My Road to Writing

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

– Ernest Hemingway

 

Writing has always been a passion of mine. Actually, let me be more specific. Creating stories has always been a passion of mine. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to tell stories. There was just something about creating a vivid tale of adventure and wonder that really fascinated me. I can’t explain why I was so enthusiastic about producing such tales, but I can tell you that it’s become a major part of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I slightly remember the first story I ever wrote, back in first grade. Bear in mind, this was more than 20 years ago, so the details might be sketchy. My class had a Teddy bear that each student would be allowed to take home for a few days (don’t ask me why or how this helped with education). For some reason, I wanted to write a story about this bear. Again, since it was so long ago, I don’t remember many details. I can only recall handwriting the entire book and drawing the people with stick fingers and big blank eyes. Coming from a six-year-old, I’m sure it was a decent little story. It’s a shame that this little booklet is probably long gone. I would’ve loved to have kept it as a little memento of my history in writing.

As I grew older, I became more and more interested in honing my craft and becoming a more avid writer. There was this school newsletter that used to come around every month, and within its pages you would find student-penned articles and stories. I thought to myself, “Hey, I should submit a story!”. So I cracked out my dad’s typewriter (yeah, we had a typewriter), and got to work. The story was about a detective named Alex Rico who was tasked with solving a case of a missing jewel or something. There was almost no conflict, no developed characters, and no real plot. It was the most basic story you can imagine. Detective is hired to find something, he finds it, the end. Looking back, I think it’s silly that I was so proud of something like that. But at the time, my face lit up with joy when I first saw my name and my words printed within the school circular. I felt like a celebrity!

Over the next couple of years, I continued to write; however, I never really finished what I started. I remember starting a story called “Prisoners War” and just completely abandoning it. I honestly can’t tell you what it was called or what it was about, but the name stuck with me. Maybe one day I’ll find a proper story to tie into that title…

In fourth grade, I had changed schools, and you can imagine my surprise when I found out my new class had a Teddy bear as well. Yeah, I can’t tell you why. I’m guessing he was our class mascot? Who knows? Anyway, we were actually supposed to complete a major assignment where we wrote an entire narrative about the bear. I already had experience writing about Teddy bears going on adventures, so I knew this would be a cakewalk. Once again, my memory decided to block out a certain portion of my childhood, and I’m left wondering what the hell I ended up writing. For all I know, I probably never finished that assignment. Uh, oh…

The next few years put a damper on my writing spirit. I was never a great student. I wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t exactly Honor Roll material either. I think I was just easily distracted in class. Anyway, there was a period in fifth or sixth grade where I actually had to go to a tutoring session to improve my writing. Every Friday, I would spend an hour or so at the end of the day meeting with this tutor. The entire second half of the year involved her helping me write a lengthy persuasive essay of my choosing (I wrote a convincing thesis about why Pokemon cards should be allowed in school – don’t judge). I didn’t think that my writing was that terrible, but apparently it was bad enough for me to see a tutor. Alas, I might never know, unless I can get my hands on that essay (obviously, it wasn’t that good since Pokemon cards were still banned by the time I left the school).

My whole writing shtick went on hold for a while. I didn’t think it was meant for me. I had it ingrained in my mind that I just wasn’t that great of a writer. Oh, who cares? I decided to pursue a more attainable career. I would become a robotic engineer!

You think I’m kidding?

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Family man and robotic engineer at 21 – ambitious much?

 

Fortunately, the writing bug would come back to bite me soon enough.

In seventh grade English class, one of our assignments was to complete a short story about our lives told through vignettes. Somehow, I excelled in this assignment and managed to deliver some high quality written material. If only I had held onto it. That settles it – I’m definitely going to make my children save all their crafts when they’re young.

Eighth grade English class was a whole different story. We had to complete daily journal entries as part of our overall participation grade, and let’s just say that I was not too enthusiastic about it. I think I only hit the minimum amount of pages once throughout the entire year. It was a tedious task for me, and I couldn’t find the enthusiasm to write on demand. I think that trait has stayed with me to this day. It’s very difficult for me to churn out certain writing prompts when I’m put on the spot. I need the ability to think and write freely, as do most writers. You can’t rush art, am I right?

My writing kicked it into high gear the summer before 9th grade. That summer, I had caught something that completely knocked me off my feet. Whatever it was, it made me cough literally every minute of the day. I’m not exaggerating one bit. My entire summer consisted of me hacking up a lung. Some nights, I would wake up wheezing and gasping for air because it felt like something was caught in my throat. It was frightening to say the least, and it was even scarier when multiple doctors told me they couldn’t find what was wrong. I didn’t know what to do except stay indoors to avoid any possible allergy triggers.

By this time, my family had decided to finally step foot into the 21st century and purchase a computer. While I spent most of my solitary confinement playing Age of Empires or browsing movie mistakes, I thought I’d try something new. I began to write a story. That story was the seed that would eventually turn into my first novel, Dodger’s Doorway.

In the beginning, the story had a totally different premise. It involved a Spartan/Athenian war in Ancient Greece, and featured the powers of the Greek gods (I was really into Greek mythology at that point of my life). The story would then follow three young boys finding special medallions that transported them to Ancient Greece and allowed them to harness the powers of the gods to fight in the war.

For the next few years, I tinkered and toyed with the concept (don’t worry – my sickness mysteriously disappeared by the end of that summer). I kept changing the story around, always keeping that single core aspect of teenagers traveling to another time period/world. I liked that whole concept of a fish out of water trying to adapt to new surroundings. I also liked the idea of a younger underdog coming out on top. Obviously, I drew inspiration from my favorite stories at the time like Harry Potter and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

In addition to all this, I had a strange obsession with the concept of various fictional characters meeting one another. What if someone like Robin Hood happened to meet Beowulf? Or what if Achilles and Jack the Giant-Killer were companions? In my mind, there was an entire universe where fictional characters roamed and interacted with one another. It was my job to bring that world to life.

By the time I finished high school, I had created an entire fictional world as well as a cast of lovable and quirky characters (some made up, some borrowed from the Literary public domain). The story would be called The Bronzehammer Legacy, and it would be the greatest fantasy novel to hit the shelves since The Lord of the Rings.

… probably in the same alternate universe where I became a family-oriented robotic engineer at the age of 21.

I put The Bronzehammer Legacy on the back-burner for the next few years as I focused on more important matters in my life, such as friends, dating, college, and work. Looking back, I’m upset that I put off my passion for so long. Those were years I could’ve spent further developing my skills in writing.

It wasn’t until my second year of college that I began the current story for Dodger’s Doorway. The idea just clicked in my mind one day during a creative writing class. I knew what I wanted to write about, and I knew how to bring the story to life. The moment my fingers hit the keyboard, I was unstoppable. The story practically began to write itself. Every day, I would knock out another couple of pages. The tale was playing in front of my eyes like a movie. I saw the outcast teenager Dodger, who would stumble into a mystical world populated by characters from mythology and folklore. He would team up with Humpty Dumpty and Rumpelstiltskin, and together they would go on many adventures. It was happening. The story was coming to life.

It took me about a year and a half, but when I wrote that last word of Dodger’s Doorway, I felt so proud of myself. I thought I had created a masterpiece. Can you blame me for being so optimistic when I had finally finished writing a book by the age of 21? I thought it was truly a work of art.

I spent the better part of the year sending the manuscript out to publishers and agents, hoping someone would see the massive potential behind the story. No bites – just a handful of rejections. Nobody seemed too thrilled with the story. In my mind, it was like they were stepping right over buried treasure. Was I doing something wrong, or were people just oblivious?

I decided to take an alternative route: self-publishing! Why not? I could skip the hassle of dealing with agents and publishing houses and get my book out there ASAP. There’s nothing to lose, right? Let me tell you, I was beyond excited when I held that first physical copy of Dodger’s Doorway in my hands.

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August 19th, 2011, Dodger’s Doorway was officially published.

I sold a fair amount of copies at first, mostly to friends and family. I researched different marketing ideas to find out how to get my book “out there”, and managed to close a few outside sales. I even had my book placed in my old high school’s library. You know you made the big time when you have your own call number.

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My good mood lasted for a year before it began to dwindle. What was next on my agenda? I had a sequel planned, and I was already in the middle of writing it, but there was something else that felt missing. I knew there was a problem. But what was it?

For the first two years out of college, I worked as a technician and a customer service representative for an insurance company. With my Bachelor’s Degree in English, I had hoped to get a job in the writing field, but it took a while to get there. I got my first official writing job at a company doing brand management. Want to hear something funny? It was on this day, exactly three years ago, that I started that job. Isn’t that spooky? I became a full-time writer on June 17th, 2013.

I spent the next several months writing for work and putting my personal endeavors on hold. By the end of each work day, I was so burnt out that I didn’t even want to look at a keyboard. Eventually, I found the time to go back and check out Dodger’s Doorway, and I was in for a rude awakening.

First of all, I saw a review on Goodreads that really got to me. The reviewer was brutally honest about the poor quality of my writing. She called out my shoddy proofreading, my misspelled words, and the fact that the entire story felt like a Mary Sue fan-fiction. Understandably, I was upset about this particularly harsh review, so I decided to conduct my own investigation.

Dear lord, she was right.

I don’t know why I thought Dodger’s Doorway was ready to be published. I immediately pulled Dodger’s Doorway from sales channels and issued a statement about rewrites (and by issued a statement, I mean I made a Facebook status). Thankfully, my past couple of months of writing every day had turned me into a rather skillful writer. The thing most people don’t understand is that writing is like a muscle. You have to regularly work out if you want it to get stronger. With all these experience, I felt like the writer equivalent of King Leonidas in 300.

While I busied myself with rewriting Dodger’s Doorway, I experienced a major turnaround in my life. I was laid off from my writing gig. It was pretty depressing, but I tried to look on the bright side and used my new free time to my advantage. As I spent the next three months searching for jobs, I was also diligently working on creating a high-quality version of Dodger’s Doorway.

It was two years ago this week that I started at my new job (seriously, June must be like a pivotal time of my life when it comes to jobs). I was now writing articles for a business website. At the same time, I picked up a side gig for a site where I wrote about comic books and superheroes (having read comics since I was 14, this was like a dream come true). My life was now fully consumed by writing in one form or another. Somehow, I was still able to get to work on Dodger’s Doorway’s 2nd edition, and by September 2014, I had finished. At the same time, I had also finished writing and editing the sequel, Return to Storyworld. Now it was time to get back out there!

I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice, so I was extremely careful before sending my manuscript to be published. I hired both a professional editor and a friend of mine with a ton of experience to edit the story. There was a lot to fix, both in terms of grammar and story structure. I wanted the story to be as perfect as can be, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to be a completely different story than the first edition. I had to carefully seal up any plot holes while keeping the basic elements of my book . It took about a year, but by November 2015, Dodger’s Doorway was back on the shelves in a new and improved edition!

My next mission was to get the book into the right hands. I contacted all my friends and family who had purchased the first edition and gave them a free new copy. I also became more aggressive with my marketing this time around. I created an actual author page on Facebook and modified my Instagram to be more in-line with my authorship goals. I stepped up my marketing game by creating merchandise such as bookmarks, t-shirts, posters, and more. The past three years had taught me all about branding, so I knew exactly how to get my name out there besides just shouting at people to buy my book.

The biggest step for me in my author adventure has been running my own booth at Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con about two weeks ago. I’m actually going to save that story for my next blog post, which will be the first of many tip articles that I’ll be featuring on my blog.

The whole point of this site is to not only give people a glimpse of my life in writing, but to also provide an education to anyone else who wants to become a writer. As you can probably tell from this lengthy post, I’ve been through it all. I’m going to do my best to ensure people don’t make the same mistakes that I did, and I hope that my readers can learn something from my teachings.

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

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