hope I can get to a point where writing will be something I can do for a living, but I love my day job, at which, for the bonus, I’ve gotten a lot better since I started writing regularly, by the way. I read all the time about how reading makes you a better writer, but I’ve found the reverse to be true as well. I’m a much more effective reader now that I write. The tools I use to create character, plot, and theme are much more evident in the works I read now. So even if I never sold another copy, I will have benefitted greatly from writing.

There have been other positive effects, like all the nice people I’ve met and the new places I’ve been, but those stories can wait for another day. I could go on forever, but nobody wants that. Too many words. 


  1. I could write an article about how I came to write a novel (and finish it) and it would sounds much like this blog post. Except I'm a writer by profession (two stints of newspaper journalism and one stint as a technical writer), not a teacher. I think the hardest thing for many of us is to overcome that "thought" that our novel-writing efforts are not good enough, just like your student.

  2. I know I struggle with it constantly, but I wish I could get her to see just how amazing she is. She is someone that comes along once or twice in a teacher's career, if at all. But she told me recently she's barely written at all since high school. It made me so sad.

    Thanks for your comment--I really appreciate it!