23 November 2011

Growing Pains

by Robert Lopresti
David’s column two weeks ago got me thinking about my summers on the shore as a kid; in particular how a buddy and I used to don raincoats on foggy days and stroll down the beach roads, imagining ourselves to be private eyes in London, San Francisco, or some other suitably mysterious place. Good times.  But it occurred to me that our stories never developed very far, and I seem to see a pattern there.

Back home in Plainfield my friends and I used to play The Man From Uncle, and the plots never stretched out very far (in fact, the most imaginative conflict consisted of quarrels over which of us got to be Napoleon Solo.  Chris was always  Ilya Kuryakin, because he was the only blond in the bunch.)

People always talk about children having wonderful imaginations, and I agree, but it strikes me that they aren't very good plotters.

Ever read Beverly Cleary?  She's a children's writer from Portland, Oregon, where she is thoroughly beloved.  (The children's room at the main library is named for her, and there is a statue of her character Ramona, in the park in Ramona's own neighborhood.  But Cleary also wrote a terrific little book called Dear Mr Henshaw, in which a kid tries to deal with problems in his family by keeping a journal.  At one point a children's book author visits the boy's class and reads some examples of their creative writing.  Most of the kids made up stories but our hero wrote about a true experience.  The author gives him first place and explains that children his age don't have enough history to make stuff up yet; better to stick to real events.

All of which had me pondering when I did become old enough to come up with a complete (though God knows, not publishable) story.  I think it was sixth grade.   Mrs. Sonin, our English teacher, would let you stay after school and read your stories out loud to her while she graded papers.  Very tolerant was she, I suppose.  Amazing she didn't laugh out loud at our efforts, and not at the funny parts.

I was in grad school before I finally tried to get a story published , and I was twenty-five before I finally saw my name in print.

I read recently that someone said you had to write for 10,000 hours before you could be good at it.  It scares me to think about when/if I have reached that point.

So, a question for the scribblers out there:  When did you become a writer?


  1. Rob, DEAR MR. HENSHAW is my favorite Beverly Cleary book. I used to read it every year to my fourth and fifth-graders and bought it for my grandson a few years back. Another favorite is THE RED DRAGAON by Bruce Coville.

    To answer your question, being an only child, I spent a lot of time alone. I entertained myself making up stories. When I was in seventh grade, my mom went to work and all the neighborhood kids would wind up at my house after school. I'd read to them from books I snitched from my dad's bookcase and when there wasn't something we really wanted to read, I made up stories.

    My first sale was a magazine article at seventeen though I'd seen my name in print on features in the high school newspaper and then stories in the USC literary magazine my freshman year at age sixteen.

  2. I started writing fiction when I was thirty or so, but didn't try to get anything published until my mid-forties. My very first story submission (a mystery) was accepted and published in 1994. Wish I'd started sooner!

  3. I am such a late bloomer. I began writing after I retired.

  4. John

    There is a technical term for people who get published on their first submission. Fortunately, it is not printable.

    More seriously, that puts you in a category with Robert Heinlein and I don't know who else. Congrats.

  5. Rob, I bet I also have more rejections than anybody else I know!

    Sure enjoyed your column.

  6. I really started writing fiction in earnest in the early 90's, and yes my earliest efforts were bad. But one of them got read on local radio one Halloween. I didn't actually sell anything until the last couple of years. Practice makes, if not perfect, progress.

  7. Rob, I'm sorry I'm late to the party, but yesterday was a blur.

    I, too, was a big fan of 'The Man' and got to play Ilya, as I was blonde in those days. No longer, I fear.

    The first story that I wrote (in elementary school) was a complete rip-off of Bradbury. I'll say no more, as I'm unsure of the statute of limitation on such things. As divine punishment my first published story wasn't until I was thirty-six. Serves me right.


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