The parting words of my favorite college English teacher, Martha Hines, were, "Remember, Joe, a writer is a person who writes."

Of course a writer writes, I thought, what else? However, her encouraging words were tucked away for the future. Twenty years later, the real meaning of her words blossomed. A writer has to work at the craft regularly and not let decades slip away until he or she has more time. Then, I recalled an old joke about a young man looking for Carnegie Hall in New York. He stopped and old fellow he saw carrying a violin case and asked, "Sir, what's the best way to get to Carnegie Hall?"

"Practice," said the man, and walked on.

With the ghost of Miss Hines looking over my shoulder, practicing writing became a regular routine with a commitment to write for at least a half-hour or more every evening. Like an assignment I might give students in my class. Stories, articles, ideas all crowded in, despite teaching five classes a day together with lesson preparations and correcting students' work.

No more futuristic goal of becoming a writer someday. It was time to find out if I'd been kidding myself, or perhaps trying to impress people. If, at the end of two or three months, too much mishmash was filling the waste paper basket, so be it. I could forget about being a writer and go on to something else.


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However, five short stories followed (only two were any good), and, eventually, a column about running in the old Island Journal. That half-hour assignment had been a kick-start. Many hours of writing often followed.

A couple of things soon became apparent: 1) Write knowing you have to rewrite! 2) The process itself can generate its own creativity (true). Sitting around waiting for stimulating ideas won't get the job done. One has to get something on paper. How about that overweight guy who runs with his overweight dog nearly every morning. The exercise doesn't appear to be doing either of them any good. No. Wait. There were those two weird dogs I saw on Biak Island off New Guinea. Or other strange creatures living on the planet. Practice writing, and all manner of ideas begin to germinate.

Then I recalled another snatch of advice -- write about what you know. Thus, articles about running began. These blossomed into other areas where bits and chunks of knowledge had been stored over the years -- American history, psychology, important personalities, etc., etc.

Now, budding writer, it's your turn.

Oh! About those dogs I thought looked weird in New Guinea. One had a long body with short legs like an oversized dachshund. But, he had the large head of a bulldog or boxer. The other was a big terrier-type pooch, black fur, with a pig-like snout. Result of bizarre mating? Or had some macabre scientist been experimenting?

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.