What gives me the right to write?

December 3, 2018


Last time, I talked about starting a reading goal and how I started the idea during a counseling session. One thing readers may not understand is that counselors aren’t there to just help you work with your mental health issues. They are there to help bounce ideas around and get advice, as well.

During sessions that weren’t heavy on the mental health side, we’d talk about my goals and determining ways to reach those. In one session I talked about the 52 book goal and we decided I needed to move forward with that task. So I did.

At the time of writing this, I’m 33 years of age. It’s been over 12 years since I was in a formal education. I’ve talked previously about not having a formal writing education, and I don’t think you need one to tell a great story.

When I decided I wanted to write, I struggled with the concept of ageism against myself. I’m not old, but I’m not starting my career either. I’m leaving my career in the hopes that I can keep this one going. There was a lot of doubt in the back of my mind. At the time, I was 31.

What gives me the right to write? I would think. I’m a programmer, not a writer. Writers need English degrees.

One of the things Kat and I like to do is shop clearance books. Especially Barnes and Noble. If you don’t know about this, they have clearance boxes before and after holidays that are generally filled with books. I’m not talking about their extra 40% racks and such.

There’s almost always a clearance cart about 3 feet long, too. This isn’t it.

These clearance boxes typically sit in the middle of the main aisles. They’ll mark books down 75% and often more. Usually they are filled with toys and plastic junk for impulse buying, but around the holidays they start filling them with books they want to get off the shelves.

Searching through one of these book filled boxes, I came across a series I had wanted to read for a long time; John Carpenter of Mars. I picked up two of the books.

I was excited. They were cheap and I had wanted to read them for a long time.

I was excited, until I looked at the spines. I had books two and three. Not book one.

As a rule of thumb, I never buy a book unless I can get book one. If I don’t have book one, I don’t know the character background and plot setup. Why was John initially on Mars? Who is Dejah Thoris? Of course, some of that information is in the spine or regurgitated throughout the additional books, but I always make sure I know the initial story and build from there.

I felt connected to these books. Not just the search. But something in me wanted me to take them home. I needed to read them.

I struggled and almost put the books back with their sibling copies. There were ten or so of each sitting in the clearance boxes. Lo and behold, Kat finds the only copy of volume one in another box. We checked out and I started reading A Princess of Mars.

Typically, I don’t read the author information. I’m all about the story. I could care less if you are a Pulitzer prize winner or top science fiction writer of the year. To me, that doesn’t always translate to good writing. I’ve read independent books that will never win awards, but are far better than award winning books.

In buying the Princess of Mars, something drew me to the author bio on the back. I had heard the name Edgar Rice Burroughs, which is synonymous with Tarzan of the Apes, but I didn’t know he wrote his first story at the age of 36. He was five years older than me, and a huge success. He was also a pencil sharpener wholesaler.

Who knew that was even a thing?

Burroughs read pulp fiction magazines of the early 1900s. A Washington Post article from 1929, “How I wrote Tarzan Stories”, quoted him saying,

“…if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.”

That’s not speaking well of pulp fiction at all, but he was able to go from knowing nothing about writing stories, to writing some of the most famous stories of the 20th century.

By no means do I think the writing today is awful, but I think we get too focused on having a traditional background in a field. You just need the drive and will power to do it. I’ve heard stories of people getting their law degrees in their 70s. You don’t have to go to college right out of school. In today’s world, we can do anything as long as we put our minds to it.

If you want to write, write. Someone will read it. Maybe you’ll make a few dollars, maybe you’ll make millions. Either way, write. It’s what you love to do, so do it.

— Will

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