Most writers say they’ve always been writers. I suppose I could say the same, although perhaps not in the same way. As my writing life expands I often look at others to see what their writing path looked like. Not surprisingly, there have been many roads taken.
Many writers pursued journalism degrees. Often they started writing for the high school, or even middle school, newspaper. They went on to study journalism or English in college, sometimes getting an MFA (as in, Masters of Fine Arts). After graduation they got jobs with local newspapers, then the bigger newspapers or magazines. They were born writers, so to speak.
Others pursued writing on the side. They may have focused on some non-writer profession such as government, the law, accounting, plumbing, woodworking, or as in my case, science. On the side they wrote poetry or short stories or maybe even novels, most of which likely never was seen by any other human’s eyes. I know literal rocket scientists who work at NASA while writing science fiction and fantasy in their spare time. Some eventually give up their paying careers and pursue their writing full time. I suspect John Grisham is one of the few who have made more money as a writer than he did as a lawyer. That’s an exception. Most professional whatevers write for the love of writing, not for the money (sorry to say, most writers are not paying the bills with their writing alone).
So where am I on this spectrum? Clearly not the first. Growing up on the coast made it almost inevitable that I would pursue marine biology. I eagerly worked in the field after college until an arsonist destroyed my laboratory and changed my career path. I then worked for a series of environmental consulting firms in New Jersey and Washington, DC. No stints as a roving journalist. No MFAs. No writer-born was I. At least on the surface.
I also didn’t secretly write poetry or fiction or whatever, neatly tucked away in hidden journals or clandestinely submitted to magazines. But I also didn’t not write (double negative intended). While I recall writing some sort of poem when I was young (and like my youth, lost forever) and I did write an occasional essay (e.g., Whale of a Tale), the vast majority of my writing was technical: term papers for classes, theses for college degrees, and analyses for my consulting clients. Hardly what most people call “writing.” In addition, I wrote copious material for newsletters put out by regional scientific organizations, Abraham Lincoln groups, and the companies that employed me. Emails became a work of art, tweaked and twisted to make everything clear and anticipatory of forthcoming questions.
Throughout I slowly began to realize my “voice.” Despite the technical nature of my writing, it was understandable to a wide range of readers, something many (okay, most) technical writers have never achieved.
Which gets me to Gather. In 2007 a friend introduced me to a now defunct social media site called Gather.com. Its structure was similar to what Facebook groups have since become, without the hostage situation Facebook creates to enhance “promote me” advertising revenue. On Gather you could write articles (essentially blog posts, with all their opportunities and abuses), onto which readers could comment. It was at Gather that I discovered both my writing voice and passion for writing. I still wrote mostly non-fiction, with only occasional dabbles in micro- and flash-fiction. Reality seems to be my realm.
And then there was a diversion when my last consulting firm sent me to work overseas for three years. I could still write for Gather but also, in addition to my full time job creating revenue for the already wealthy owners of the firm, I was in a position to travel. That cut into my writing time. I also began realizing the down side of social media, a realization that has become even more acute in the intervening years. Slowly my desire to enrich others waned while my desire to write waxed.
After returning stateside my urge to write grew. Tired of hearing me whine, my girlfriend encouraged me to attend a Writer’s Digest conference in New York. Long story short, I soon had an agent, a book contract, and a new career. I’ve since written three books for that publisher (all biographies for the general audience), plus published a couple of specialty e-books on Amazon. I’ve written several articles for specialty magazines and newsletters, both online and in print. I quit my job to write full time.
In my own mind I’m not a freelancer, per se, as most freelancers spend their time fishing for work writing articles for magazines, newspapers, or for companies. That kind of life is just a little too much like my old consulting career, constantly begging for new work and new clients. I prefer writing books, which requires long term research, a tremendous amount of organizational skill, and a willingness to be poor.
I do write for magazines and intend to do more such work, mostly as corollary to my book writing. I consider myself a full-time book author, so even with an increased element of freelancing in my career, I still won’t be a freelancer in the normal sense. I also write the blog on my official author website, Science Traveler (www.davidjkent-writer.com), this creative writing and memoir blog, Hot White Snow (www.hotwhitesnow.wordpress.com), and a science communication blog called The Dake Page (thedakepage.blogspot.com). I recently started a website for the Abraham Lincoln Bibliography Project (abrahamlincolnbibliography.wordpress.com), which is where I am just beginning a project to compile all the published books on Abraham Lincoln. And while I left the consulting firms behind, my emails for the Lincoln Group of DC are still a work of art.
All writers have WIPs, aka, Works in Progress. Mine include an epic book on a specific Lincoln topic, a travel memoir, and editing a compendium book for the Lincoln Group of DC. In the last several days I’ve had a rather outlandish historical science fiction idea that may become my first foray into fiction. In my own personal version of NaNoWriMo I’ll start creating the first draft from the humid air hanging over the South China Sea. If that wasn’t spreading myself thin enough, I’ve started the preliminary work on a future WIP, which will be the impetus behind an extended stay in Paris and Brussels next spring. If there is a reason behind fewer posts on my blogs, it’s because I’m busy working on longer term projects (and, maybe, just maybe, also a little procrastination and lack of focus). Such is my writing life.
David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.