How I Learned to Write

Since I published Five Hundred Moons, several people, including some I’ve known since third grade, have made the comment, “I didn’t know you could write so well,” or posed the question, “How did you learn to write?”

Like all school-age kids, I started writing when I was six or seven years old. I did have a couple of advantages, one being an older brother whom I could learn from and a mom who would bring out a dictionary after dinner and play a game of looking up words. In school, we also were taught the tedious exercise of diagraming sentences, a discipline that I understand is missing from today’s curriculum, which is too bad since it is an outstanding building block upon which to construct complex sentences and learn the proper use of punctuation.

I always considered myself an average writer. I got excellent grades but seldom pushed myself to excel at any one subject—that is until I enrolled in journalism and met Mr. Molanari, a master of concise and economic writing. Mr. Molanari could take a five-hundred-word story, and with quick use of a red pencil, edit it down to three hundred words, while still maintaining all pertinent facts in a natural flow of journalistic prose. Why say in three paragraphs what can be said in one? It’s a lesson I never forgot. Sadly, Mr. Molanari died in a car crash in 1970, just before my Junior year.

Another person who influenced me was Mrs. Warren, my Senior High School English teacher. She was the opposite of Mr. Molanari. She loved literature and the descriptive writing style of the classical dramatists as well as the poetry of Shakespeare, Burns, Whitman, Keats, Milton, and Frost. She assigned volumes of reading and demanded excellent work from her students. She adored creative and lyrical prose, stressing the importance of sound in all forms of writing. She loved to read passages in front of the class, becoming almost teary-eyed in many instances, so enraptured she was by her favorite authors.

With a solid foundation in basic writing skills, I enrolled in Cabrillo College and took an English class from Morton Marcus, who was just beginning to publish some of his works. He was a most entertaining muse who encouraged experimentation in all forms of writing, but before you could do so, you had to have the basic foundations of grammar and syntax in place. I recall that the first paper I handed in was used to excoriate my writing in front of the class as an example of what not to do! He must have done some good teaching in the ensuing weeks because the last paper I submitted was used as a model for the class final. I liked Mr. Marcus a lot and continue to hold fond memories of him.

I was a political philosophy major at UCSC, which meant most of my higher education involved taking lecture notes; reading dozens of difficult-to-understand treatises, manifestos, and credos; and writing numerous term papers and theses. I believe the sheer volume of writing surely had a positive effect on my ability to put somewhat cohesive thoughts onto blank sheets of white paper.

I seldom wrote during my family-raising years, but I always had a book I was reading. It was only after I retired that I started to write more. There is one thing that I’ve come to understand: the activity of both reading and writing awakens a certain part of your brain and puts you in a much different mental state than what constitutes normal, everyday routines. Writing, especially, can definitely put you in a different state of consciousness. And the more you write, the easier it is to slip into that mode of alternatively firing synapses. As they say, “Practice Makes Perfect.” The oft-stated phrase most certainly applies to writing—at least to mine.

I’d like to extend thanks to all the people who have reached out to compliment my novel. The following is just a partial list. Gary Griggs, Ken Kraft, Grace Lee, Peter Gaarn, Glenda Whitlow, Toby Goddard, John Collins, Rebecca Colligan, Brian Bogard, Steven Woodside, Tamara Fisher, Jim Zenner, Anne Tomforde, Bruce Sanchez, and John Allen. Thanks so much for encouraging me.

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