By Michael T. Smith
It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, she decided that she would stay home and write instead of going back to work. "I want to write. I've always wanted to write."
"If you think that's what you want to do, I'll support you all the way."
Seven months later, I sat with our growing daughter, Vanessa, snuggled in my arms, looked at Georgia and asked, "Did you write anything today?"
"No! Do you have to ask that every other day? Stop nagging me!"
I struggled to remain calm. "But you said that's what you wanted to do."
"I do! It just doesn't happen, you know. I need to be in the right frame of mind. A person just doesn't sit down and start to write. I need to get an idea and then plan the outline. What do you know?" She stormed from the room.
Vanessa cried in my arms. I rocked her and wondered what I'd said to upset my wife. "I was only trying to help," I said to my daughter. She stared back at me, blinked and blew a spit bubble. I took that as agreement. "I guess writers are touchy." Another spit bubble proved me right.
A few months later, Georgia joined a local writing group. They met once a week. The members took turns hosting the group in their homes. I was proud of Georgia for finally getting into her writing.
On the nights she hosted the group at our home, I served coffee, tea and snacks to the ladies. While not serving, I sat and listened to the members critique each other's work. Many of them wrote children's stories.
By that time, I'd read so many children's stories, it seemed easy enough to write one. The man who hated English class in school and writing began to write. I started with children's stories and failed. I switched to humor and had a little success. A local monthly free paper started using one of my humor stories in each edition. Sadly, that came to an end when I wrote a piece that made fun of fireplaces. A major advertiser in the paper supplied firewood in the area.
Georgia's group fell apart. She lost interest in writing.
Me? I had the writing bug. I couldn't stop. I plunged forward. The rejection letters poured in. The mailbox was my worst enemy. No one used e-mail in the early 1990s.
In 1996, I moved to another city for a new job, discovered the Internet and an online group called BBS Writers.
My writing life changed. Members of the group included both established and hopeful writers. Two women helped me. One lady, Deb, became my best friend. She told me, "Michael, I know you like to write humor, but in every piece you write, your ending always has a touching side. You should write romance."
Romance? Not for me.
The other lady taught creative writing in a community college. She said, "Mike, you have great ideas, but I'm afraid to tell you, your grammar sucks. Before you write anything else, buy yourself a few grammar books, study them and learn."
Her words stung. Critiques are hard to accept.
I sulked for a week. My friends told me they liked my stories. Who was this person on the other end of a dial-up Internet connection to say my friends were wrong?
I got the grammar books. They landed in the bathroom, where most of my reading was done. I removed all other reading material. It was me, the grammar books, and a hard, cold seat.
I read them over and over.
In 1998, I wrote a story about the antics I did in the window at the office I worked, sent it to a local paper, and made my first sale. I followed it up with three sales to the Ottawa Citizen.
Two more moves came and went. For five years, my writing was put on hold as I adjusted to new places and jobs.
In October 2003, I stood at the front of a chapel in a funeral home in New Jersey. The urn with Georgia's ashes shined brightly under the lights of the chapel as I spoke about our life together and failed to hold back my tears.
That evening, I sat in the silence of my house. My son mourned alone in his room. I turned on my computer and searched for widow and widower support groups. I found my new home. I wasn't alone. Others suffered the loss of loved ones.
I poured my heart out to them. They reciprocated. It was healing to write down my thoughts and feelings. The more I wrote, the better I felt. It was back. Writing soothed me.
I stopped writing about my grief and began to view the world in a different way. In everything there is a message to be told. I looked for those hidden gems that most people fail to see. I started a new sletter to showcase my work and promised my readers at least one story a week.
I never fail to do this. It's my motivation. All week long, I think about what I will write next.
My friends steered me in the right direction: I needed to write from my heart. The first story I sold has since sold twelve more times and made me close to one thousand dollars. It has appeared in several major newsletters. Their subscribers joined my newsletter — more than four thousand at the time of this writing. I've sold three stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Several more have sold to other publications. An actor/producer/director contacted me. He wants to make a few short films based on my essays.
I read the work of others. When I come across a good one, I make a point to compliment them. They reply, "Thank you, Mike. Coming from a writer with your skill, this means a lot to me."
Me? Skill? Maybe I'm modest, but I thought they were better than me.
I work in telecommunications as a project manager. My writing is a release. One day, I hope it will be my living. At night, I look at the television and get bored. I itch to write. The television goes blank with the touch of a button. Blues music plays on the stereo. My fingers move to the music. They dance over the keyboard. A story unfolds.
It took me more than twenty years to make it this far with my writing; I'm not stopping now. One day, it will be all I dreamed it to be.
When I write, I'm in my element.