· When Did You Start Writing? ·
Think back for a moment at your desire to write or to be published. Do you recall the first book that moved you? Did an author, parent, or teacher encourage you?
Think of all the experience you’ve already had writing, living, and learning.
- Maybe you’ve traveled a lot or have had job experiences that are worth writing about.
- Maybe you’ve fought battles, internal or external, that are worth sharing so that others can benefit from your struggles.
- Or maybe you just want to create an imaginary world, with fascinating characters, to thrill and entertain, to give the reader that opportunity to relax and dream.
In today’s blog I’m going to look back at my writing experience.
I was a late bloomer. The idea of being an author may have occurred to me prior to high school, but I lacked two major elements: confidence and skill.
When I read authors Samuel Clemens and Ernest Hemingway, they gave me hope. They were artists, masters at telling stories without using confusing words demanding a dictionary.
My writing really blossomed in college with courses requiring significant research. At Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, my graduate thesis was on a Civil War regiment.
I traveled to Springfield, Illinois, to examine original documents from the era, especially the regiment’s muster roll. It was there I was introduced to individual soldiers with details of their enlistment, age, occupation, rank, illness, injury, death, or desertion.
I also researched at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and found my men or their spouses writing letters to the government about pension problems. The letters were kept in accordion cardboard files tied with red ribbon or “red tape.”
Even though studying history is non-fiction, the truth is, it requires a healthy imagination to put yourself in a different time and place. I constantly conjured up my men.
If you want to be a writer, you need to practice. I did a lot of practicing when I was hired as a deputy sheriff at the Reno County Sheriff’s Office. Every day on patrol I was writing reports about this or that. People would contact us to report their property stolen or about some disturbance or fight that may have led to personal injury. We investigated car wrecks, drug use, and domestic violence.
As deputies, we were required to ask questions in order to understand the series of events which had led to the crime. And the reports required skill, patience, and accuracy.
- We knew the reports were at least being read by our supervisor, and when crimes had been committed, then the county attorney’s office studied them for legal strengths and weaknesses.
- We also understood that if the case went to trial, our transcribed report would be our point of reference.
- It had better make sense or we would be hung out to dry. (And it better not be fiction!)
Early in my career at the sheriff’s office, I started a departmental newsletter called the Good News Blues. I was the reporter, writer, editor (with help from my wife), publisher, printer, and delivery boy. It was a labor of love. That means I loved it so much that I didn’t need to get paid to do it, and I wasn’t.
But it provided me freedom and flexibility in my writing. The highlight each month was an article I wrote on a current employee after a sit-down, face-to-face interview.
A lot of my information gathering was on-duty, but all the writing was off-duty. The total experience showed me the steps it took to put out a newspaper. It was a training ground for being an indie author and self-publisher.
During my law enforcement career, I also regularly submitted crime prevention advice in the form of articles to local newspapers. This was another writing experience that kept me practicing. It required me to come up with ideas, do research, be creative in my column, and to work against the clock with a deadline.
Finally, my experience as a school resource officer led me to write and publish my police memoir, Cop in the Classroom: Lessons I’ve Learned, Tales I’ve Told. It would have never been written if the thousands of students I encountered hadn’t asked me a countless number of questions. When I walked into a classroom, often the first question I was asked was, “Is your gun loaded?”
As a result of the curious children, my memoir is filled with answers to their queries. A sample of other chapter titles include:
- “Have you ever shot someone?”
- “Can I try on your handcuffs?”
- “Have you ever saved someone’s life?”
- “Will you sit by me at lunch?”
- “Are you going to recess?”
If you are considering writing a story or a book, then I recommend you ask yourself questions. If you’ll write down your answers, then you’re writing, and you’re taking a step forward.
Maybe its practice, or maybe you’re on your way to a first draft of something bigger, something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!