Posted by: jgurner | May 9, 2012

Writing about Writing

The last few months, I have returned to my first love – writing.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always loved to read and always thought it would be cool to be able to tell stories that could be enjoyed by countless people for years to come. That eventually led me to want to become a journalist, also at a very young age. (How many kids do you know who want to play “newspaper reporter?”) It always amazed me how these people could write things, from all over the world, and I would be reading them in the morning papers. (Yes, I was reading the paper before going to elementary school.)

As a kid, I would fill up notebook after notebook with stories, along with the illustrations to go with them. I remember one epic saga, written in the third grade, that filled an entire notebook with the tale of me and several of my friends and our adventures – traveling though time, going to Mars, drilling to the center of the Earth where the dinosaurs lived, etc. As I got a little older and started to read Asimov, Heinlein, Burroughs and, especially Douglas Adams, I knew if I was going to write, I wanted to write science fiction. Not a real surprise to anyone who knew me as a kid, or as an “adult.” By junior high I had a typewrite and I produced plenty of starts to stories, nothing overly original, and nothing that went beyond a few pages before I’d get bored.

Once I reached high school, the French horn and the computer intervened. The French horn had been around since the fifth grade, but it didn’t really get appealing until high school. That’s when music began to slowly push writing to the side as a focus for my attention. I still wrote, but less and less, and that desire to be a writer or a journalist turned into a desire to do something with music. I was pretty sure being a performer wasn’t in the cards, but a band director was a distinct possibility. So that’s where my sights were set.

Then, along came the Texas Instruments 99/4A.

My oldest brother convinced my parents to get me a computer when I was a junior in high school. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked. I still loved the French horn and music, but my sights changed and by the time I enrolled in college, music was out and journalism and writing weren’t even on the radar any more. But, my fling with computers turned out to be a very on-again, off-again affair. By April of my sophomore year, I had cooled on computer as a career and was once again searching for some kind of direction. I had ruled music out. I knew it wouldn’t be a good fit for me as a career. I toyed with business, but again, not even close to being a fit.

Then, on April 8, 1987 – my birthday – I walk out of the computer lab at Ole Miss after an all-nighter early in the unseasonably cold morning and notice a few flakes of snow falling. To this day, I don’t know why, but while watching the flakes fall, bleary-eyed, I decided it was time to go back to that first love – writing. In particular, to journalism. By that afternoon, I had met with the head of the journalism department on campus and, when I came back to school in the fall, my major would officially be journalism. (Actually it was a Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in journalism, since, at the time, Ole Miss didn’t actually offer a journalism degree).

Fast forward 16 years. I wrote a lot, including some fiction – short stories, starts to novels, etc. – but mostly, I was busy playing mild-mannered reporter. Then, I escaped. The trials and tribulations of the newspaper career and its aftermath are stories I’ve told before and stories still yet to be told. But, in 2004, I walked away from writing. This time completely.

Two things pulled me away from that first love. The first was the bitter taste left by my career in the newspaper business. The second was because of Steve Jobs.

In January of 2004, Apple, its resurgence really rolling under Jobs, introduced a piece of software called GarageBand that allowed the user to use their computer as a recording studio. I had played with the rock star delusion for a while in college and loved the thought of being able to record my own music. So, I was hooked.

A new job allowed me to pack up much of my former life and writing, for almost a decade, stayed packed away with so many books and trinkets that were never unpacked and left in some forgotten corner in a storage room somewhere. Music ruled. Especially when I began to share my music with people on-line and their ears didn’t start bleeding after they listened to it. Music gave me an immediate satisfaction I never really got with writing. As a reporter I’d see my words in print each week, but it wasn’t really very satisfying. I wrote stories that were interesting and that I was extremely proud of. I wrote columns that were important, funny, informative. I won awards. Still, the things I was writing weren’t the things I really wanted to write. When I made music, I said the things I wanted to say. The songs incorporated the words and emotions I wanted to convey. And, thanks to that floozie the computer coming back into my life, I could create and share, sometimes in just a very few hours.

And music continued to rule. It helped me through a drastic change in career. It helped me through the few very happy months afterward. It helped me through the long, terrible unhappy months that followed. And it helped me get back on my feet once it was all over. It had secured its place as my big “L” love. My one and only.

Then came the seven-year itch.

Okay, maybe things weren’t all rosy with me and music. Things were a little dull at times. We’d go through the same old routines. “Why do you have to use an A minor chord in EVERYTHING you do?” “Didn’t you already use this line in a another tune?” “*sigh* Can’t you PLEASE use a different setting for your guitar?”

Music and I tried to spice things up.  We brought in toys – an accordion, a theremin, five strong bass, etc. – and they would provide a brief diversion, but the excitement and novelty was short-lived and routine would set back in. We even tried a little role-playing, a not-so-secret secret musical identity. It helped for a while, but still, the spark faded pretty quickly.

Then, out of the blue, while there was a long “dry spell” between music and me, that old flame, my first love, writing, shows up out of nowhere. It was an idea for a story and I decided to just write it down as an outline, as I had done many, many times over the years. It was just going to be a one-time thing. Just until music and I got back into our groove.

But, that one-time thing as it turns out, rekindled my passion. An outline turned into a chapter, then another, then another. Then, it stopped. I ran into that old foe – boredom, apathy, whatever you want to call it. It always seemed there to pounce on any long-term relationship I ever had with writing. Dozens and dozens of outlines and ideas cast aside over the years. Short stories abandoned. Ideas for novels that never got past a page or two. Nothing ever finished.

Music stepped back in. One day – one song. Instant gratification. But there was that itch I knew I needed to scratch.

So, music and I had “The Talk.” It’s not you, it’s me. I just need some space. We’ll always be friends. And I put away the instruments and committed completely to that first love, writing.

It’s been four months now. And in that time, I accomplished something I’ve never accomplished before in my writing – I completed a novel length manuscript. More than anything, it was a test I put myself through just to prove I could do it. As it stands now, it’s 125,218 words long and I’m just through editing the first few chapters. My original goal was just to finish writing the complete story. I did it. Now, my goal is to get it edited to a point where I might actually let someone else read it and critique it.

I’ve realized that even though writing was my first love, this is an entirely new relationship between the two of us. I know what I can do now. I know I can finish something I start. I also know that not everything I start is destined to be finished. You can look on my music hard drive and there is file after file of unfinished songs.

And, as for music, let’s just say the three of us have come to an understanding. It’s kind of an open thing between us all. I mean, sometimes you get an itch only a guitar can scratch…

Will my new relationship with writing last? Will music win my whole heart again? How long can I juggle this artistic three-way? How long can I keep up the thinly veiled sexual metaphors?

I guess you’ll just have to wait for the next chapter.


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