Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How I Got Started As a Writer

Some writers always know that they want to write. They grow up reading voraciously and imitating their favorite authors. They just have this inner sense that they are going to write from an early age. That’s not how it happened for me.

I have always enjoyed reading, though I read a little slower than most. I did not read much on my own until I was in 6th or 7th grade. Then I started to read books about Kit Carson, Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok, every musty book on Western life that I could find in our little school library. My father taught me to love the Old West as well as the new.

It wasn’t until I was 18 years old, standing over a copy machine one day, when it hit me: “You could write a book.” That was over three decades ago. It was the moment that a bell tolled for me. I’ve never forgotten that day, and the feeling that I wanted to be a writer has never left me.

Another important moment for me was when I was talking on the telephone with an Ensign magazine editor. I was still a missionary. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said to her, “I want to be a writer.” Those words surprised me. They just popped out of my mouth. Where did they come from? Did I really believe them? Those words shot through me like an electric shock, inflicting permanent damage from which I have never recovered. I was 21 years old.

I have always loved horses, and a few years later, after I married Cristi, I got an associate’s degree in horsemanship and stable management from Ricks College in Idaho (barely, though—I am still wondering why they gave me a diploma). But I also wanted a bachelor’s degree. Never forgetting my earlier revelation that I could write books, I eventually decided to major in English at BYU.

My father, to say the least, was not thrilled.

“What are you going to do with that?” he’d ask. I told him that I was going to be a writer, and that I would start out as a technical writer. He said, “You can’t be a technical writer.” He was not exactly encouraging, but I knew what I wanted, and was determined to get my hands on it.

In 1983, I finally graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in English, and a few months later, got my first job as a writer at Tektronix, an electronics company, and I’ve been writing for hire ever since.

Within ten years of landing my first writing job, I had written articles for newspapers and magazines—mostly travel articles—and also several books, though none of the were published. Wait. Let me correct that: None of them were publishable. I still had plenty of work to do.

In 1995, I self-published a children’s board book under the label of our own little publishing company Overdue Books. It may have been the first LDS board book. I was able to sell a number of copies independently by mail order. (The Internet had not really caught on yet with the masses.)

I got a break in 1999. I was working for Intel, editing a book—a joint Intel-Microsoft project that was to be published by John Wiley & Sons. Through this contact, I was able to gain access to an editor at Wiley, and within a short time, I had signed my first book contract. I wrote two books for Wiley, and after that, I signed with O’Reilly and, so far, I have written five books and two ebooks for them. Fourteen of my books are on Amazon.

After many years of working as a writer, I am still going strong, there is no end in sight. It is an endless challenge, but that’s what I like about it. I love what I do, and I have no desire to stop. I will never retire from writing. I'll keep doing it until I can't do it anymore.

I fully expect that, some morning, when I am 85 years old, my wife will find my lifeless body slumped over a keyboard, the cursor blinking on the screen, taking up where my heart left off.

2 comments:

  1. Way to follow your dream! I have wanted to write a book for years now, but never had the courage. So, last fall, I started a blog. That is not quite the same as a book, but it is a start and I am learning as I go and really loving it! Keep writing! It is so nice to know that with a little work, dreams do come true.

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  2. That's all fine and good, until you get to the last paragraph. Can't like that one tiny bit. :-(

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