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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why We Write

This week: Guy Stewart

You have to go back to sixth grade, my sixth grade; the 1968-1969 school year.

New school. New teacher. New awareness of a young female teacher…and the discovery of The Spaceship Under The Apple Tree, by Louis Slobodkin (1952). After that came The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet (1954, Eleanor Cameron), followed by a waterfall of other books by Andre Norton, Robert A. Heinlein, Donald A. Wollheim, Murray Leinster, Ben Bova, John Christopher and Alan E. Nourse.

Then in eighth grade, I hit a wall. I’d read everything I could find that I liked in the Brooklyn Junior High library. I hadn’t graduated to adult SF yet. I wanted more Tripods. I wanted more Mars. I wanted more SPACE!

So I wrote “The White Vines,” in long-hand, in pencil, on lined paper, and tied the pages together with a string. After that I wrote “The Black Planet”, an Andre Norton-type story. I read A Universe Between, then wrote “A Place In Between”. I still have both stories.

I never stopped, though I’ve looked back many, many times. I graduated from pencil to pen, then to an old manual typewriter (closely related to the one Bruce uses on his “other webpage”), followed by an electric typewriter scavenged by my mother from the high-school typing classroom. (I still typed on lined notebook paper, though.) I thought what I wrote was wonderful, but quite plainly, it wasn’t. I discovered ANALOG at the public library, read every issue I could lay my hands on, and really started to write. I discovered books on writing in the library, and read all I could and kept writing. AMAZING, F&SF, GALAXY and FANTASTIC were the magazines I stumbled across next; I found Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore and starting reading in earnest.

I say all of this to make it clear why I write.

Can’t you see it? Aren’t you making the connections that are so obvious to me? Let me point out one thing: every kid has an imagination. Every kid makes up worlds inside his or her head; they can be realistic, magical, or super-scientific.

Not every kid tries to take those ideas and turn them into words. Why would he? Who would he show them to, who would care? Well…probably the OTHER people who read the magazines that I read. So I took the next logical step and started sending them out.

That was when I truly became a writer, and that is why I write. I’m a writer and a writer writes.

A similar phenomenon determines who is a teacher and who is not. My lifelong contention is that teachers are born, not made. You can always tell a kid who is born a teacher. He’s the one who, when a little girls asks, “How did you throw that ball?”, kneels down and shows her how it was done, leading her patiently step-by-step until she can throw the ball effectively. Then he adds, “Make sure you keep practicing!” The kid who is not a teacher answers the same question with a taunt or eyes rolled toward heaven.

I grew into being a writer step-by-step, guided by the wisdom of others. That process of writing, reading, practicing, learning and growing is what led me to Bruce Bethke. He and Phil Jennings advertised for new group members -- I don’t even remember if we had a name -- but I joined, we wrote, and then time and business drew me away and I left.

But I kept writing. I kept sending, and even though acceptances are few and far-between even now, I keep at it. I kept writing last weekend, despite a seemingly endless stream of submission rejections, because through thousands of hours of practice, reading, networking, and submissions, I have grown into a better writer. I have a long list of publications at which even I must smile. But even with success, I keep on writing: not “to get published” and be paid the big bucks, because I have been -- in ANALOG, CRICKET, my book SIMPLE SCIENCE SERMONS FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS, THE WRITER, STUPEFYING STORIES, AETHER AGE, TURTLE, FUN FOR KIDZ -- I don’t need to “prove myself” any more. I can write just fine.

I write because it’s what I am.

I write because I am a writer.
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