I have been a reader since I learned how reading Donald Duck comic books in kindergarten. In first grade, Dick and Jane were boring compared to Scrooge McDuck diving in his three cubic acres of cash. I read most everything in sight. I have to know.
At home, there was a lot to read. The living room was dominated by a round oak dining table cut down to coffee table height. It was piled with newspapers, magazines, and books. My father had subscriptions to Time, Newsweek, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Outdoor Life, Redbook, National Geographic, and Cosmopolitan. Mother had Ladies Home Journal. I had Boy’s Life.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and the weekly Fruita Times were always there. Mother belonged to a book review club, and we had those Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. We had lots of railroad history and books about regional topics. I read it all. Well, not all. Father had Cosmopolitan and Redbook for the romances they ran every month. Not for me.
I read a lot of the stuff boys read in those days. Mark Twain, Jack London, Hemingway, Richard Henry Dana, James Thurber, and Dickens were influences. I think my biggest influences were Mark Twain, with his descriptions and humor, and Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years before the Mast. In fact, I think I will reread that one. It combined a great adventure for a young man with fine writing.
Today, most of my reading is nonfiction. John McPhee is my favorite writer. He writes on a wide range of subjects, almost all of his topics interest me. He does have a book about fish for some inscrutable reason. He combines humor, good stories about the people he finds, extensive research, and clear writing. I even read his fish book.
I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember, but I just could not muster the discipline to do so without the pressure of a school assignment. Instead, I read. I did do well with college writing assignments. I think I had assimilated enough good writing that I did well as long as the topic engaged me. Most topics did so for two reasons, I picked courses that engaged me, and instructors that challenged me.
I even wrote some papers for other students, usually forestry majors at Colorado State who could not write themselves out of a paper bag. I charged $10.00 per page, pretty good money in the late 1960’s. Strangely, I still could not write things for myself. I had to have a deadline.
At age 59, I found out why. I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. I got cognitive therapy and medication. The therapy gave me skills to cope with the disorder that are more effective than the adaptation I had used for many years, mainly making enough trouble to get my midbrain revved up enough to fire up my prefrontal lobes. The other method that worked was the pressure and anxiety of an upcoming deadline.
I still use those methods, but I can often just sit down and write. I still have to have a topic that engages me, and there are those times when the words just will not come. The ancients wrote about the Muses, goddesses who brought inspiration to writers, and how sometimes they just do not attend. I don’t know about the explanation, but I understand the problem.
I like to go to a coffee shop to write, it helps me focus on what I am doing. At home there are too many distractions. I used to call writing the hardest work known to humankind. Sometimes that is true; sometimes writing is easy and just flows out of me. I do know it is one of my favorite things to do.