Tuesday, September 07, 2004


118,000 Words

I have this bad habit. It's called writing. Events happen to me and sometimes I get an idea for a story about it.

Years ago I wrote only under duress. The process was slow and clumsy, and I just didn't know how to get the images in my mind to fit into words. So they'd force me to write things for classes in school, but reality was in the images. I'd go home and build things, really three-dimensional objects that I could hold in my hands, rotate, and look at. Just like the images in my mind.

Years went by. I wrote a few things by hand because it was the only way to get the ideas out where I could see them. It took a lot of frustration to make me write, and then I never edited. I watched my mother write her dissertation and the process was so clumsy that I swore never to do it myself.

In 1982 I had to take an English class. I was what they called a "non-traditional" student. In other words, old. Sitting in an English class with people just over half my age was interesting. We had to write an essay every week. I bought a typewriter and went to work.

I took a recent experience that had burned itself into my memory, shining brightly, and tried to make it become real on the page. I typed it, went through and marked up the hard copy, and then retyped. Better than writing by hand, but still clumsy.... But something about this appealed to me. To hold this experience fixed, printed on paper that was real in my hand was fascinating in itself.

A couple of months later I discovered that the school had a rudimentary word processor running on its computer system. I tried using this for one of the essays but didn't like the result. It was too easy. I became verbose. I wrote the next essay with the typewriter and that's when the light came on. It was so much easier! I could learn to deal with the verbosity in order to have that wonderful write/re-write single-pass capability. I haven't used a typewriter since, and a couple of months later I owned a word processor.

So, I started writing. I'd get an idea at two in the morning, get up and write it. I called these "Midnight Missives." If you keep doing something you get better at it. Midnight Missives started out as a paragraph or two, grew to a page. That was a long story!

It was hard for me to hold the whole story in my mind, as it had to be for me to write. Again, practice made a difference. I don't really know why I stuck with it. Perhaps it was all those silent years. No one wanted to hear from me, so I wrote.

I had ideas, I had the tool. I wrote. Eventually I found the third factor: an audience. I wrote stories about motorcycle rides and then sent them to the people who rode with me. They usually said it was a good story and that I should get them published. I was, however, more interested in writing than in the fight to get into a magazine. The first ride write-ups were a few paragraphs. The last one was close to 80 pages, written in sections by day of an 11-day ride.

When my major activity switched from motorcycling to sand sculpture I wrote about that. Some of these reports became long and complex. I'd developed better writing muscles through the constant practice.

And then, last year, I went and visited a church. Now, if I'd been asked to predict what would be the outcome of this, I'd have said I'll just bounce off. I'm not much of a joiner. I was in pretty bad shape, though, and needed help of some sort. Didn't really know what kind of help was required, but something had to change. Well, not only did I not bounce off, but I was impressed and wanted to go back. This was such an odd turn of events that I wrote a story about it, and naturally sent the story by Email to the man who invited me to visit his church.

The second Sunday was also interesting, so I wrote a story about that one, and sent it to the same man. He'd written back to say that he liked the story a lot. A week later I got the same report from the church's head pastor, which caused problems. But that's another story. What happened was that I ended up staying with the church, discovered that God was real, and kept writing.

I just mailed off to the pastor the full collected version of those stories. Graphics and all. It's called "Anonymity was never an option," and it runs 250 typeset pages. Roughly 118,000 words, in 20 stories. Heavy enough that it couldn't go first class, but by priority. The concept came to me late last year and I mentioned it to a new friend. She said "Go for it." So I did. I was astounded. You keep writing, you get a book.

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