I write because I have learned to love the process of involving myself in a fantasy that seems to unravel itself as I enter the words into my notebook or computer. I began writing free form poetry and journaling back in the 70s when I was in college after I had my first literature class where I discovered how to really read during our reading and discussion of Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. I had been an avid reader from when I first learned to read and had read many books, but there was a difference after I learned to really dig into a story, see the plots and subplots, and see the characters and how they were developed by the author. I also remember reading my first poetry in that class and was particularly taken by the words and the simplicity of Robert Frost’s writing.
Later on, as a professor of graphic design I became interested in Concrete Poetry. I discovered Mallarme, other verbal abstractionists such as the Beats and loved the crazy poetry that they produced. I researched the concepts of not only why and how they created the design but also the words.
I continued to buy notebooks in which to journal my thoughts, my dreams, my observations, and more free form poetry. This continued for many years, but other than my journaling, prose was never anything I attempted. Writing a story simply seemed too scary and overwhelming for someone who almost failed high school english..
Around 2014 I did start to experiment with prose and wrote several short stories that weren’t really short stories because, as I later found out later, they were too long and complex.
Then, in the December of 2015, I came down with pneumonia after a European trip. I am normally an overactive individual who could never sit still long enough to write anything longer than a page. With the pneumonia, I was kicked in the butt and my energy level rather than lasting a whole day, would only last until noon or shortly after, at the best, and I would have to sit down and rest. One day, I began to write a poem which strangely turned into a short story? But there was more to the story so I kept on. Every afternoon for three or four hours, I wrote and wrote. The characters took over my life and literally began to tell me their story. I know this may sound weird, but that’s how I found the excitement of writing. I begin the story, develop my characters and let them tell me their story. I don’t outline anything. It is totally free form and I let it go and simply put down the words.
When I was at the Naropa Institute some twenty years ago on sabbatical from teaching at Iowa State, one thing I came away with was the phrase, “First thought, best thought”. That has been my mantra ever since and has helped keep me from overthinking my art or my writing. Of course, there is much editing involved after all the fun.
I like to write in the afternoons. I read and do some quick editing on what I have written on the day before. This both helps me clean up some things and puts on the path to continue. I then write for usually one to two hours, maybe 1000 to 2000 words without editing other than what spell check pops up on my laptop.
I have written two novels this way, the first, San Juan Sunrise, which came from my connection to a women’s support group in the town I live in that my wife was a board member and which we both continue to support. The story centers around the amazing town of Durango, Colorado and the area in which I am privileged to live.
My second novel, The Awakening of Russell Henderson, came from my several readings of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and is loosely based on the many camping trips my wife and I had in the western United States as well as some of my experiences over the years. However, while the characters are completely fictional, some are based on composites of folks I have known over the years. And again, the characters, once developed took on a life of their own and gave me a great story.