One does not achieve such an honor easily or overnight. As I think about it, I realize that it started when I was a baby. Even before I started to talk I must have been aware of proper speech because my mother told me that I would form the words silently and obviously be thinking about their meaning, yet didn’t say anything out loud until I was three. Since I was an only child it was easy for her to find time to read to me and I was reading myself by the time I went to kindergarten. I remember sitting in first grade wondering why the other kids didn’t know what the words were, probably the first rumbling of that internal editor coming to life.
I learned how to write thank you notes as soon as I could hold a pencil and started writing letters to my favorite aunt about that same time. My mother was a perfectionist (yes, a Virgo, for those of you who know anything about astrology) and thus always corrected my grammar. By the time I reached 6th grade I was writing stories for the enjoyment of my fellow students (science fiction stories, I might add, mostly related to the planet of origin of our teachers).
Around that same time my mother taught me how to use a typewriter. An old manual one that took some serious effort to command the keys. Years later after I graduated from high school I took a typing test at a job agency where I achieved 98 words per minute with two errors. Putting words on paper were obviously never a problem. While everyone else hated essay exams I loved them. Even if I didn’t really know the answer I could B.S. my way through because I’d write so much the teacher probably got tired reading it and would just give me an A. Many years later when I worked as a NASA contractor and did quite a bit of technical writing, one of my bosses nicknamed me “The Mistress of Bullsh*t.” I was flattered, of course.
But there was one catch to all this. I had no confidence, in my writing or anything else. My mother’s criticism permeated every aspect of my life, including the one thing I was good at. It inhibited my creativity for fear whatever I did was not perfect. If you’re a parent, give that some thought. This is not to say that a parent should tell their child that something is prize winning material when it’s clearly not but honesty cuts both ways. If it’s good, say so, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. There’s a difference between coaching and criticism. If you don’t know the difference, then figure it out. I mean it.
Nonetheless, I loved to write, mostly nonfiction and journalistic articles. I worked as a stringer for a small hometown newspaper for a while. I can’t even remember how many newsletters I’ve edited, many of which I created in the first place, back when they were written on a manual typewriter and duplicated on a mimeograph or ditto machine. Some of you probably don’t even know what they were, those early precursors to modern day copy machines. I’m talking about the days before Kinkos much less home laser printers.
If you’re a writer who doesn’t remember those days, give it some thought. Would you have had the patience and perseverance required to retype an entire manuscript? That was business as usual for us old-timers. Yet that is how it used to be. Could that possibly explain the quality of books available back then versus now, when you’re always at risk of purchasing a real dog of a story filled with typos, grammatical faux-pas’, cardboard characters and an inconsistent plot? Might someone consider your book a dog?
Think about it.
(To be continued)