Rambles on Writing

I have been thinking about why I want to be a writer. Actually, I am a writer. I write every day. I just haven’t figured out how to take what I write and polish it up so that anyone would pay me for it.

Part of being a professional writer is figuring out who your audience is and what publisher has made it their business to serve that audience. I say this because when I think about self publishing it makes me shiver. It sounds like way too much work that consists of lots of things other than writing.

In the conventional publishing paradigm, you provide a sufficiently sale-able manuscript and the publisher hires an editor and a copy editor and a book designer and a publicist and an army of other professionals that contribute to making your book a product that people will buy.

If you self publish, you generate a manuscript and then you either have to do all those other jobs your self or independently contract with people to do them for you. And they want to be paid up front. They don’t draw a salary like all those professionals that work for a conventional publisher.

Truth be told, I’m getting the cart before the horse. I haven’t learned to write well enough to worry about getting anything published. I know that the only way to learn to write is to practice. I’ve written fifty thousand words during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) on several occasions thus, nominally, writing a novel.

But the truth is, those so called novels weren’t complete. They didn’t have a beginning, middle, and end. They didn’t have an engaging plot or well developed characters. They each were better than the previous attempt though. I guess that’s why I keep doing it.

So, why do I want to be a published author? I want to earn enough money from it so that I can do it full time. Is that it? I keep thinking that it isn’t about money and it isn’t. But I do have to eat and feed my family. I thought I had a plan that would do that. Then the stock market dipped and my 401K lost a lot of its value.

It was partly my fault. I was still investing aggressively in an attempt to make up for not investing enough when I was younger. That was because I was never taught how to invest. I was taught very little about finance. That’s why, when I think about self publishing I shudder. I don’t have the business skills and I don’t know how to get them. I don’t even know if I want to get them. I’m a bit obstinate about things like that sometimes.

I used to think I wanted to be a professional musician. Thank goodness I came to my senses about that. I also flirted with a career as an actor. I discovered I didn’t have a big enough ego for that. I’m not saying all actors have an over inflated ego, just a lot of them. Most of the more successful ones do. The ones that have more reasonable egos often end up directing or producing instead of acting.

I never planned to be a programmer. It was just something that I enjoyed. I was good at it. I was in the right place at the right time. I got into the business before there were many colleges that offered Computer Science degrees. By the time there were, I had already established myself as a programmer. I had a degree. Eventually, I had a degree in Computer Science. I don’t think it ever got me a job.

So, back to the question at hand. Why do I want to be a writer? I want to be in charge of my own destiny. I want to leave something of myself for future generations. I have an overly romantic image of what it means to be a writer. Maybe all of these things. Maybe reasons I just haven’t been able to put my finger on yet.

One thing is certain. I will keep writing. It is a compulsion. I sit down at my computer and words come out of my fingers. I am still learning how to shape them into something that I can sell but that will just take practice.

Be safe. Stay home. Wear a mask when you have to be close to other people. Keep social distance when you can. This virus may be over soon but I’m afraid this is just the first of many. We need to learn how to keep ourselves safe from them.

Stormy Weather

Since we’ve been sheltering in place I’ve gotten an opportunity to observe the world outside of my office window. There is a Crepe Myrtle that serves as a staging area for the birds and the squirrels as they prepare to make a lightening raid on the bird feeders that we’ve placed in the front yard under it. I’ve learned that the birds actually like the rain. I guess it’s their opportunity to shower.

I also get to watch as the neighbors go on walks or mow their lawns. I suppose they watch me as I fill the bird feeders or drag the trash bin to the curb the night before trash day.

Occasionally, something out of the ordinary will happen. Like the other day when a man in a truck and a woman in a car pulled up across the street, got out of their vehicles, and messed with some boxes that were sitting on the curb. I later discovered that they were salvaging the broken water heater that the neighbor had set out at the curb for the monthly garbage pickup.

Another day, a young man was standing in the street looking at his phone. I didn’t recognize him as anyone from the neighborhood. I looked away for a minute and he was gone. That had me baffled until about fifteen minutes later he came down the driveway of the neighbor across the street.

I’ve recently realized that there are a couple of things that I need to do to become a better writer. The first is to read a wide range of books, both fiction and non-fiction. The other is to pay attention to the details of life as it unfolds around me. It’s those details that make a story sing with sincerity.

I am slightly chagrined to admit that before we were stuck in isolation, I often was oblivious to the small details of things that were happening around me. It’s only now, when I have a very limited palate of details to observe, that I realize the value of doing so.

I’m also using it as an opportunity to practice how I plan to live when I retire. That is a trick statement. Although I plan to retire from the job that I currently hold, eventually, I don’t intend to quit working. Instead, I’m going to use it as an excuse to step out on faith and start a second career as an author.

That was the plan anyway. Until I realized that my 401K had taken a dive in value due to the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. Now it is totally up in the air when I’ll be able to execute my career change maneuver. I feel like the proverbial prisoner with golden handcuffs.

So now I have resolved to keep working on my writing skills. Keep participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) every November. Keep attending my weekly Write In every Wednesday night. Keep on meeting with The Downtown Writers Group, my critique group. We’ll keep publishing our annual short story collection and I’ll keep contributing at least one story to it. And each year I’ll look at what I’ve written and realize that I am slowly but surely getting better.

Fairly early in the process of learning to write someone gave me some good advice. They said, and I paraphrase here, “The only difference between a writer and an author is that an author has published his work commercially. A writer writes. If you write, you are a writer. If you want to be an author, write every day, read widely, and finish things. “

I thought this period of isolation would give me more of an opportunity to practice writing. It has helped me keep the goals that I already had in place but I haven’t been able to significantly increase the amount of writing that I get done. It turns out that after spending eight hours or so sitting in my office working, I find there are other things that need my attention around the house. Not the least of which is my darling wife, two dogs, and cat.

I am lucky to have a job that allows me to work from home. I am lucky to still have a job. I count my blessings. But I still strive for more. You have to have a dream to get up in the morning.

Stay safe, maintain social distance, wear protective masks for the sake of others, and appreciate every day you have.


There is a menagerie in my front yard. It is mostly comprised of various birds, a pair of Cardinals, a pair of Robins, the occasional Blue Jay, and an assortment of Finches. The squirrels have made a nest out of cardboard and cellophane tape in the Crepe Myrtle next to the feeders. One feeder holds small seeds that are gravity fed into a small tray around the bottom. The other feeder is a square shelf that holds corn, peanuts, and sunflower seeds for the squirrels and larger birds.

Our front yard faces northwest so we have plenty of shade in the afternoon. It makes bird watching a calming and relaxing endeavor. Our cat likes to sit on the table in front of the window and watch the animals frolic. We tell people he has pet squirrels that he keeps in the front yard. He is not amused. But he is entertained.

Every time we open the front door, our youngest Maltipoo decides she wants to explore. The front yard, however, doesn’t have a fence like the back yard does. We live at the end of a cul-de-sac so there is not a lot of traffic, just enough to worry us greatly when she runs blithely into the road.

In general, I don’t believe in punishing animals. In this case, I have to make an exception. The dog thought we were playing with her. I had to sternly scold her and pat her on the butt to let her know that this was not a game but a serious situation. She started behaving immediately.

I am getting a feel for how it might be if I were to retire. It might be slightly different after we get the current pandemic under control but I have the impression that we are going to be wearing masks in public and social distancing for quite some time. But then being a writer doesn’t necessarily call for doing much more than sitting in front of a keyboard and putting one word after another.

The anxiety in the air is tangible when we venture out for necessities. Here in the Deep South we have our share of ignorant people that refuse to wear face masks. The rest of us scurry around trying to stay as far away from them as possible. I’ve noticed that the discount stores, where the poorer people tend to shop, seem to have a larger percentage of their customers that don’t wear masks. For that matter the cashiers aren’t even wearing masks. It is enough to make you totally rethink how necessary that bargain bird seed was after all.

When we get home and refill the feeders, it is immediately clear that bird seed was a necessity. We just don’t need to shop at the discount store for it. There are plenty of shops that observe prudent health protocols.

On the one hand, I understand that I am lucky to have a job that allows me to work from home. But that doesn’t mean that I can ignore safe health practices when I do go out. Both me and my wife are sixty five and we both have extenuating medical circumstances. We need to be particularly careful not to come down with COVID-19.

Be safe, wash your hands, and appreciate the little things.

Introspection in the Time of Coronavirus

I’ve been thinking lately. It’s not that I haven’t thought regularly before. It’s that I’m thinking about different things. I used to think incessantly about things computer related. I was obsessed by computer hardware and programming. I still am very interested in the subject but my obsession has cooled a little bit.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with writing and becoming a published author. I have consistently polished my prose writing skills. I have exercised my imagination. I have practiced determination by making commitments to write and living up to them. This blog is the evidence of my commitment to write at least a blog post a week for the entire year.

As far as becoming a published author goes, I’ve been reading advice from other authors. I’ve talked with local authors and heard their stories of how they got published. I’ve come to the conclusion that every writer walks their own path to getting their work published.

Then, as far as making money from my writing, I have a bunch of new skills to either develop myself or hire someone to do them for me. Since I don’t have a lot of money to invest in starting my writing business, I guess I’ll have to start by doing these things, like publishing, promoting, distributing, etc., myself.

Or, I could look for a job writing for hire. I’m less enthused by that option. It might be good discipline and provide insights into the publishing process. My biggest concern is that I don’t want to spend a lot of time learning a process that isn’t what I want to pursue in the long run.

Another concern is that at my age I don’t want to take too slow a pass at the runway and end up dying before I get into the air. I’m not concerned about dying in the near future but at sixty five I probably have another ten or twenty years at most to achieve this goal.

In any case, I have made more progress toward this goal than either of my parents. They both wanted to write but found little time to actually sit down and do it while raising two boys on a school teacher’s salary. I recently found my dad’s journal and discovered how much of a financial struggle he had.

My parents were children during the depression. They had plenty of experience with how to survive hard times. My mother was adept at whipping up delicious meals from a seemingly empty pantry. My dad managed to pay the bills and keep a roof over our head in spite of his paltry salary and enormous debt.

Now, we find ourselves in a similar situation. I’m lucky enough to be able to continue to work from home through the pandemic. But there will be unemployment and shortages while we work our way through this challenging time. It’s not exactly the best time to be thinking about changing careers. But I’m running out of runway. If I don’t figure it out soon, it’s not going to happen.

All of that being said, I am grateful for all the things that I do have. A good wife, a good job, a nice house, food on the table, the unconditional love of two wonderful dogs and a cat. Life is really good. But I still am striving to put the cherry on top of the sundae.