Few things in life have given me as much pleasure as writing has. I’ve never been what anyone would describe as “low-energy,” but I’ve also not always been exactly sure how to release my own energies, especially when it came to writing. I’ve also always possessed the creative impulse, but that impulse was frustrated time and again for lack of ability and lack of venue. Indeed, one of the hardest things for me growing up was the intense desire to create without the necessary means or abilities or virtues to do so. Looking back, I see what a grace this was, but, at the time, it was sheer frustration. After all, I knew I would never be a painter or a musician, and I wondered why God would give me the overwhelming desire without the abilities to do anything with such desires! I knew, however, I might make it as a writer of some kind, but I was never entirely sure how to do that. Obsessed, to be sure, I would try writing of every and any kind: opinion pieces, poetry, short stories, really anything that involved the written word. Not having any real outlet for publishing in the late 1970s and 1980s, I would create news-letters, comic books, short books, and my own articles, often horribly illustrated but relatively well constructed. Usually, I would make copies for my closest friends, using the photo copying machine at the local library.
My writing was full of flaws, to be sure. My opinion pieces were rather ideologically driven, absent any subtlety at all, though the local newspaper would, from time to time, print my letters to the editor. My first published letter to the Hutch News was a call for the abolition of the minimum wage. My poetry was wretched, frankly, though I do think I had a decent rhythm and cadence in my poetry. My themes, though, were embarrassingly simplistic. My short stories often started with some interesting ideas, but they never went anywhere. That is, I could ask good questions, but I had no answers. I also found that my short stories usually advanced some heretical or gnostic idea, such as God being just some alien or the universe being some experience of that of a malevolent being. Even in my skeptical-atheistic teenage years, I felt weird mocking the religion of my childhood and of my relatives.
Determined, I knew by junior high that I would need to learn how to type. My mother kindly gave me my grandfather’s very old but very classic manual typewriter, and I spent hours and hours and hours and hours (and still more hours) learning how to type. Crazily, one of the best courses I took my freshman year of high school was typing. Honestly, I learned very little in public high school, but I did learn how to type, and I’m grateful for that. At home, in 1982, we purchased a Commodore 64. Being young and eager, I learned everything I could about the small computer, and I even created—from code purchased in a magazine—my own word processor. I could never do something like that now, but, in 1982, I was too young to know I couldn’t do something. Armed with that new computer, I began to create and write with a sort of grim determination. Whatever I had written in fifth or sixth grade, I could now do three to four times as fast, store it, manipulate it, and release it in various forms. Then, miracle of miracles, the Mac came out in 1984, and I threw myself into the world of MacWrite, MacPaint, MacPublisher (the first magazine layout software for Mac), and 3.5 floppy disks. I was quickly becoming one with the machine. Almost all of my writing energies went to three things: my personal letters to friends, my fantasy worlds, and my research for debate.
In terms of mechanics, it was the latter that shaped my ability to write and produce. I became such a fast typist that I would type out the evidence cards for my entire debate squad. It was a new world when we realized we could share everything via a very primitive form of networking. My brothers, my best friend, and I even started our own publishing firm around 1987 or so, Hutchinson Research Associates (HRA), selling our research to other debaters around the country, via disk or published book. We even published a few guides to debate, Student Congress, etc. A few of those HRA books still linger in used book stores, and the Library of Congress cataloged at least one of our books. HRA was a great little business, and it certainly helped pay for my final years of college and first few years of graduate school. Sadly, being mostly a family business, it fell apart as the family collapsed in the first half of the 1990s. Still, in hindsight, it was a brilliant learning experience.
Given my experience typing, I also hired myself out as a typist in college, making a tidy sum by typing out the papers of my dorm mates. I was also able to work for two professors during college, mostly because I knew how to use the special math symbols on their Mac.
As mentioned above, most of my writing time between 1982 and 1992 went into debate (either for me and our squad or for profit), my fantasy worlds, and my personal letters to friends. Most of my fantasy worlds never went anywhere except in my head and onto memory storage. For better or worse, my attacks on dragons and wraiths remained rather private, though they crept, from time to time, into my personal letters.
My personal letters, though, are another story. Between 1982 and, roughly, 2002, I wrote thousands upon thousands of personal letters. In those letters, I really learned (at least as far as I know) the craft of writing. Those letters contained everything from experienced moments and hikes, to philosophical discussions, to book reviews, to bizarre fictional stories (blades of grass would bizarrely spring to life and have discussions with dandelions), to album analyses, to worries and frustrations. Many of those letters I typed out, but an equal number I wrote out long hand. Looking back almost two decades after writing so many personal letters, I can see how much of a life line those were for me during my teens, 20s, and early 30s. While much of that personal element transferred to emails and social media (I’m certainly not proud of this), the philosophical elements all went into writing for web or publication.
And, this leads me to now and to here, The Imaginative Conservative.
Counting my essays alone—just over the last eight years at The Imaginative Conservative—I have written at least 500,000 words. That might, however, be closer to 1,000,000 words, depending on how one counts them, especially if I include albums I’ve reviewed and the essays I’ve written for other online publications. To be sure, The Imaginative Conservative is my home. And, this number—whether 500,000 or twice that—doesn’t include that which I’ve written to be published in actual, real, down to earth, tangible, ink on the paper print.
Thank the good Lord for an outlet for my crazy energies and impulses!
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is a detail from “Young Man Writing” (1852), by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891).