Let me help you understand this as I try to explain myself, and maybe you can see some connection in your own life that helps clarify just who you are.
The Early Writer
I’ve been writing at almost every opportunity without understanding why. It wasn’t something I consciously chose to do; it was something I needed to do. I just had this compulsion to express myself with the written word. To tell the stories I saw in my head.
In my development as a writer, I had a lot of different sources for inspiration, comic books being the earliest—hundreds, if not thousands, of comic books to read and inspire my imagination.
Before that, though, were the encyclopedia books mom and dad had on our bookshelves when we were young. In them, I lost myself. I remember sitting in one position for long periods of time pouring over the pages of images and words in them—even though I didn’t know words well enough to understand everything—exploring what it was like to be in those pictures.
There were earlier Dick and Jane books from school, but those weren’t the kind I got lost in. Encyclopedias were. Comics definitely were.
Then it was on to fantasy novels, sci-fi novels, many-many of those. Then technical books on physiology, physics, biology, psychology. And then more fantasy and sci-fi. I was a vacuum for the knowledge and wonder I read, and it fed the machine of my expression.
In seventh grade I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons, and my inward exploration—and outward expression—deepened. Not only could I read all the fantastic scenarios the books presented to me, but I could actively, in the moment, role play in them with my friends.
This was a very big step in expressing myself as a writer. Not only could I immerse myself playing in the imagined worlds, I could also create them for my friends to immerse themselves. I became dungeon master, the person who shaped the worlds, the characters, the villages, the monsters and their personalities. It became a refining process, having to adapt on the fly to what my friends were doing, or going to do, and how the elements of my created world were going to react to them.
Much of this was not planned, only the general structure was. This allowed my friends the freedom to make their own choices and select their own paths of expression. My task was to create rich suspense, mystery, reward and the immediate interaction of my created characters with my friends’ challenges.
This made me have to think fast on my feet, drawing on all my resources and creating new ones in the moment so that the story I created for my friends stayed fresh, interesting.
The Work Of Writing
Playing Dungeons and Dragons also gave me my first real writing work structure. I had to develop the worlds, the characters, the scenarios before the next weekend game where we would sit for four or six hours playing in our imaginations with potato chips and soda fueling our stay. This length of time meant I had to work long hours during the week to create and prepare.
Now Dungeons and Dragons has pre-made scenarios that you can purchase and put your friends through. They sometimes give a lot of detail which you can take or leave as you see fit—being the dungeon master you can do what you wish. Oftentimes, I would just use the skeleton structure of the scenario and then create what I wanted out of it. Later on, I simply created everything from scratch. These were more fun, and my friends seemed to think so, too.
It was a work of love. But it was work. I still have some of the pages from what I created in those days; I was quite detailed and regimented. A lot of thought and planning went into what I was creating. Each scenario, each weekend game, often had to continue into the next weekend. A thread of story could go on for several sessions.
The constant exercise in creativity helped me in my other creative writing. And those early writing examples were actually very good, if I do say so myself.
I remember my creative writing teacher, early on in high school, actually being stunned with an assignment she had us write. She had this look of wonder and bewilderment on her face and a little joy as she handed my paper back to me with an A+ boldly written on it. She asked me how I came up with the idea, to which I had no real answer. I didn’t know my process then as I do now, so I wasn’t much help for her in that regard.
But she was a huge help for me. She was the first person who appreciated my writing, not only with an A+, but, more importantly, with that wonderful look on her face. She had read something that she didn’t expect—in the slightest—and very much enjoyed it. What I had written had made her smile and and her mind marvel.
I remember the story, though I don’t have it now. Writing assignments weren’t as highly regarded as my other creative work in those days, much to my dismay. The framework of the assignment was to create something that bridged the future with the past. I wrote about the space shuttle crashing back in medieval times. The crash occurred over the mountains near a castle and the knights of the time believed the flaming streak through the sky heralded the coming of an actual dragon. The knights, of course, were terrified, though pushed through that to horseback to the scene since they were the guardians of the realm—they could do no less. They came upon the wreckage, pieces of metal and tiles like the scales of a dragon strewn about, flames roaring into the sky. And out of the flames strode a figure in white with a bulbous head, obviously an agent of the dragon.
I could see clear visuals of the flames reflecting off the astronaut’s gold visor, just before the knights drew in their courage and charged.
I enjoyed that story. And I was pretty sure I misspelled astronaut on the assignment. But it stunned my teacher, Mrs. Grehling (I believe that’s the correct spelling of her name), and that was heartening. It stands out as a very important milestone in my development.
I had been writing other stories back then, many of them with drawings.
It was in my early years of high school that I was actually given class credit for journaling.
We had a sub at the time, I believe her name was Mrs. Barbara Cooper, who told us all we could get extra credit if we kept a journal. We could write anything in it, and the only requirement was that we would have to allow her to glance over it to show that we had actually written something.
I was surprised that many of the students never took to this. My friend Todd, one of the other friends who would trade off weekends dungeon-mastering with me—each to his own story lines—kept up with this longest of the guys—and even most of the girls, I believe. We created stories based on Star Wars and even had colorful sketches of our characters in the pages. She would come around, we would open the pages, and she would smile—a good smile—the kind that said she was just about to sit down in front of some wonderful desert she had never tasted before. I don’t remember her saying anything, perhaps other than, “good job,” but it was enough to make me keep writing. And smiling myself.
I kept journals for years after that (the secret writing of the mind), and I think it helped greatly my connection to my intuition and inner voice.
I later fell into poetry, the need to express it without really knowing what I was doing, and I was so fortunate to be able to connect with, and be mentored by Ruby Shackleford, a published poet and teacher at the college level. I had been writing poetry seriously for years when the wife of my employer, Dotty, tasked me with chauffeuring this kind, intelligent woman around town. I had shown Dotty my poetry, something I wasn’t exactly shy about doing, for some reason, and she told me her aunt was a poet.
Ruby and I shared much time reviewing my poetry, refining my expression, and challenging me to get out of the rhyming work I was doing. We kept in touch for years writing letters and one days she sent me the following section of a longer letter:
“I answer ‘pronto’ for 2 reasons. I wish to get this 2 you in the Chr. season (I keep Old Christmas too, Jan. 6. My tree comes down Jan 7.) And the second reason is to tell you quickly that your fine letter & the poem was one of my season’s best greetings. You are my miracle! No other ‘student’ I’ve ever had has grown so rapidly from a 1st grader to a college grad! Your poetry “sparkles”. You are really moving on….”
I don’t include this to pat myself on the back, though I was immensely pleased to have produced that response from her; I include it to demonstrate that in the vacuum of my own thoughts, I had a desire to express—it took an outside force to help refine that expression, to help make me better at the work of writing. Writing poetry also helped me edit my work down to the essentials.
Refining My Expression
Creativity flourishes in the freedom to explore. To flex all of our being into our curiosity and imagination. Through this, we naturally manifest the desire to express ourselves. To share the bubbling spirit of our person.
Refinement takes work.
Hours and hours. It also takes putting yourself out into the world. I shared my creativity with my friends in our gaming sessions. Their responses told me whether I was on the right track with what I was doing.
I was given structured assignments in creative writing, and English class and got feedback that told me my writing was valuable, that it could make another person feel something akin to wonder, if not outright wonder. That it could make them happy.
My editor, Lyla, helps me refine my understanding of the technical underpinnings to the language so that I don’t split infinitives so often and the like. I struggle with this because of my particular form of dyslexia, but it’s a struggle I meet and work through, knowing that Lyla’s only goal is to make my expression more professional, to make it flow more easily for the reader.
Who Are You?
Comic books, encyclopedias, Dungeons and Dragons, physics books, friends, teachers, mentors, influenced my expression in poetry, short stories and novels. There were other influences, like my mom, my grandmother (the storyteller), but all-in-all this is a fairly short summation of how I developed to where I am now.
So, who are you?
What and who were the milestones, or important influences, that helped bring out and refine your current expression?
Don’t have a current expression? Have many? Most of us do. But think back to all the things you’ve done in your life. What is the common thread that connects you to who you were from your earliest expression?
Think about this. You may be surprised with what you find. You may already know. And if you know what your constant expression is, are you actively living it today? And if not, why not?
Who are you? I’m very curious.