Why Write?

After I retired from government research and teaching, I started to work on a novel about a girl diagnosed with leukemia who was befriended by a lady priest and a stray cat.

Since I was encouraged to write when I was in the 7th grade, why did I wait fifty-five years to get started?

The answer is simple: responsibilities associated with education, career, and family occupied most of my spare time. Now that those were either over or greatly reduced, I had time to write. In addition to working on the novel, I joined a writing group, ordered a slew of books and essays, trolled the World Wide Web for information. I was determined to learn this new skill.

Why take up writing? What’s the matter with golf, gourmet cooking? Nothing the matter with golf or cooking, but I really like to write. I enjoy it all: the research, the process of putting words on paper, the revisions. Plus, writing can be a way to distill and synthesize experiences from all sorts of other activities, past and present.

Several years ago, I sent an early draft of my novel to a professional editorial service. The process seemed simple: get their critique, revise and rewrite, find an agent, have it published. But, after reading their critique, it was apparent that I had much to learn about creative writing. Some of my experience with technical writing was transferable to this new genre, but most was not.

A friend who was enrolled in the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine gave me some great advice. He suggested that I write short pieces (fiction or nonfiction) in response to writing ‘triggers,’ or prompts. A prompt could be a poem, a photo, an object, a piece of music, or a quotation. The very next day my wife Kathryn and I made up a handful of prompts and stuffed them into a quart-sized yogurt container. Every so often we pulled one out, wrote for 15 minutes, then read aloud what we had written. By the end of 2016, we had each written 43 short stories or essays.

I decided to learn more about flash fiction and micro-essays. I ordered anthologies, downloaded and studied journals devoted to this genre. We revised and submitted our best to small on-line journals for publication. After a considerable number of rejections, we both had several accepted.

It’s a thrill to be published, even in small journals. Even more exiting, I had taken the first step to becoming a creative writer. Rejections did not bother me all that much; often they were accompanied by helpful suggestions. Virtually everything that I published was first rejected, then revised, then submitted to other journals.

I still wanted to get back to that novel, perhaps begin a collection of essays. But I needed to learn more about creative writing.

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