A budding young author

21 comments on A budding young author
3 minutes
1950 Hudson
Canon PowerShot S95, 2014

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.

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21 responses to “A budding young author”

  1. Tam Avatar

    Blogging is an excellent way to keep one’s writing muscles from getting flabby!

    It’s also been an inadvertent business card for me, as all my for-pay writing gigs came from editors who discovered me via my blog.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I like the feeling of writing, and especially of expressing myself easily. So I keep blogging!

      So far nobody’s offered me paying gigs through my blog, but even if they did, I’m not sure when I’d make time for it. I like my day job a lot and I’d have to become quite the author to be able to replace that income.

      1. Tam Avatar

        Alas, the writing field tends to be one of genteel poverty, and freelancing barely qualifies for the “genteel” part. ;-)

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I co-wrote Special Edition Using Microsoft PowerPoint 2003 for Que 20 years ago and that paid $10k. If I could have scored six or eight of those every year back then I could have replaced my then salary. That wouldn’t have been too bad!

  2. lizkflaherty Avatar

    An interesting walk though your writing journey. Be aware, though, that sometimes fiction jumps up and yells, “Pick me!” :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      So far it hasn’t happened in my adult life, but I’m certainly not closed to it!

  3. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Love this story! It is rare when we can look at something we wrote when we were young and think “not bad”. I destroyed all my youthful musings in a fit of embarrassment in my twenties!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I identify with that fit of embarrassment.

  4. Ben Cotton Avatar

    I wrote fiction prolifically, if not necessarily well, in high school. At some point in adulthood, the need for non-fiction writing (and, you know, the rest of adulting) pushed out the time for writing fiction and I’ve not really been able to pick it back up again. I always wrote stream-of-consciousness and killed off my protagonist when the stream dried up. I have a few short story ideas floating around that I’d love to do something with, I just can’t prioritize it. Someday!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ah yes, the rest of adulting. Because of that, I get up an hour earlier than I otherwise would need to M-F to work on this blog, and I spend most of Saturday morning at it.

  5. David Avatar

    I had to write “Tech Explaining” where I produced simplified instructions for High Level programable intercom systems. [Among MANY other systems].
    Manufacturer provided a NUMERICAL list of 99 functions accessable from the Telephone Keypad. This made no sense to the End User, who just wanted to know how to DO somthing.
    I provided FUNCTIONAL instructions based upon the functions normally used in a School Setting. Graphic Cheat Sheets were my forte.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re hit the key: task instructions are SO much more useful than an encyclopedia-style rundown of the functions.

  6. markm Avatar

    A long time ago in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, Robert Pirsig mentioned that the tech writer’s first problem often is that the engineer assigned to explain how it works to him is the guy that NO ONE wants on their team because of incompetence. When I see the numerical list of functions or something like that, I suspect it’s because either the writing or assisting the writer was assigned to someone who doesn’t even understand what the device is for.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      When I was a tech writer I learned which engineers were worth a damn, and built relationships with them so they’d happily work with me. They liked that I was technical enough that they had to explain things only once.

  7. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

    Nice post. I wrote descriptively during college about my personal experiences. Here’s one of those. https://danielbrinneman.com/2012/11/05/catfishing-in-west-africa/

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wish I had done more of that as a teen and young adult! I tried journaling a few times in those years but never kept it up.

      1. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

        So do I. I wrote a few journals before I discovered blogging. You can always start now by writing down personal items about what happened during your day and later use them to jog your memory and write your autobiography.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          My blog is kind of like that journal, but I do lose a lot of the day to day because I don’t often write about it. I have a bit of a dream of writing my memoir someday. I think a lot about what story arc in my life would resonate with people in general.

  8. J P Avatar

    For much of my young life I hated writing. I took a class in legal writing in law school and discovered that I had a knack for it. I have never forgotten the admonition I learned there – that there is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.

    Once I started writing for fun, I discovered how much fun it was. For a time I thought that I might be able to segue into making a living at it, but got over that. It’s not fun if you have to make your living at it, is what I eventually figured. I keep entertaining the thought of a novel, and have had the thinnest ideas for a couple of plots rattling around for awhile. The problem has been taking (making) the time to flesh out the ideas and actually start it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I once co-wrote a tech book, work for hire, and made $10,000. This book:


      I considered quitting my day job and just doing more of that. But the business is fickle, and soon the editors who liked to hire me moved on and I couldn’t get the time of day from the company anymore.

    2. Tam Avatar

      “I have never forgotten the admonition I learned there – that there is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.”

      For every writer there is a style.

      I’ve been writing freelance articles and columns for my supper for over a decade now, and my personal style tends to be to sit down and rip a column or article off in one fresh pass and send it off to my editors, blue rare and dripping. Very occasionally I’ll type out an outline first and work from that, but usually it’s one-and-done.

      Would I recommend that technique to a kid just starting out? Oh, heck no. Unless it works for their voice.

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