In 2006, I retired after 30 years working as a biologist for the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Then I taught for five years in the Biology Department at Thomas University, Thomas University.
Once retired, I had time to pursue creative writing, which had interested me since the seventh grade. Why did it take me fifty-five years to get started? Obviously, responsibilities associated with education, family, and career occupied much of my spare time.
Why take up writing in retirement? What’s the matter with golf, gourmet cooking, ballroom dancing? Nothing, it’s just that I enjoy all aspect of writing: the research, putting words on paper, the revisions. It’s also a great way to remember and synthesize personal experiences, past and present.
After an attempt at a novel and several curt rejections from literary journals, I realized that I had much to learn about this subject. Some of my background on technical writing was transferable to this new genre, most was not.
A friend who was enrolled in the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine had some excellent advice. He suggested that I begin by writing short pieces (fiction or nonfiction) in response to writing ‘prompts.’ Such triggers could be a picture, a word or a phrase, perhaps a quotation from a poem, book, or essay. The very next day my wife Kathryn and I prepared 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 produced. By the end of 2016, we had each written over 40 short stories or essays. We realized that these pieces, often put together quickly with much planning, were a great way to practice the craft of writing.
In order to learn more about flash fiction and nonfiction, I ordered anthologies, books and essays about writing. Kathryn and I revised our best work and began submitting to small on-line journals. After many rejections, we each had several accepted.
It’s a thrill to be published, even in a small journal. Best of all, I had taken the first step to becoming a creative writer. Often rejections were accompanied by helpful suggestions. Virtually everything that I published had been previously rejected and revised. Often many times.
But I still had much to learn about creative writing.