How and Why I Became a Writer

Note: A couple of weeks ago, a group of colleagues I network with decided to each write a brief piece on how and why we became writers. This one first appeared on my blog, “The Joy of Story.”

 Not long after I learned to read (I cut my teeth on The Wizard of Oz), I developed a strong urge to tell stories of my own. That is: I wanted to write!

I decided to write my first story when I was five or six years old. I borrowed a pencil and a piece of paper from my mother and asked her what I should write my story about.

“Write about what you know about,” she advised me.

So I did. The story came out something like this: “Johnny and his mother went to the circus. They saw clowns. They had fun. They came home. The end.”

My mother was proud of me. (Of course. That’s what mothers are for.) But when I showed my story to my brother, Neil, who was nine years older than I, he said, “It’s not a real story. A real story needs conflict.”

That put me in a quandary. At the age of six, I had no conflict in my life, so I couldn’t write a real story if I were to write about what I knew about. That put my writing career off for another ten years or so.

Then I started reading the novels of Richard Bissell, and I thought to myself: I can do this. I tried it, and I found I was right: I could do this. By that time I was a teenager, so of course there was conflict in the life I knew so well; it goes with the territory.

Elmore Leonard has said that 70% of what he knows about writing came from reading the novels of Richard Bissell. So you can believe me when I say that Bissell is worth your time. You’ll find more about him at this blogsite:

Once I got started, I never stopped. The first fiction I wrote wasn’t worth the wear and tear on my typewriter, but eventually I got a novel published–by Perseverance Press! I dedicated Play Melancholy Baby to the memory of Richard Bissell (and Lorenz Hart, another one of my writing heroes.)

I haven’t supported myself with my writing (not many writers do), but I’ve never stopped writing, and in the meantime I’ve worked in the written word: as a student, a reader, a bookseller, an editor, a ghostwriter, a fiction writer, a publisher, and a teacher of creative writing.

I owe it to my mother, my brother, and mainly to other writers–Bissell and many more. And of course to my readers.

Now that you know how and why I became a writer, I invite you to look at my home page and see what I’ve done with that joyful pursuit:



2 Responses

  1. My mother threw out my first effort: (age ten) a short mystery novel inspired by Nancy Drew, so I can’t say I owe her a whole lot–although I’ve used her strict disciplinary self in numerous stories, so that must count. Otherwise, I’ve a similar story to yours, John. Except for the bookseller, ghostwriter, publisher aspect. But all the rest, yes. And I owe my long- windedness to my beloved Charles Dickens. And it is a joyful pursuit, yes! (Well mostly.)

  2. I agree that it’s a joyful pursuit, Nancy. It can be hard work, but when it’s working well, it’s a real high.

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