The Write Stuff: The Formative Years

What’s this, you might be wondering, another post about writing? How is this any different than Adventures In Freelancing? Well The Write Stuff will focus on my attempts at writing fiction and other works that I’m not getting paid for (yet). Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to create things. When I was a kid, I made up all these little superhero characters like Birdman (an actual bluejay with all the weapons of the Ninja Turtles, not the popular Hanna Barbera creation) or White Out Man. My superhero universe might have been a legal nightmare, but I had a lot of fun drawing them and coming up with their origin stories. Even before that I would stage these epic, intricate battles with my action figures. I’d continue this habit into high school (the writing, not the toy playing, though I was still collecting them), coming up with all kinds of different characters and giving them the Marvel Handbook or DC Who’s Who treatment with run-downs of their powers, abilities, weapons and whatnot.

For the longest time I focused my creative energies on characters that could be found in comics. It wasn’t until maybe high school that I realized I could write something other than comic book characters. Like a lot of kids, I wound up writing some shitty poetry that I scrawled in all manner of notebooks, with those marble composition ones being a favorite, of course. I wound up always carrying a notebook around with me and still have the majority of them. I’d like to scan them all for posterity’s sake, but who has the time? I also took a few stabs at short story writing, including a pretty fun little vampire tale which was published in my high school’s literary magazine. I was part of a group that helped restart the mag at the end of my sophomore year and wound up being a co-editor my senior year, a distinction made because four of us had been around for the same amount of time and all wanted to be editor.

I mostly wrote things as they came to me, never really sitting down with the intention of writing. If I was at home, I’d grab a pen and paper, maybe hop on the computer, but I’d also write in school a lot. I was generally a good student, but if a good idea popped into my head I’d spend most of a class writing it in the margins of the notebook or on a different page all together, flipping back and forth between notes and story. I know what you’re thinking and yes, my school notebooks looked like the kind of thing you’d find in a serial killer’s house after he’s brought to justice. Most of that stuff is laughably melodramatic. I’ve groaned a LOT while flipping through those notebooks, but some of my longest gestating ideas were born in those bored days sitting in Latin or geometry class.

With an eye towards learning more about writing–whatever that means–I focused on colleges with strong creative writing programs. I started out looking at big schools like Ohio State and Miami of Ohio, but realized those would be way too huge for me and then narrowed the search down to a trio of small liberal arts schools in Ohio: Ohio Northern, Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon. There’s a much bigger story in here, but I wound up going to OWU, where I studied both creative writing and literature as well as humanities (defined as literature originally written not in English). As such, I read a lot of books and did a fair amount of writing of all kinds.

I’m sure I don’t remember all the classes I took, many of which were in Sturges hall, but all of them involved writing of one kind or another, even the science classes. Here’s what I do remember. I took an essay writing class with the wonderful Rebecca Steinitz where I not only learned the benefits of editing (something I never bothered to do before out of sheer laziness) but also some tricks that have helped me write these very blog posts. I took a Journalism 110 (OWU’s equivalent of a 101) class and realized I hated that basic, boring kind of newspaper writing. There was a screenwriting class I took with Robert Flanagan who not only taught me the basics of the form, but also how cutthroat and by-the-rules the movie business can be. Plus, he’s from my hometown of Toledo, so that was awesome. I was far too shy and nervous to talk to him, or any of my professors really, more than was required which I regret. I took two or three creative writing classes with Robert Olmstead, another professor I wish I still talked to. I always liked the meetings I had with him, assuming I was doing alright in class. Him telling me my writing had jumped up a level one day is one of my all time academic highlights. The Roberts were very different, with Flanagan more realistic and brutal and Olmstead more dreamy at times, but both had a good deal of experience and helped us learn the craft. Having class with both really balanced me out, I think. I also became a member of the English board and wrote a few things for The OWL, our college literary magazine.

Depending on the class, there was always something creative I had to work on and, as far as I can remember, I liked it. Sure it was tough at times to balance writing a 20 page script while also reading Invisible Man and studying for an astronomy test, but I did it. I definitely miss that structure and schedule nowadays. Since graduating college, I still write, but there’s no immediacy to it. I’ll start writing something, get distracted by another idea and then move on to that one. I have a million unfinished and half-started files on my computer and even more notes written on scraps of paper and, of course, in notebooks around the house. I really do miss having the creative structure that my classes gave me. Being pushed and forced to write might not sound good to a lot of people, but that pressure kept me on top of things.

I’m going to stop here and focus the next post on my attempts to stay focused when it comes to various stories or scripts I work on and how the birth of my daughter acted as it’s own deadline.

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