Relearning an Old Skill

I have been writing stories since I was eight years old. I have the hard copies to prove it. For the next twenty years after that, I was writing a lot of fiction. It was a mix, really, though mostly mainstream and science fiction or somewhere in between. Once I started writing to pay my bills, my fiction productivity dropped off tremendously. More to the point, I began to lose interest in storytelling at all. The reasons for that are a bit complicated, but I’ll give it a shot here. Continue reading “Relearning an Old Skill”

The Tools You Use

I pursued my first English degree with the intention of being a science fiction writer. I wrote a lot more in my teens and twenties and my stories were filled with the concerns of a young man: pursuing adventures, making a difference, falling in love. The Bart who wrote then is a very different person from the person who writes blogs and training documents and journalism pieces now. Aside from my additional 20 years of life experience, the tools I use to write have changed as well. Continue reading “The Tools You Use”

What Good Am I?

Edith Keeler: Did you do something wrong? Are you in trouble? Whatever it is, let me help.

Captain Kirk: “Let me help.” A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over “I love you.”

–Star Trek, “The City on the Edge of Forever”

I don’t invent machinery, I help explain and market it. I rarely speak at conferences, but I have volunteered to work at or run them. I am neither a scientist nor a cheerleader, yet I help keep a bunch of them communicating and organized. I don’t write original ideas in paper or book form, yet I contribute editorial and narrative support to others. I do not formulate bold new space policies, but I do help polish the language and try to share them with others.  I do not build, I assemble. I cannot program a computer, but I am a quick study as a super-user. I am rarely a leader, but I make a good second or third in command. 

I am not handsome or dramatic enough to be a star, but I’d make a decent character actor. I might not form some amazing partnership–personal or professional–but I am likely to introduce people who do. I don’t come up with new philosophies or remarkable spiritual insights, but I will take them into my soul and integrate them into my life so others can see the results. I’m unlikely to be in a parade and much more likely to be one of the people cheering from the side. I don’t write great books, I read and review them.

Why am I sharing this? I suppose because I sometimes doubt the value I contribute. And maybe because as I get older I’m getting more realistic about what I am likely to accomplish (or not accomplish) in life. There’s a lot of emphasis in our culture on being the star or the originator of great things. There isn’t much glory attached to being just a member of a team. Yet my motto for years has been “I’m here to help,” and I try to prove that with every opportunity I can. There are those who originate and those who must deliver. Somewhere along the line, I learned the value of helping make dreams into reality even if it isn’t my dream. Maybe I’m content to let my life be this way, with the trust and hope that what I’ve done has been worthwhile. At the end of the line, I’ll hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” and that will be enough.

Why Do I Write?

I write to pay my bills. I’m a technical writer, that’s what I do. It’s a great pleasure that I’m able to turn something I’m able to do reasonably well into cash and groceries.

But that is nonfiction, and work done on behalf of someone else’s idea or business. I still write for myself. Why?

First, it might be helpful to explain what I consider “writing for myself.” This would include:

  • Fiction
  • Poetry
  • Journal writing

All of these activities serve personal, what some might call “antisocial” purposes because they are for my own benefit and enjoyment, not necessarily others’. Note that I am not a published/paid writer in any of those categories, so why do I bother?

I’ve been writing fiction since 1978 or so. I’ve been writing poetry since 1984 or so. I’ve been keeping a journal since 1988. Again, not for profit. Occasionally I’ve let others read the stuff, but not as a regular habit anymore. So why do I bother?

Maybe writing is just a hobby? A literary form of therapy? I write in these various forms for my own personal enjoyment. Sometimes I learn something. Sometimes I just feel better afterward. Sometimes I want to say something about the state of the world (or my reactions to it) and saying it straight out is not the most effective way to do it. If I have things I want to say or think about, why not just mull them over in my head? Why bother with the physical activity of putting pen to paper or fingers to laptop keyboard?

Maybe because writing is my way of leaving monuments. I was here, I lived, I had ideas, I mattered: here is the proof.

If you write, what compels you to do so?

What do you see?

Just a middle-aged white guy with short grey hair and Van Dyke beard, wearing a faded green Hawaiian shirt adorned with game fish and boats. He studies the book in front of him with Irish blue eyes that peer out of a florid face and narrow bifocal, Transitions lenses. His arms are hairy and he has a quarter-inch brown mole on the slightly browned skin near the middle of his forearm. All of his skin has a slick sheen of sweat and sunblock. The torso is thick, but not grossly so—just extra fat at the middle and slight love handles. His shorts are baggy and rise above a pair of pale but well-worked legs and scuffed white cross-trainers. His legs are crossed as he sits on a shaded park bench under the hot Florida sun, but his body is more or less relaxed and at ease.

At any moment he will decide he’s had enough with reading, bend over one corner of a page, bound upward, and begin walking. He keeps his gaze on the sidewalk or briefly at the obstacles in his way. His brow furrows and his mouth is turned slightly downward, moving but making no sound. Occasionally he pauses, strokes his beard, tilting his head and nodding before setting off again.

He rarely makes eye contact, merely scanning faces as he arrows through a crowd. His pace, when not lost in rumination, is brisk and his steps long. At a steady four miles per hour, he can get anywhere or nowhere in good time, often sweaty at the end of his march.

Now and then he looks at a building or some piece of nature that attracts his attention. If something really interests him, he pauses, pulls his iPhone from his front pocket, and captures the image before moving on. He is not thinking about anything in particular. He is not angry, merely lost in thought. This is what you see, this is what he does.