I want you to know where I came from and why writing is so important to me.
I don’t know for sure, but it started in third grade. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Shilling, had us write creative stories on green-lined construction paper. We would write stories about the Amazon rain forest. I would fill 20-30 sheets of paper while some of my classmates struggled to fill five. (Note: Considering I think each sheet probably held about two sentences because of how big kids write, it probably amounted to maybe 3 typed pages? Maybe. But still.) Writing came natural to me. But you know what the best part was? When we read the stories to our classmates, and to hear them laugh and be amazed. I can still remember that, how fun it was to know readers were enthralled by something I did. In 5th grade, I wrote another story about Sheldon, a turtle who dreamed about being a limousine driver, but he was extremely fat, so he went on a diet of only salads, but eventually turned into a salad. It was even illustrated, albeit poorly, by yours truly. I still have that story. I pull it out every now and then and reminisce.
Then middle school happened, and junior high and high school. And what happened then? Puberty. Acne. No dates. An obsession with girls who did not reciprocate my feelings. A drain on my self confidence.
Did I write during this time? You betcha, but it was mostly self-loathing entries about how terrible life was, and how I was obsessed with this girl and I was pretty sure she was the love of my life. And then a couple months later, I would write the same entry, only it would be about a different girl. And the reason I call them “self loathing entries” is because I loathe myself every time I re-read this. Kind of a “What the hell were you thinking?” type of entry.
Then in tenth grade, something happened. I started writing again. Not “Dear Diary” style, but actual fiction. I wrote a poem about a cow who didn’t moo and was therefore mocked by society. (It was ahead of its time, clearly, but brilliant nonetheless) I wrote a short story, I wrote a murder-mystery play that was briefly available online for purchase (or so I was told). Something wonderful was reignited inside of me, something that had been dormant for 5 years, but was now active and hungrier than ever.
I continued to write. I took a creative writing class, I wrote for the school writing collection and submitted several pieces. I knew writing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I even bought a book, Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents because it was recommended to me by one of my favorite authors of the time, Nicholas Sparks. I wanted to write love stories like him. (I figured my obsessive longing for females with my diary entries gave me the edge to do this) I was convinced I wanted to write for a living, I applied to two colleges, Pitt-Johnstown and Susquehanna University. Susquehanna was a campus built around trees and lush greenery, with squirrels running around. It also had a dedicated writing program. Pitt-Johnstown did not. Case closed.
When I was accepted into Susquehanna University’s writing program, I assumed it meant I was a big deal, that Susquehanna rejected hundreds of curious writers and accepted only the best of the best. Boy was I dumb. I’m pretty sure everyone was accepted. The first college writing class I took was Intro to Poetry, with mostly upper-classmen. Let me tell you three things about me and poetry: 1) I can’t write poetry save for one epic Cow poem, 2) I don’t enjoy reading poetry except for a few sonnets here and there, and 3) I’m awful at dissecting poetry–meanings, rhyme schemes, verse, etc. Somehow I managed to pull a B in the class.
I eventually got into fiction classes and felt more in my element. But I soon realized something that the naive, wide-eyed high schooler who figured he’d have his first novel published in his early twenties didn’t know: writing is extremely subjective. And my professor, a published author himself, stories that spoke to him. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything in the class, but the momentum that had carried me through high school hit a giant brick wall in college. Suddenly my stories were not beloved. They were criticized, picked apart by eager peers wanting to impress teacher. They would repeat phrases that the professor spoke in class, probably oblivious to its actual meanings. My confidence shattered quicker than dropped glass. I became hardened, bitter, angry, sad, disappointed, frustrated. In a way, it sucked. But in a way, it was good to hear: most writers don’t get published in their twenties, if ever. The hard dose of reality was demoralizing, but I know it was also necessary.
Senior year of college, something strange happened. I took a novel class and…the professor didn’t hate it! It was a story about a freshman baseball player who was secretly using steroids to help his game. Steroids in pros were starting to become a major things at this point. “Juiced” by Jose Canseco was big, and Barry Bonds was shattering records with a body that looked nothing like it did in his Pirate days. It was a relevant story, and the professor gave more positive feedback than negative. Perhaps he was just running out my clock, pushing me through the door with a boost of confidence after shattering it for the past four years. Perhaps he actually liked it. I’ll never know for sure. I graduated before I finished.
With four years of student loans in front of me, I took the first job I could find as a bookseller at the local mall. The pay was shit, I worked nights and weekends, but I didn’t have a girlfriend or a life, so it fit well. And I was working with books! If the pay had been higher, I could have seen it as a career track. During this time, I finished that baseball novel at around 103,00 words, edited it, and tried to find an agent. I didn’t find one. Meanwhile, after 13 months selling books, I found a better paying job in banking. I continued to write, although sparingly, dated my wife, married my wife, moved out of my parent’s house, got a cat, bought a house, got a dog, knocked up said wife.
Then disaster struck. The bank where I had clawed and worked my way up over 7 years was bought by a bigger bank and I lost my job. Meanwhile, my pregnant wife gave birth to our baby boy three weeks early. He had Respiratory Stress Syndrome and spent 10 days in the NICU in York, where I spent my 31st birthday.An occasion that was supposed to be joyous became chaotic and stressful. When my healthy son turned one month old, right before Thanksgiving, I worked my last day at the bank. I was unemployed for five months, and in that time, while raising my son, I found an old friend: writing.
A story had been brewing in my mind for a while, a children’s Christmas story that I began writing. Over the span of a few months, I nearly finished it. I shopped it to one agent who–surprise surprise–never responded. But I plan on shopping it more very soon.
My writing life has gotten back on track. I’m writing more, I just entered a shorty story of mine called “The Nine Lives of Jay Catsby” in a contest with Wattpad, and I started this blog with a pen name I hope to use with my published works someday.
There are two lessons in all of this. One, writing is subjective. I guarantee if I presented a novel of mine called “Fifty Shades of My Grey” to my college professor and peers, it would have been beaten down to a pile of shit because of how terrible it was. Just because what you write doesn’t appeal to a certain room, it doesn’t mean it’s awful. It’s like fishing: You just need a wider net. Two, Never Give Up. My son spent ten days in the NICU, I lost my job at the worst time. But I’m still standing. No matter what is going on in your life, whether it’s trying to publish a story or getting through a tough time, never give up.
Thanks for reading, and Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful dads out there!