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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I'm a Writer, dammit!

I haven't always been a writer.
I married young and the demands of a growing family meant a man like me had to become a provider. So, I worked… first in the employ of others and later as a business owner. I recall quite well the day I stood on the loading dock of the factory where I used to work. I saw my boss pull up in his Cadillac, open up the trunk, and take out his golf bag. I realized that while I'd been slaving away in a hot factory all day long, he'd been hitting the links and playing games. I told myself then and there that I was finished making someone else rich.
Not long after that day I started my own business and quit my job of making the boss rich. Actually, the man fired me before I got the chance to quit but that's another story and neither here nor there so far as becoming my own boss. The writing was on the wall long before and him firing me merely allowed me to draw unemployment compensation for a year while I got my business off the ground, something me quitting wouldn't have allowed.
I thought I worked long hours at my job… little did I realize the hours were even longer when a person is self-employed. Not only was I responsible for the day to day business activities, but I had to effectively market the business, schedule appointments, go out and sell my services against stiff competition, and when the business grew, I had to learn to hire quality people to help me run my business.
By the time I turned 45, my oldest son had been married for a half dozen years and the other children were no longer children. Part of the reason I started my business was the hope that the kids would want to be a part of it too, but it never seemed to appeal to them as much as it did to me. Oh sure, they all worked for me for a while but then went off and did their own things… got good jobs… married good people… started their own families.
Putting all my time into the business had another down side I do not like talking about… my wife left me about the time the business really took off. I suddenly found myself alone with a thriving business and no one to share it all with. About this same time I started dabbling on the Internet where I found my way to a discussion group centered around the work of Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a second novel called Lila: An Inquiry into Morals.
During the course of these talks, I met a man who lived in Norway who had personally corresponded with Mr. Pirsig and who asked me to attempt putting the first year's worth of discussions into book form… well, he really asked me to write the Lila Squad story but since I didn't know how to do that, I took the archived posts and put them into a readable format, after securing permission from the contributors, of course.
A month after I uploaded my manuscript of compilations to a website that I taught myself how to construct, the fellow from Norway sent me an email telling me that he had received a snail mail letter from Robert Pirsig saying he had discovered my website and how much he liked it and how he had started making notes on the book I had named Lila's Child.
After the amazement of such a thing happening had worn off, I wrote my friend in Norway an email asking if he thought Mr. Pirsig might be willing to share his notes with me. I thought what a great addition they would be to Lila's Child. My Norway friend wrote me back to tell me that he had severe reservations on asking Robert Pirsig to share his notes so I took it that to mean it would never happen. Still, I began to rework the manuscript that I had uploaded, noticing a number of mistakes that had heretofore escaped my attention.
In a month or so, my Norway friend wrote me to say Robert Pirsig had agreed to take a look at the manuscript once I had finished working out the bugs. Apparently he had reconsidered his recalcitrance in asking Mr. Pirsig to supply notes and had written him a letter without telling me, perhaps hoping to save me the heartache of a refusal.
Over the next few months I sent the completed manuscript back and forth to Robert Pirsig many times, asking questions and basically having the intellectual time of my life. I quit watching television. I neglected my business. I spent whole weeks in front of the computer working and reworking the manuscript to include the notes and introduction Robert Pirsig had been so gracious to provide. Time disappeared. I lost myself completely in my work the way I had never before experienced.
And then it was finished.
I felt empty. When I rose in the morning I had nothing with which to occupy my mind. My old routines had become dull and no longer seemed worthwhile indulging in. I went back to working my business but with my heart no longer in it not long afterward I decided to sell it. Times were good and it didn't take long before I found a buyer.
One day, a woman who I had started seeing asked me if I could do anything in the whole world, what would it be? Right away, I told her I would write. I didn't even have to think about it. At the time I had the time and the money to do anything but my experience with Lila's Child still resonated within my psyche and I knew that somehow, some way, I wanted to recapture that feeling of losing myself in my work.
So… I began writing. I wrote short stories at first… they seemed easier and not the challenge that a novel presented. I bought all kinds of books on writing and spent hours every day reading on how one became a better writer. Some of the books were very good and I learned something from all of them. I began reading the classics again, this time dissecting them so far as plot and theme and storyline.
I found myself imitating the authors I loved especially well. The more I wrote the closer I came to finding my own voice within the din of all those brilliant writers who'd come before me. My first novel grew out of a single original paragraph I wrote without giving it much consideration. Three more novels followed.
I took a part-time job to help pay the bills and began writing every day for at least four hours. I considered writing to be my real occupation even though I didn't sell enough books to do it full time. I began to establish more of a web presence to help market my books. But when I shared my preoccupation with writing with my son, he told me that he thought how everyone needed a hobby and how happy he was that I had found something I enjoyed doing.
A hobby? Really?
Now, I must say in all fairness that my son has a remarkable sense of humor that he no doubt inherited from his mother's side. And I am quite sure he meant well. I suppose I might think the same thing if someone told me they were writing in their spare time.
But I am a writer, dammit!
This isn't a hobby. A hobby is something practiced for enjoyment without thought of financial reward. And yes, when I am lost in a story that I am writing, I'm not thinking of making a boatload of money off it. At the same time, however, I feel the skill sets that I have evolved over the last few years have resulted in me becoming a writer… not a hobbyist.
I sell books all over the world! People actually pay to read the words I write! While I may not (yet) be a professional in the sense that I earn a living with my writing, I feel I have achieved a distinction many others will never achieve. I have penned a novel!
I am a writer!

2 comments:

  1. You're farther along on the path than I but funny enough I just wrote a blog post about declaring myself a writer. It's empowering and scary and fraught with criticism from loved ones who just don't really understand what that title (some might say 'label') means. I'm sure your son appreciates the importance of writing in your life now. Best of luck with your novels, Dan :))

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  2. Hello Jo-Anne, and thank you for leaving a comment! Yes, as I said, my son has quite the sense of humor... he calls me each year on my birthday wondering if I can still remember how old I am.
    Writers write! Tonight I took time out from my newest manuscript to write a piece for my blog... for me, it helps to distance myself once in a while from the work at hand and come back with a fresh prospective, so to speak. That isn't to say I do not write every day, however!
    I read somewhere that a writer must write a million words or so before they begin to find their own voice. And they'll know they've found it if they wouldn't want their mother to read their writings!
    I guess I am beginning to find my voice...
    Thanks again!

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