I was 17 when I first decided to be a writer. Before that, I was an artist – or at least, I drew non-stop from the age of two on.
I wrote some short stories in 4th grade when my teacher assigned them for homework, using that week’s vocabulary words. Mine were the ones always read to the class. When I was 15, I started writing poetry, having discovered Rod McKuen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Leonard Cohen and other poets. In 11th grade, my teacher wrote on one of my papers, “It’s always so hard to grade your writing. It reads like beautiful poetry.”
But it was in my senior year, at age 17, that my creative writing teacher asked me, “Have you ever thought about being a writer?” He was serious in his question, and his faith in my writing gave a voice to a dream I had been too scared to say out loud. His name was Glenn Heyward and he was the teacher who made a difference.
I certainly had a great foundation for stories: I was an Air Force Brat until I was 16 ½ with plenty of real adventures that played out like the first-person novels I was fond of reading. In fact, I had an excellent memory for details – I can still tell you what I was wearing to dances or on dates over 40 years ago. I wanted my life to read like a book and I knew it would be important to remember the names and faces and all the little things. Being a military dependent afforded me plenty of material: three tours in England, stateside bases in New York, New Jersey and Florida, 16 schools in 12 years, 22 homes before I was 17. This gypsy life gave me the mettle to later attend college sight unseen and then move to Chicago after graduation. And whenever I was faced with a scary decision, my Air Force upbringing taught me to face each challenging decision and ask: what’s the worst that can happen? The answer could be “no.” What’s the best? It could be “yes.” It’s the “yes” that has always kept me moving towards my dreams. Or as the old saying goes, “No guts, no glory.”
The writing path is not for the faint hearted, although I didn’t know that when I was younger. The pay often sucks, mediocracy sometimes passes for superb, and the pickings can be thin. But some of the worst jobs I’ve had were actually beneficial to my writing, even if they seemed depressing at the time. Advertising to me was boring and insulted my grammarly sensibilities but gave me a lifelong love for clever marketing campaigns. Writing astrology copy in 200-word sections was mind numbing but taught me to make every word count. And writing slide and presentation scripts for a Humane Education public relations job at an animal shelter filled me with despair and an awakening realization that our society throws animals away like garbage. In fact, that job was the worst job of all – and affected my well being to the point where my doctor said to me, “I don’t know where you work, but you need to quit. It’s seriously affecting your health.” And yet, in many ways, it was the best job I ever had. It taught me a lot about dogs and cats, animal welfare and over population, and gave me a passion for animals that continues to grow – ironic for someone who never had a pet until after high school, due to our nomadic Air Force life.
But it took being laid off from the shelter job due to county-wide budget cuts to finally become a freelance writer, something I had always wanted to be but could never financially afford to do. When there’s no steady paycheck coming in, it’s easy to look for opportunities in hidden places – like the time I convinced a marketing company for financial institutions that it needed a writer to write profiles and bios for its competing banking clientele. I’ve been a full-time freelance writer for over 25 years now, working in a wide array of writing fields, and I am the author of four books sold on Amazon and other sites.
I am also touching base with my neglected artistic side – working on my first paintings in 30 years, learning how to draw digitally on a tablet, and creating a comic strip. Life, it seems, really is a circle. What goes around comes around again, if you work at rediscovering the good parts from the past that you’ve discarded or forsaken in the busyness of living life.
Still, writing is my first love and I look forward to my next challenging opportunity. Contact me if that’s you.