That Special Something


I first decided that I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school. I always had a difficult time in wrapping my brain around the idea that when I graduate from college I should be prepared to embrace a career for the rest of my life. Call it a short attention span. But I liked the idea that writers could live vicariously through a thousand different lives–and still (theoretically) make money at it.

When I hit college, professors tried to make me into a English major, but what I saw were students studying other people’s writing, rather than focusing on improving their own writing. And so I took communication, with an emphasis in journalism. I learned to write, write fast, deconstruct my writing, and be versatile in my writing. I made a career of it.

Now, a few decades later, I am a professor at a Christian university in north Texas. My goal in coming here was to train new Christian writers, because as a book and magazine editor (my old job), I saw the old, traditional guard with their old, traditional approaches to writing articles, books and stories, were dying off. Being an editor taught me a lot about being a writer, because now I had a better idea of what editors were looking for. My first book was written in 1982, then there was a 18-year gap until my second book. After that, with me being settled into teaching and having my summers relatively free, the books came a lot more rapidly.

In my search for new Christian writers, I went for about 10 years before two students showed enough interest to help me establish our on-campus student writing club, The Rough Writers. When that happened, I started seeing more and more promising potential writers, some who had already been published in magazines, and a few who had self-published their own books. But as I see them complete their classes and move out into the world, I see the same thing happen to them that happened to me. They get caught up in life. The burning desire to be published gets set aside for the desire to just live. They get middle-class jobs, they get married and have kids, they buy a house. And I went through the same thing, which explains why my first book came seven years after graduation, and my second book came 18 years later. (That’s not counting four ghostwritten children’s books I did, but that’s another story.)

When I was in college, burning in my desire to write, I surrounded myself with friends who had the same desire. One friend, Jeff, was a much better writer than I was. He had already written a screenplay when I was still struggling to write short stories. And he was exceptionally proud of his ability to write, so much so that he refused to listen to those who wanted to help him improve his writing. When he had the opportunity to get his material published, he refused because someone would have to edit–correct, tweak, and otherwise change–his writing. And he had such an ego involvement with his writing that he couldn’t stand to have that happen.

I, on the other hand, was willing to do whatever it took to get my writing into the hands of readers. Editors told me I had a way to go to improve my writing, and I believed them. But I didn’t stop there. I kept writing. That was 40 years ago, and I still have the bug. My writing has improved (I hope!), but I still know that there is always room for improvement. And so I don’t flinch when someone finds a typo, or wants to correct a sentence, or thinks that my characterization is too flat.

Talent is out there, and it’s not as uncommon as you think. What is uncommon is desire, desire so hot that you are willing to do what it takes to make your dream happen.

A recent question on a Christian writer’s board I belong to asked: “What advice would you give yourself as a beginning writer?” And my answer is this: Never take no for an answer.

Never give up. Because the world is full of would-be, wanna-be writers. It’s those who keep trying who will succeed.

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One thought on “That Special Something

  1. i know ALL about that pride thing! LOL!! in high school yearbook, i was responsible for student life… so i took the pictures and wrote the stories. it pissed me off when the teacher (a VERY young first and probably last year teacher) rewrote ALL my stories AFTER she had already edited and approved them! i was so ashamed and angry, i refused to purchase my senior yearbook! after 20+ years, i’ve STILL never seen it!

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