A love for the written word

I always wanted to be a writer.  I don’t know quite how that came about.  I do not come from a long line of writers. Or readers. I don’t think I ever saw my father read a book and although my mother read, it was mostly magazines along with an occasional popular novel.  Other than the books that were either bought for me by my parents or grandparents, there weren’t even that many books in the apartment, perhaps several dozen housed in a breakfront in the living room.  But I never actually saw anyone remove those books and they were probably inherited from my grandparents or given to my parents as gifts.

Yet somehow I developed mysterious love for the written word.  A love that was probably nurtured by hearing stories from my maternal grandmother, a woman who never got much past junior high school.  But boy, could she tell a story.  I remember sitting in the backseat of our car and listen to her recount the plot of the latest movie she’d seen and it was better than seeing the movie itself.

I was a shy kid and always felt different from the rest of my family, as if I’d been dropped down from some far-off planet in outer space. I or perhaps I was unintentionally switched at birth.  Nevertheless, I found solace in reading.

Downstairs, there was a Rexall drugstore attached to our building that had racks of paperback books. I remember haunting the aisles, picking up those books with the alluring covers and exotic names like Saul Bellow, J.D. Salinger, Walker Percy. And when I got old enough to ride the bus alone, I would travel from my home on East 88th Street in Manhattan, to East 23rd street, where there was a discount book store with aisles and shelves of inexpensive books. For a buck or less, I could own those books, along with the Hardy Boy mysteries and Random House’s Landmark Series of historical books, all of which filled the headboard bookcase that separated my bed from my brother’s.

But there’s a synapse between reading and writing and that synapse was breached when I sat down and started writing my first novel at 11 or 12, a roman a clef, about a two-month sleep-away summer camp I had attended since the age of 4.  It was bout the same time I learned how to type in school and was presented with a small, Hermes Rocket portable typewriter to better enable me to type school reports.

I don’t know if I ever finished that novel (if so, it couldn’t have been more than a dozen pages) but I do know that I found something that changed my life.  Writing saved me.  Or rather having an imagination saved me.  And when I got old enough to be realistic about what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do when I was an adult, it never entered my mind to be anything other than a writer.

Little did I know how hard the writer’s life can be.  It’s filled with rejection and disappointment. And always there is the specter of failure. Am I good enough?  Will anyone want to read what I’ve written?

But if you’re meant to be a writer—and believe me from teaching writing now I know that even some of the more talented writers I’ve come across aren’t meant to live the writer’s life—you’ll stick with it.  And the longer you stick with it, and the longer you allow yourself the luxury of failure and rejection, the better you’ll get.  Eventually, you’ll get that first acceptance, whether it be a short story, or an article, or a poem or even a blog essay, like this one.  People will read it.  If you’re lucky, they’ll respond to it.  They may like it, they may not.  They may agree with what you’ve written, they may not.  They may understand what you’ve written, they may not.

It doesn’t matter.  You are a writer—you’ve always been a writer.  In fact, you are more than that.  You are a published writer.  And, like a drug, this will send you back to your computer, or your typewriter or your pad and pencil.

Because like me, you are hooked. And in this case, trust me, it is a good monkey to have on your back.

Charles Salzberg is the author of the Shamus Award Nominated Swann’s Last Song and the sequel, Swann Dives In, as well as the recently published third in the series, Swann’s Lake of Despair.  He is also the author of Devil in the Hole, which was named one of the Best Crime Novels of 2013 by Suspense magazine. He lives in New York City and teaches writing at the Writer’s Voice and the New York Writers Workshop, where he is a Founding Member.

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  1. Thanks so much for sharing such a personal backstory to how you became a writer. Looking forward to reading your new book.


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