When I Learned I Was A Writer

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Yes, I hated English class. All the way from Middle School through College. That didn’t mean I didn’t like to write. As demonstrated by my 10th grade novel, I treated writing as a form of teenage rebellion. Teenagers must rebel, and it’s a lot safer using a pen than some other tool.

Truth be told, I wrote constantly, especially when I wasn’t supposed to. I even used English class as an excuse to write. It’s called “free writing” or “stream of consciousness writing.” It’s the kind of nonsense writing that fills journals.

In December of my senior year in high school, my father gave me an appointment book. It wasn’t as fancy as the ones they have now. His company (Hartford Insurance) printed them up for their employees. My father must have had an extra one. He gave it to me, knowing my life was about to become very busy transitioning from high school to college. He expected me to make lots of important appointments along the way.

Instead, I used the blank pages—one for each day—to start a journal. Sometimes it would be free writing. Sometimes it would be a story. Sometimes it would be a trick on my brother, who I knew would inevitably find it and read it.

One thing it didn’t contain was appointments.

Oh, about those stories. The “novel” experiment of 10th grade wasn’t a onetime event. I would often write short-short stories out of the blue. Maybe a page or two. No reason. A thought just occurred to me, and I wanted to capture it.

Upon entering college, we got notebooks in English class for—you guessed it—notes. If you look at mine, you won’t find notes. Well, maybe a few. You’ll find a continuation of that high school journal. And doodles and pictures, too. Things got too busy to diligently fill out the pages from that Hartford calendar book, so I used my English Literature notebook instead.

Most of the free writing contains complaints about the class. Towards the end of the semester, things got more pleasant—until I discovered this was a two-semester class! I had to return to it in the spring term!

Well, in that second term, I finally had the opportunity to complete Mr. Clauss’ assignment from tenth grade (if only he knew). The capstone project was to create a literary analysis of the Victorian novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. My paper showed how the names represented metaphors to the story. I used a deliberately ham-fisted approach. I sloppily equated Jane’s kindly childhood nursemaid Bessie Lee with Bessie the Cow.

Again, I received an ‘A’ with pleasant notes from the professor. Even about Bessie the Cow. Apparently, the professor did not know that I confused the name “Elsie” (as in “Elsie the Cow,” the Borden Dairy mascot) with “Bessie.” I also knew Borden created that mascot years after Charlotte Bronte created the character, Bessie Lee. (Almost a century later, Elsie the Cow came about in 1936 while Jane Eyre was published in 1847).

The professor’s kind response to my writing shocked me. It wasn’t intended to be good. And I had no confidence in my writing ability.

Mind you, this came shortly after the editors of the Yale Record (a humor magazine) rejected my satire submission as being “too sophomoric.” It was. It was also previously published in Equinox, Gates-Chili High School’s literary “magazine” (actually a bunch of papers stapled together that cost students 25 cents). I convinced the editors to put it in there my senior year in high school in exchange for me being “treasurer.”

And by “treasurer” it meant I had to sell the magazine like a newspaper boy in between classes. My pitch was simple: “Buy Equinox for only a quarter and I’ll autograph it because one day I’ll be famous and that autograph will be worth something.” We had record sales that year. Not because people thought I would become famous one day, but because the genuinely felt sorry for me.

As the Yale Record later proved, the Equinox experience taught me more about how to be a salesman than it taught me how to be a write. Still, the Star Trek parody may have tickled the fancy of the high school crowd, but it was a bit too banal for Yale. It was my first taste of rejection (there would be many more and they continue to this day). I didn’t like it.

Nonetheless, I rejoiced at the end of spring term when I had my last English class ever.

Something happened towards the end of my sophomore year in college. Perhaps it was that my inner-Kirk realized to succeed you had to understand both fiction and non-fiction. So, I asked my roommate, “Mike, I haven’t really read a lot. Can you give me a list of books to read over the summer?”

And he did. A list of 200 books. I read all of them except for the Victorian novels. I felt I had my fill of those depressing and long tomes. I kind of knew their angle. That was enough for me.

Here’s the thing: we had to type our papers. Since I was a science major, there wasn’t much to type. Yet, type I did. Think free-writing or stream of consciousness writing. Mostly play-by-play of what was going on in the room while I typed. My friends got a kick out of seeing their names in “print.”

By the end of my final year, I had finished my senior project early and had all this extra computer time to use. I found out the computer could do more than Fortran programming. It had a word processor.

With all my friends busy writing their senior papers, I had all this idle time.

So, I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

I used up all those story ideas that I longed to write. I even wrote a Chronicle—sort of like a news story—of what all my friends were doing. They enjoyed those “Chronicles” so much that I wrote an annual update for several years after graduation. For all that had gradually occurred before, it was this last week at college that I finally admitted the truth to myself. Alone with a computer keypad inventing a half dozen short stories, I suddenly realized I was a writer. Hemingway would have approved.

Upon release from college, I took my diploma and (eventually) found an honest line of work. But I continued to hone my craft. I continued to explore free writing. As I gained more confidence and ambition, I drafted the first chapters of novels I had in my head, and, especially, letters to the editor. It was the latter that would prove if I could write. If an editor agreed to publish what I wrote, then I concluded my writing had to at least surpass some minimum hurdle.

Winning this editorial acceptance caused a lot of unnecessary stress. The constant anxiety of whether the whims of various editors would coincide with my writing gnawed at me. I decided, if I wanted to improve my writing, I had to write regularly and get responses from readers.

The folding of the Honeoye Falls Times left a void in the community that needed to be filled. Soon, the Sentinel was born, and a win-win situation blossomed. Several small towns and villages got to keep a local newspaper, and I got a reason to write.

It took years of trying, but eventually that writing became good enough to receive recognition from the industry. And for that, I thank all those who have commented on my weekly columns, both in a complimentary and a critical way. Both views helped me—and continue to help me—improve the words that flow from my fingertips.


  1. […] denying it, what event finally triggered this revelation? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “When I Learned I Was A Writer,” as we reach the conclusion of the tale started last […]

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