Wm writes: I've been after Jonathan Langford off-and-on to guest post here at AMV. In the 10 years that I've been participating on the AML-List, Jonathan has been one of the most thoughtful, interesting contributors (he also moderated it for several years). So I am delighted to bring you the first post in his The Writing Rookie series. For the complete list of columns in this series, look here. Author's note: This is the first in what is intended to be a series of blog posts, issued at irregular intervals, describing some of the insights and mishaps I've encountered in attempting to get started with my own creative writing. Any inclination to view these insights as in any way authoritative should be tempered by the knowledge that thus far my efforts have been untainted (as it were) with publication success . . . I've spent a lot of my life not-writing, or at least not-writing stories. Back in late elementary school, I decided against a writing career, even though I loved to read. Even so, I spent a lot of time plotting out stories -- purely for my own entertainment, and as a kind of shared creative activity with my best friend. (Years later, my son did the same thing with his best friend. Now he's a math major, his songwriting and video game design purely a hobby -- or so he claims. Time will tell.) In college, I wound up running around with the science fiction and fantasy crowd: editing the student magazine, helping to run BYU's substitute for a science fiction convention, and even participating in the same writing group as Dave Wolverton, Shayne Bell, and others who have actually gone on to become published writers. Several people complimented me on my story critiquing and editing, though my actual creative output was always low. And then my career detoured, and instead of winding up as an English professor I became a freelance writer and editor, mostly in the field of educational technology. For health insurance and a more steady income, there was my wife's job as a math professor. For creative stuff, I participated on AML-List, wrote Christmas newsletters (I'm told that my "future projections" newsletter -- describing the accomplishments our family would like to be able to brag about in the coming year -- is a classic of its kind), and produced various other musings for the amusement of my family and friends. When that wasn't enough, I cooked (and gained weight). And the thought of creative writing receded further and further into the background. And then I woke up one day -- strangely near my 40th birthday -- and it was like a timer had gone off. "Ding! Okay Jonathan, time to write." Frankly, it scared me out of my mind. There's something to be said for starting one's writing career during the first flush of youth, when one is too stupid to know just how bad one's writing is. Then too, there's the particular pressure that comes of knowing that one ought to be able to write well: as a professional writer, a wide reader, a trained critic, a careful researcher, an experienced critiquer, I really should possess most of the component skills of successful creative writing. Except, maybe, for the plotting and storytelling part. How hard could it be? Answer: very hard. For me at least. I tried. I really did -- right up to the point where I looked at what I had written (and showed it to a few people) and saw just how badly it was going. Then I went off to lick my wounds, and do some more cooking, maybe gain a few more pounds, and basically do what I could to distract myself from the writing I wasn't doing. Several years passed in this fashion. Every now and then I'd pull out the story I'd been working on and do some fiddling with the plot. Or I'd do a little worldbuilding research. Or I'd write a paragraph or two, or jot down an idea for some hypothetical story I might someday write. I'm not entirely sure what got me going again. Mostly, I think it was that the internal pressure simply got to be too much. I wrote some doodles that will NEVER see the light of day (under my own name, at least), and finished up a novella I'd started six years before. And then I spent some time thinking about a story idea I'd had a number of years ago but did nothing about, and how it could be turned into a novel. And I've been tinkering away at things, slowly but more or less steadily, for about a year now. I don't know where it's going, but I'm trying to find out. ###### So just why do we write, anyway? I have a friend who, as I recall, sat down and made a rather cold-blooded calculation to become a writer, based on his skills and competencies and the kind of life he wanted to live. High on his list of priorities, I believe, was avoiding a career as a butcher (his father's business) or prison guard (something he did to make money for college). At a rough count, he's up to about 20 published novels. I hate him. Similarly crass calculations played a part in my decision. The kind of writing-for-hire that I do fluctuates greatly and could evaporate if my contacts run out of work for me. (It happened one horrible year.) I started speculating on what kind of work I could do during the slack periods -- ideally, something that would leave me less dependent on trends in my particular industry. Writing, and particularly creative writing, would fit the bill nicely, if I could make a go of it. And then there's the desire to try my hand at something I've often thought about. See if I have what it takes to write the stuff that I've loved reading. The challenge factor. Frankly, though, neither of those would have been enough to keep me writing after I'd experienced just how painful it was going to be, watching myself write crap and then have to ask for people's opinions about why it was crap. Writing of any kind runs an enormous emotional risk -- at least, that's what I find. All the worse when it's something you've created more or less entirely out of yourself. For those of us who don't have a terribly high opinion of ourselves to start with, it's not the safest thing to do to one's self-esteem. ###### Balancing the inherent masochism of the exercise, it's my theory that what has kept me writing so far is the desire to communicate. I'm a socially motivated person. I like spending time with people, talking to people (face-to-face or at a distance), getting to know people. Part of what I've always liked about literature is the feeling of truly getting to know the people I'm reading about. Characters are my friends. Writing stories, I find, is the same kind of activity -- taken to another octave of intensity. The horrible vulnerability that comes in story-writing is the flipside of this desire to reach out and connect to other people on the kind of personal level that comes with creating something that touches your readers. Or at least, so I imagine. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and seeing as how I haven't actually been able to persuade anyone to sit down yet and take a bite, I can't really speak that much to the accolades that come to the chef... But that's a topic for another post.