Saturday, March 29, 2008

How I (We) Became a Writer(s)

From Joel Heffner's Great Website "How We Became Writers" , my page...

"When I was a kid in school I always wanted to be a writer. I wasn’t a good student though. I was one of those well behaved, shy kids who just couldn’t find anything of interest in what the teacher set before me. I ended up drawing in my notebook instead of doing the assignments and reading books under the desk to ward off the terrible boredom of what the rest of the class was doing.

As a result of all this I ended up with extraordinarily high scores on the standardized reading tests, well developed abilities as an artist, and great desire to be a published author, although without the skills and discipline needed to ever pull that off. This last point was a great source of frustration to me. I also managed to just squeak through high school and get into college where I studied art and avoided the academic life as much as was humanly possible.

As the philosopher once said “what you resist… persists!’ and after graduation from college I entered a very unfavorable job market, and with little to offer. The only job paying a livable salary that I could land for myself was as an art teacher in public school. Irony!

I found the stuff that went on in the school where I taught in East Harlem to be so astounding. You just couldn’t make this kind of thing up. I continually wanted to write about it. Unfortunately, I had never learned to outline, revise, polish, all those things needed to render a good idea into a finished, publishable piece. It looked to me like writing would be a dream forever deferred.

Fast forward to my 10th year or so as a teacher. My wife, who was also a teacher, although a high school literacy instructor in a good school, came home one day and declared, “Every other staff member at my school has taken advantage of the Apple for the Teacher promotion and bought a Macintosh computer to use at home. We are going to buy one too!”

At the time I was no fan of computers, thought the price wanted for the MAC was outrageously high, and still labored under the misapprehension that husbands could win domestic arguments. The kicker was that when Maria and I finally got our new digital centerpiece home, she turned to me and said, “This looks much harder to learn than I thought, Mark. Why don’t YOU learn how to use it and teach me?”

Like a dutiful spouse I did just that. Along the way I became fascinated with word processing and how it could support an untrained, undisciplined writer like me in producing the kind of polished piece someone might actually publish. The wheels in my head continued to spin.

A short while later, Margo Jones, a colleague who had been listening to me belly aching about wanting to write for some time informed me that the New York State Department of Education had put out a call for educators to write short articles to inspire peers. These would be published in an important publication they would call their Educational Possibilities Catalog. Margot’s clear implication was that I should write a piece for it and shut up about wanting to write already!

I ran my ideas and voice through the word processor: outlining, drafting, revising, and re-revising, the way only a computer could coax me to do. Then I sent out my first submission. Over the next couple of months I received an acceptance letter, a few updates, and then one day on my doorstep in a big, brown package was the finished book with my article inside. I tore the wrapper off, checked the index, and flew through the pages to see a boyhood dream come true resting on the kitchen countertop. I was a PUBLISHED AUTHOR!

Now, 40 odd magazine articles later, 3 years of weekly contributions to a major daily newspaper, and books number 5 and 6 due out over the next few months, I consider my ability to write to be my most cherished possession. I write more and more every day as writing becomes less and less something I do and more and more who I am. By the way, I continue to write about education which never disappoints me in producing great subjects to wrestle with.

Mark Gura


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