I became a recreational writer many years ago. It started in the late 90’s when I was a regular contributor to Triathlete magazine. Subsequent book chapters dealing with various triathlon topics followed. My website provided a new medium for me to express thoughts. And, now, blogging has given me the ultimate freedom to test my limits as a recreational writer and perhaps morph into a professional writer.
I didn’t always enjoy writing even though I have always been an avid reader. My formative years as a writer were in high school. It was a bother, the skills were lacking, and my chlorinated head did not want to spend the extra time needed to become proficient (let’s face it, the technology in the 80’s made everything more difficult). As with most good things in life, there is a turning point. Mine came with an assignment entitled “My Credo”. The subject matter was completely overwhelming; I was in 10th grade and my only philosophy was arriving on time to the pool and swimming hard so the coach wouldn’t yell. I will skip the embarrassing details of tantrums that ensued before the paper was finally written. When at last I produced this magnum opus (note the sarcastic tone) I had an epiphany. I no longer dreaded writing.
More than just having a breakthrough assignment, though, I also had a breakthrough teacher. In all of my years of school, and there were too many, Mr. Litchfield, who passed on years ago, was my single most influential teacher. I was lucky to experience him twice, 10th grade English and 12th grade Art History. He taught the fundamentals of writing. We learned how to form a sentence so it flowed, the proper usage of a semicolon, colon and dash (punctuation that is oft forgotten he preached), and he expressed his hatred for the overuse of the words “is” and “was”. His passion for writing and enthusiasm for teaching encouraged me to listen, even when I wanted to sleep with my head on the desk after an early morning swim (which I sometimes did when the lights were turned off for slide shows in Art History).
The impact of one teacher goes a long way. I carried my newly formed passions from Mr. Litchfield to college. I thrived in Freshman English. In my four years at Brown I took many Art History courses. And, over the rest of my education, I always did better on essay exams and in classes that required some degree of writing. Multiple choice exams were never a forte and I was often reduced to guessing, but I was an expert at BSing my way through an essay! I could easily write pages on subjects in which I had only a cursory knowledge.
The final step in writing is the words themselves. Though I was a voracious reader, I never was in a habit of looking up unfamiliar words. And, as I mentioned, multiple choice exams were my kryptonite. Wrap this up with a serious hatred of sitting still for any amount of time and I bombed the SATs. Years later when I was taking the GREs I was much better prepared. By then I had taken writing more seriously and started agonizing over every word. I always read with a dictionary and wrote with a thesaurus by my side (now, thesaurus.com is one of my favorite sites). I also became an aficionado of The New York Times crossword puzzle, which required its own dictionary and a new set of words (who comes up with these puzzles anyway?).
Many people I talk to are afraid of writing. The informality of email and the limitations of text messages have made writing as an art obsolete. An empty page is extremely daunting and there are infinite ways to arrange words. I find that sitting down with a structured idea works the best. When I am exercising outdoors I never bring along music. Almost all of my writing – emails, articles, papers for work, even Twitter posts -- originates during this time. The outdoors unlocks my mind and hands me words so that a blank page is soon filled. Try it. Don’t be intimidated. It’s therapeutic and liberating. And, nobody needs to read it but you.