Why I write

Those of you who follow my blog may have wondered what’s happened to me, since I haven’t posted anything for months. I’m back, and I owe you an explanation. I plan to resume posting on a regular basis, but time will tell how frequently. I haven’t succumbed to the Plague. My only excuse is that in late May I injured my left knee in a fall, and required surgery. I realize that recovery from a knee injury doesn’t explain my silence as a writer; but it’s been part of a confluence of events that I’m trying to make sense of.

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer, even though I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. It wasn’t just a fantasy about achieving fame or making money; I just knew that I had things to say. I read a lot and admired good writers.

I started out as a political science major in college, but discovered that my favorite classes were English literature courses. It didn’t take me long to switch majors. As a boy and as a teenager I’d mostly read adventure (including all of the Tarzan novels) and science fiction but, awed by the brilliance of such literary masters as Milton, Shakespeare and Goethe, I fell in love with literature. My first short story (science fiction) was published in The Citadel’s literary magazine, The Shako, and I served as poetry editor during my senior year. (Pat Conroy, The Citadel’s best-known alumnus author, held that job my freshman year.) It would be years before I wrote my next short story, but my brain was brimming with ideas.

Most of my fiction remains unpublished, but I hope that will change. I’ve written over a dozen short stories that I’m still proud of, as well as a crime novella and a speculative fiction novel. My two published books are non-fiction. Two years in Kingston Town is a memoir of my Peace Corps service in Jamaica (1991-93), with my wife Maria. Ad Nauseam: How Advertising and Public Relations Changed Everything, an examination of how we became a Propaganda Society, was the result of much research, and received several favorable reviews – including one in Kirkus Reviews. I had hoped it would be used as a textbook in high school and college social science and English classes, as an aid to teaching students about propaganda. But that didn’t happen.

Most writers — even good ones — have to get used to rejection and to persist in their efforts to get published. I’ve come to understand that what distinguishes true writers from dilettantes and people who write, motivated by fantasies of fame and money: we write because we must. I’ve said for years that writing is my therapy and, sure enough, now that I’ve had several unproductive months, I ‘ve been feeling that there’s something missing from my life. Writing is part of who I am. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it’s like I get an idea in my head, and it wants to get out. So I start to put it into words, usually on paper for the first draft.

As I re-read and re-read the first draft, I make changes until I’m satisfied with it as a first draft. (Bestselling author James Michener said that he wasn’t a good writer, but was a very good re-writer.) I write my second draft on WORD, editing as I go, and print it out. As I read it over and over again, I continue to make improvements, polishing my prose until it says what I set out to say. Writing fiction, I continue to edit on WORD until I achieve what I consider a “final draft.” Blogging, as I type out my latest post on my WordPress blog site, I continue to find things to improve upon. So, what you read is a polished third draft.

At various times during my career as a psychologist, I wrote “You and Mental Health” columns for local newspapers. In them, I tried to de-mystify esoteric psychological concepts, and to educate readers about psychotherapy. While my father enjoyed my fiction, he told me that he most liked my mental health columns. He said that I had a gift for explaining complex things in layman’s terms. This praise and encouragement is part of what got me to start blogging.

Everyone is adapting — or trying to adapt –in their own way to this strange parenthesis in our lives that is the pandemic. I consider myself fortunate that I haven’t been significantly anxious or depressed, or afflicted by “cabin fever.” But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been affected. The confluence of socially-distanced living and my knee injury seems to have temporarily sapped me of my creative momentum. I feel like I haven’t been fully myself lately. Until today, having written these words. It’s good to be back.

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