Why Writing?

I was in fifth grade when I first realized that a very big part of me wanted to write stories. We had been given the assignment of writing a short story about anything we wanted to. I remember sitting down at my Apple IIc with only the vaguest idea of what I was going to write about and opening with some dialog.

"Damn," he said. "Where are we?"

I was nervous about using the word 'damn', but I liked the gritty way it kicked things off. I wrote a couple of pages about a team of elite soldiers who, in the midst of heated battle at some point in the future, accidentally drove their armored three-wheelers and motorcycles through a time-travel portal that brought them back to present day America. Awesome, right?

Unfortunately, I don't remember much more about it, including how it ended, but I do remember my teacher telling the entire class that my story was one of the best he'd read in a long time. Then he read it out loud to everyone. I was somewhat mortified by the attention, but also intrigued by the feedback.

Fast-forward to Freshman English in high school, where the teacher spent almost the entire year focused on creative writing. I loved it, taking home the assignments and writing stories that were almost always at the maximum assigned length. Some were okay, most were pretty bad, but it was a ton of fun. It was the only homework I actually looked forward to working on. That teacher was encouraging as well, occasionally taking me aside to compliment my work, and often reading my stories to the class.

High school was actually inspiring for me in general. I took an American literature class that turned me on to Hemingway, there was a grammar class that I did not enjoy but definitely learned from, and then there was an AP class in creative writing. That last one was, unfortunately, largely peopled with senior boys who were far more interested in driving the teacher crazy than learning how to write. As a result, I didn't learn a ton but I was, however, encouraged (and a little offended) when I got my first assignment back and saw that the teacher had scribbled "Quite a story, an original?" on the first page. (That one was hard core sci-fi about an infantry soldier trapped on the front lines, about to be overrun by aliens in giant robotic suits, who elects to use the experimental "jump" button on his wrist that will teleport him out of there. The catch was that nobody knew where people went when they did that, because the technology was so new; it was a roll of the dice meant to be used as a last resort.)

When it came time for college, I started out as an English major with the secret goal of becoming a novelist. But, a combination of ignorance and lack of guidance resulted in me randomly selecting literature classes and not even trying to get in to the few creative writing courses and workshops that the university offered, and by the time junior year rolled around it was clear that I could either re-focus on journalism, or plan to be a teacher. Neither really appealed to me, so I went to my UW-appointed guidance counselor and told him I wanted to go into computers.

He about died, it being such a different track compared to the one I was on. I had tested so poorly on my math placement tests that I'd have to start with remedial algebra and trig before I could even think about taking all of the required calculus and linear algebra classes required for Computer Science.

I was undeterred, and, by the time we worked through the specific courses I'd have to take, it turned out that I was so close to getting my English degree that it would be almost just as easy to double major. It would cost me one summer and an extra semester, but that didn't seem like much at the time and I did it.

And it was great, I loved computer science. With a real goal in mind I even enjoyed the math, breezing through the remedial classes (as one would hope), and doing pretty well in the advanced stuff too. It was 1998 when I graduated, which, in case you don't remember, was a pretty good time for CS majors to get jobs. So it seemed that I'd made a good choice.

But I never forgot about wanting to be a writer. I occasionally tried writing "on the side", but I was always just too tired when I'd sit down to do it; and I couldn't shake the feeling that I could do so much better if I could just focus on it full time.

So that's why I was looking for an opportunity to quit my job. There were ancillary reasons--the typical stuff about simply wanting something new, maybe something about evolving (or devolving) into a role that I no longer found particular satisfying--but it was mostly about the writing.

And so, when the stars aligned, I went for it.