Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Writing History

Writing as it is taught these days encourages writers to think about (and write about) their writing history.  Mine is quite long--in fact, I had forgotten some of the early experiences with writing, mostly with newsletters.

I think I might have learned to read by reading the daily newspaper.  There was so much in the paper and it came every day!  I decided to do my own neighborhood newsletter and sell it for five cents a copy.  I forget what I called it and how I duplicated it is a big puzzle since copying machines were not that common in those days. The only duplication processes I was familiar with were the dittos at school and the mimeos at church.  Somehow I can't see that a secretary at either place would have typed up my little newspaper. I do recall typing it on a big used Underwood typewriter we had.  It took me forever but finally I had my one-page newsletter and somehow made copies of it.  I then went door to door trying to sell it.  No one wanted to pay as much for a kid's newsletter as they paid for a real daily newspaper, so I didn't sell a single copy.  I wish I still had one, but it's long gone.

A few years later the school established a newsletter and I wrote a few articles for that.  One was about how cool science was and the other I recall was about the importance of obeying the safety patrols. Yes, we were pretty much a mouthpiece for the administration, but it was something.

In high school I took journalism and then became copy editor for the W.T. Woodson High School Cavalcade. My buddies and I had the second (editorial) page to ourselves and generally made up all our copy, rather than do any actual reporting.  Our long-suffering sponsor, Dot Spencer, carefully reviewed each issue, pointing out the more egregious mistakes.  She let us make mistakes and we learned from them.

When I went to college, I did articles and reviews for the Wesleyan Argus and the American University Eagle.  I had known the editor of the Argus in high school, and I thought he would give me an easy pass on my articles.  Not so.  I of course kept a copy of what I submitted and compared it to what was published.  There was little resemblance, and after I got over feeling insulted for not having my great style recognized, I began to learn from what Paul did to my writings. At the Eagle I was edited less heavily, and published several reviews and articles. I even covered a speech by Harold Stassen, who ran for President every election.  I called him a "perennial pretender to the Presidency," which I thought was a great and descriptive phrase. It was cut.

When I became an English teacher, I turned my attention to teaching writing.  This process was given a quantum boost by the Northern Virginia Writing Project out of George Mason University and headed by Don Gallehr, who recently retired and encouraged countless writers and teachers of writing. The intention of the project was to establish a community of writers who taught writing.  If you are a teacher of any kind, take the first class, English 695, and then do the summer institute.  It will change your life.  Details are available at

When I retired, I mostly wrote emails to my brother and an occasional piece for church and the Manassas Chorale. I edited the church newsletter for a while, but my big break came when Susan Svihilik, executive editor of the News and Messenger, heard the eulogy I wrote for my mother's funeral.  She asked if I would like to write a weekly column for the paper.  I would and I did, for three years and 148 columns and other pieces until Susan was summarily fired a few weeks ago for ridiculous reasons.  I stopped the column out of  a protest for how she was treated.  She is an incredible newspaperwoman and person who deserved better.  Anyhow, I immediately started this blog and enjoy writing it immensely.  I hope you do, too.

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