I started writing short stories and poetry in 10th grade. The reason, in the beginning, was simple: wooing women. Of course, none of the poems I wrote ever ended up in the hands of any girls, but I soldiered on, and my sophomore year began with a creative writing class where we were not really challenged, but allowed to write whatever we felt like writing.
I call my teenage years my dark period. I wrote some very violent and graphic short stories (horror mostly) because like every moody young man I read Stephen King and Clive Barker and wanted to write stories like them. I had dreams of being a best seller. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school I wrote a novel on a semi-electronic typewriter and entered it in the Avon Flare Novel Competition. Mine was one of 20 singled out for the winning slot, and I have always kicked myself that I did not edit the thing at all and would have become a published novelist overnight. It was full of horrible errors. It could also be because it was about a teenage werewolf who discovers his powers and gains revenge on all the "popular" people in high school before dying tragically in his new girlfriend's arms. I guess the world wasn't ready for supernatural romance.
In college I took creative writing classes, minoring in writing while majoring in English. I wrote a three act play based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, several short stories still in the line of horror/science fiction, and experimented with traditional form poetry. I also wrote a passion play for my church, cast the youth group, and had them perform it complete with costumes and make-shift lighting. It wasn't until I transferred to Oklahoma Baptist University that I really grew as a writer. I sat under some of the most amazing teachers who were themselves published fiction writers and poets. I found a mentor in Dr. Bill Mitchell, a poet who wrote a beautiful book of poems about the Christmas story Voices of the Advent. He helped me realize how much work must go into writing.
A student once went to Dr. Mitchell's office to ask him about something and caught him scribbling away on a piece of paper which he promptly stuck in his desk drawer. When the student asked what Dr. Mitchell was doing, he said: "I was working on a short story about my father. I have been working on it for thirty five years. I get to a certain place and I cannot continue." It was this kind of care and dedication that I learned from him, and from Dr. Laura Crouch who taught me how to be a meticulous editor. During my tutelage under the watchful wings of these two sages, I produced some very down to earth short stories and poetry that were attempts at a more literary design. I wrote about farm life (being a child of the country) and learned to write from my heart and from my own political and spiritual sensibilities. Out of this cam "Old Freck's Place", a short story I have now published to Kindle.
After college, I moved on and forgot about writing for a while. I had a computer, but used it for the normal productivity and gaming. I would get an idea for a novel and pigeon-hole it away. It wasn't until I met my wife and had a few children that I decided to take a stab at writing again. It wasn't until 2007 that I wrote Taking Down the Ladder (a novella about life on a farm) and then The Transgression Box (a satire of American Christianity) in 2009, and since then I have been daily working on some type of writing project. I have a notebook, all worn and faded, full of ideas and outlines for at least seven good novels that are not like anything I have seen in book stores. I plan to write them all eventually if I am allowed to live that long.
If you are a young writer just starting out or a well published best selling dynamo, my message for you today is to never forget your youthful dreams, stick to what you know, and keep at it. Writing is hard work. Only those who continue to work at it, hone their skills, listen to criticism and grow as writers will find success. Success does not have to be a best seller, and as long as you produce something well written and powerful that moves a few, you have done your job.