I got carried away the other day thinking about my journey as a writer. How to sum up in a few hundred words more than thirty years? The journey, of course, continues!
Throughout high school, where I did very little work and wrote even less, I wrote poetry; this confused me. After a few years, the tension became too much: I burned them all for fear someone would find and read them. (Don’t worry: they were terrible!)
After barely graduating from high school: community college where I was placed in a remedial writing class based on a test I do not remember taking. Then: Mace Perona, who asked that we keep a journal. And everything changed. I filled three in one semester.
Poetry returned, slightly improved once I realized I could—and should—read poetry. Also by this time: reading everything, all the time.
But academic writing, the more formal sort, came slowly: an F on a ten-page essay on Hamlet with the word “So?” in large red letters on the front page. Psychology papers returned with notes scrawled on them saying things like, “This is a formal academic paper not a short story!” By graduation, however, I mastered the academic writing genre.
First job after college: Working one-on-one full-time with an autistic boy at a private school for a year, during which time I kept extensive journals about what I did, how I did it, and what happened.
Next: Two years in the Peace Corps writing Susan in Japan long detailed letters on onion skin paper using the little manual Brother typewriter I lugged to Tunisia. Then my first published article (in the San Francisco Chronicle) while still a student teacher (and newly married to Susan!). Several unpublishable novels.
But here and there, an article published about teaching in one journal or another. Some success with poetry: regularly published, a few awards!
A master’s thesis that earns special honors.
And then Lois, who would become my first editor, saying: Write about what you do in your class. And so I wrote what became my first book, The English Teacher's Companion.
And since then? Many books. Blogs. Tweets. Websites. Wikis. Nings! And texts: to Susan, whom I have never stopped writing after all these years.
What’s my point with this brief history of my origins as a writer? Writing is a craft people can learn and even master no matter where they begin. But there is another, more subtle point to this story: all writing is personal, an extension of ourselves, a record and part of the process by which we create ourselves, discover our ideas, develop our voice.