I write a lot today — nearly every day, stories and essays and reviews. I consider myself to be a writer, even though nobody pays me to do this. It’s a hobby, but one that goes to my identity.
The story I often tell is that I wound up writing technical publications for a living early in my career and liked it, and missed it after I moved on to other work in the the tech industry. I started a blog to scratch the writing itch.
This is true, but not complete.
When I was 12, I started writing fiction. I wrote it longhand on ruled notebook paper with a fountain pen. It was bad. I mean, baaaaad. But I did it.
The first thing I wrote was a novel about a young couple and the experience they had falling in love. I knew nothing about falling in love, or romantic relationships, or sex. I guessed at it all. I know now that I was trying to make sense out of what I saw of love and sex in the world.
It took me months to write my novel, and when it was done I asked my English teacher to read it and review it. He was tickled that I’d done it. After a couple weeks he returned it to me with some notes here and there where my writing was garbled or the plot stopped making sense. He wrote on the first page, “A fine first effort from a budding young author.”
I’ll always be grateful to him for that, because it encouraged me to keep going. I didn’t have another novel in me, but I had several short stories to write. I don’t remember them all anymore, except for one where my main character, a young man named Mark, had adventures in rural Michigan, where he lived. I very specifically had him own and drive a 1950 Hudson like the one in this photograph. I was painting him as quirky but interesting, and an offbeat classic car was perfect for his personality.
I no longer remember what adventures Mark got into. I no longer have any of those stories, or my novel for that matter, to go back and remind myself. Somewhere late in high school I lost the drive to write fiction. After reading back through everything I’d written, I decided none of it was any good, so I pitched all of it. I don’t mind a bit that I don’t have those stories now. But I’m glad I had the experience of writing them.
Today, I don’t have a drop of fiction in me. I like writing stories from my life much more. I think every life is interesting if you know how to tell the story. It’s why when I read these days, it’s most likely to be memoir. I’m fascinated by these true stories, and the threads the authors draw through their lives, and the lessons it takes them lifetimes to learn.
It was my youthful experience writing stories that made writing technical publications attractive to me in the first place. I remembered enjoying writing, and I certainly liked technical things. I knew I could do it and would enjoy it.
My tech pubs experience plays heavily as I write about film photography — the gear, the film, the techniques. It also plays heavily in the personal stories and essays that I write. Writing technical documentation is all about coming to understand something technical and then explaining it to others. I’m doing something much the same today, it’s just that I’m making sense of the world and of myself, and explaining that to you.