I was thinking about the first letter to the editor I got published. And this is all I’m going to post about this weekend, for two reasons: Firstly, I’m sick. I’m getting over a cold, and I have a fever. I’m also working on a special writing project, which I can’t tell you about just yet. But I’ll share the results sometime next month.
I had tried to write letters to the editor before, but nothing ever happened. One time, a column in WorldNetDaily got me so riled up I just had to respond. I sent off a dense, scathing rebuke that no one could understand, least of all me. It did not get published. Looking back further, some of my oldest USEnet posts even embarrass me now. I guess not all of them were crap, but if I said anything right, it was mostly by accident. Like a politician, even I could do something right occasionally. But how boring most of it is.
I so hope I’m not the only one who thinks I’ve improved since then.
At some point, I discovered Patricia T. O’Conner’s book Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing. I don’t remember how I got it, but it changed me forever. This was long before I began learning about stories and fiction, which also changed me forever. Words Fail Me helped me punch up my style and helped me make myself clear. I learned that even complex subjects, if you know them, you can communicate them clearly and simply to any audience.
After that, it became fairly easy for a time to get my lopsided, er, I mean, unique point of view published on WorldNetDaily’s “letters” page.
Before then, I thought that my mind was starting to go. When I was a kid, I’d read technical books about computers and electronics, just for the fun of it. That was my passion, design and solving problems. That’s why I ended up a software engineer. By the 1990’s, I could not read technical documentation any more. It stumped me. I used to soak it up; my mind was a sponge, as they say. But somewhere, sometime, I lost the ability to concentrate on this stuff. I thought I was just getting older, and my brain was not working so well anymore. I was wrong.
What happened was that the Internet happened. And software developers who never read Patricia T. O’Conner were writing documentation and getting books published to boot. I had not gotten denser. The stuff I was trying to read had. Going back to some of the early books I used to read as a kid, I can see this to be true. Some of these are pretty dense and filled with textbook prose. But even these are easier to read than some of the on-line documentation, which commonly has sentences so convoluted I have to read them two or three times just to figure out which part of speech is which.
In an ironic way, that’s encouraging. I look at how much things have changed, not just around me but also in me. And then I read something like Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller, which is an excellent book, and I note that most of what she says I already know, and only a few things I haven’t heard quite like that before, and a handful I disagree with, and here’s exactly why… And I think, Hey! I can do this!
It’s nice occasionally to feel like I’m not totally out of my mind.