Writer’s License and Registration, Please

Posted: April 12, 2014 in Self-publishing
Tags: , , , ,

I mentioned in one of my first posts that I’ve been reading and writing fiction for as long as I can remember. Like most early readers (aka dorks), I did well enough in school across the board, but my highest marks came in English. I even won a cheap faux-silk ribbon and five bucks in a district-wide writing contest when I was eleven or so. “Worthless baubles and cold hard cash just for slappin’ some ink onto some paper?” I thought. “Count me in!” Mix in a steady helping of praise and encouragement from my high school teachers, and by the time I graduated I was ready to take the literary world by storm. Or was I?

As much as the idea of earning a paycheck with my words appealed to me, I didn’t think I had it in me to actually do it. Sure, I could competently string words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, et cetera, but what was I going to write about? How much cafeteria food sucks? The agony and the ecstasy of missing the school bus? By then (the early ’90s), Kris Kross had already strip-mined that territory. I knew there wasn’t any official “legal age” attached to writing (Shelley wrote Frankenstein at age 20ish; that turned out okay), but I felt I needed to tuck some life experience under my belt if I was ever going to have anything worth writing.

My late teens and early 20s are a blur of mind-numbing menial labor and post-adolescent stupidity, so let’s skip ahead to my late 20s, shall we? I’m sitting in the back of a Humvee parked in one of the more sand-blown and explosion-prone regions of the world, surrounded by millions of dollars’ worth of Vietnam-era communications equipment. I’ve got some time to kill before the daily “Mortar Rounds in the Morning” light-and-sound show begins at dawn, so I crack open one of the books included in the care package my mom sent. Several pages in, I had that, “Hey, I can do this” feeling that I hadn’t felt in about a decade. As if waking from a ten-year hibernation, my annoying inner editor began mentally flip-flopping the author’s words, deleting his dialogue tags, and adding pronouns for clarity. And just like that, the writing bug was back.

One of the side effects of a writing bug bite (in my case, anyway) is gnawing self-doubt coupled with a nagging feeling that you’re wasting your time because, damn it, writing is a form of art and everyone knows “artist” isn’t a viable career choice. I thought I’d fought off those ailments in my teens, but it turns out they stay with you forever, lying in remission like a slightly-less-icky strain of Hepatitis C. Factor in my lifelong battle with procrastination, and the odds of me actually sitting down in a chair and writing a complete short story (let alone fifteen or so) or a novel (let alone four) seemed astronomical. Twenty years ago, with the bird shit still drying on my high school graduation gown (true story), I wouldn’t have had the discipline and patience necessary to see it through to the end. I would’ve given up and sulked off to watch an X-Files marathon on my VCR.

Everybody’s different, of course. There are writers in their teens and twenties who create tremendous works, works I could only dream of equaling in old age. Personally, though, I had to wait until I was old enough to run for president before issuing myself a valid writer’s license.




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