Monday, October 31, 2011
I always looked up to my grandfather. He had attended the University of Michigan, majoring in journalism. He even played baseball for the school. He was going to play football, but upon entering the stadium to suit up for his first practice, he was met by a fellow player coming off the field carrying his front teeth in his hand (this was back in the leather-helmeted days of the late 1930s mind you). He therefore decided that baseball would be the better route to go. I can’t say that I blame him.
After graduating, marrying, getting a job as a woman’s undergarment salesman, and having a few children, he decided it was time to try his hand at becoming a full-time writer. The rest of his story is what motivates me the most in my writing endeavors.
Upon making the decision to pursue a full-time writing career, my grandfather figured that if he was going to do it -- and having had enough of the Michigan winters -- that he should haul the family, which by now included three children, down to Florida.
After four years of only moderate writing success though, and with grandma working as a waitress to help support his work, they decided to head back to the Midwest where he took a job as director of communications with that same undergarment company he had sold for previously. He did their weekly newsletter, copywriting, and performed similar duties, but he didn’t let his dream of becoming a full-time writer die.
Motivation and Mentoring from Beyond the Grave
I didn’t start writing full-time until a year after my grandfather passed away, but his example still served to motivate me in my endeavors. Before work each morning my grandfather would wake at four in the morning to write for several hours before going in to work. I used this example to push myself in my early years before I quit my work in the hotel business. I used to come home from work each day and write for several hours in the evening in an effort to gain experience before taking the plunge into full-time writing.
While it took years, my grandfather eventually found success. After selling several stories to The Saturday Evening Post Magazine he became a humor writer for them and eventually senior editor. And though it had taken him several decades in between, his perseverance had finally paid off.
Generational Differences…and Similarities
Thinking back to the writers of my grandfather’s day, I find additional motivation in my self-employment work ethic. It makes me wonder if they would have found our current writer’s market unbelievably easy to tame. They wouldn’t have to type everything out by hand, type additional copies by hand, send their articles and manuscripts by snail mail, and wait for weeks on end with no response. While some of these aspects are still part of a writer’s life, it’s now much easier to be noticed in a variety of other mediums, although the amount of competition for that attention has increased dramatically as well.
And just when I think that technology has drastically transformed the way we go about things these days and that I’m probably pursuing my writing career completely different from the way my grandfather did, I find a box of his old articles, short stories, poems, and notes. Within, I find all his unpublished work for which he never found takers.
I find myself surprised that a senior editor at a major magazine had boxes full of unpublished work, rejection letters, and even his old expense book documenting each cent he spent.
So now, even with my grandfather dead and gone, I can set his box of rejection letters next to mine, his handwritten expense book next to my handwritten expense book, and all his unpublished work next to my zip-drive of unpublished work, and I can look at it as a reminder of just how hard he had to work to get where he was and as motivation to keep me hard at work when the rejection letters are steadily pouring in (by way of email that is).