Here is something that most of you realize consciously and that some of you realize subconsciously. I want to ensure that all of you realize it consciously so that is at the forefront of your mind as you write.
Here it is: there are two components to writing. There is the technical component and there is the content component.
The technical component includes spelling and grammar. But it is more than that. It is clear, concise, easily understood writing used in properly structured, and well structured, sentences, paragraphs and documents.
The content component includes writing that speaks to your target audience. Writing that conveys your purpose or reason for writing. Writing that captures attention so your reader will read. Writing that holds interest so that your reader will continue to read. Writing that influences attitude so your reader will think about acting. Writing that includes a clear call to action, if required, so that your reader will know how to, and when to, act.
When I mark assignments for my University of Toronto continuing educations students, I correct, when required, the technical aspects of writing. But, as important as strong technical writing is, I do not teach a technical writing course. I teach courses in Business Writing and Journalism. When you write assignments for such courses you need to keep clear and separate the technical and content components of writing. In fact, I urge students to put content first. You can edit your document to make it technically sound once you have written a solid draft of your document. Why spend time fixing technical errors when your content needs strengthening?
When I mark assignments, I place my emphasis on content. Does your content do all that I have asked for? In short, strong technical writing with weak content is ineffective writing. (Similarly, strong content that is lost in a multitude of technical errors or is not clear and concise or is poorly structured is also ineffective writing.)
Most of my students are strong technical writers. Most are also strong content writers. It is my hope that this blog post, reinforces the need to combine these two writing components to help make you an even stronger writer.
So now the two components of writing are clearly defined and you are conscious of the need to include both components in your writing.
Excerpt from The Atheist Chronicles:
…[A] political leader has recently done something to appease his religious base. Donald Trump, president of the United States, has moved the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. In 1995, the US Congress voted to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. But until Trump, both Republican and Democratic presidents resisted implementing the move, worried it could set off deadly violence. When Trump inaugurated the new Jerusalem embassy the death toll of Palestinian protesters exceeded fifty, including children.
But let’s forget about the violence that has accompanied the move for a moment and look at what so-called Christians are saying about the move. “We see the embassy as crucial to God’s timing to bring about the revelation of the messiah,” the Rev. David Swaggerty, leader of CharismaLife Ministries in Columbus, Ohio, said following a joint Christian-Jewish Bible study session hosted at the Israeli parliament the day before the embassy ceremony.
What are fanatical Jews saying? “The return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland and the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem is seen as a stage ultimately leading to the full messianic era,” said Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee‘s Department of Interreligious Affairs.
So both fanatical Jews and fundamentalist Christians see this embassy move as leading to the coming of Christ — only the Christians see it as the return of Christ and Jews see it as Christ finally getting here (because they didn’t buy into the Christ of the New Testament being the son of god). I suspect that both groups are going to be disappointed when Christ does not get here, for the first or second time.
Robert Jeffress, a pastor who preaches about the Rapture, delivered the new American embassy’s opening prayer. Jeffress has previously said that Mormons are heretics, Jews are fated to Hell, that Islam promotes pedophilia and that homosexuals are filthy. He prayed, “We thank you every day that you have given us a president who boldly stands on the right side of history, and more importantly on the right side of you, oh God, when it comes to Israel.”
Is the god of the Bible smiling contently at what this man says? If so, he is a sadistic, malicious god — or he would be if he existed.
Excerpted from The Atheist Chronicles:
Introduction to The Atheist Chronicles: Why the Beliefs of Theists of Every Stripe Are So Unbelievable
Dedicated to my father, John Lima, sadly deceased, who could out-fundamentalist any fundamentalist. I’m sure he’d say I was going to burn in Hell for writing this book. But that’s okay. I loved him in spite of what he believed, and I know he loved me in spite of what I didn’t.
I was raised a fundamentalist Christian. A Pentecostal. A theist.
My father believed that the earth is six thousand years old. In other words, god made the earth and the universe in six days, six thousand years ago. That would make the television series The Flintstones, a world in which human beings and dinosaurs co-existed, a documentary. On the seventh day, the Sabbath, god rested and we all had to go to church every Sunday ever since. Unless you are Jewish. If so, you do your worshipping at the synagogue on Saturday. Mind you, if you are Muslim, Friday is your holy day. My goodness, god gets a three-day weekend.
Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, my father believed. Eve was tempted by the Snake — a deceptive creature with no arms or legs and no ability to speak, as far as we know — to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that grew in the Garden. I think we’d all agree that there is good and evil in the world, but evidently humans should not have eaten of this fruit as we should not have been able to tell the difference between the two ways of being. As far as I’m concerned, Eve did not eat enough fruit off this tree!
Into this bizarre, fundamentalist belief, I was born. In fact, I was raised as an Italian Pentecostal. In a world where almost every Italian who is religious is Catholic, my family was a rare breed. We were part of a congregation of about four hundred who attended the Italian Pentecostal church at the corner of College and Montrose in Toronto, Canada. If you know the church and its location you might say, “Wait a minute. Wasn’t there another Italian Pentecostal church on Ossington Avenue, just south of Bloor Street, less than ten blocks from your church?”
I’d have to nod my head in agreement about the other Italian Pentecostal church. It had a congregation of about two hundred. However, these were the only two Italian Pentecostal churches in Toronto when I was growing up. By comparison, there are over two hundred Catholic churches in the city. So Italian Pentecostals are rare indeed.
If so rare, you are probably wondering, why were two Italian Pentecostal churches located in such close proximity? The answer is simple. This area of Toronto is known as Little Italy so it made sense for both churches to locate where the Italians in Toronto lived. But why two churches, instead of one larger Italian Pentecostal church? To answer that question, you need to know that Italian Pentecostals who attended the church on Ossington believed that you had to drain the blood from a chicken before you cooked it. The members of our congregation did not hold that belief. That’s why there were two groups of Italian Pentecostals, a minuscule sect of fundamentalist Christians, who are a sect of Christians, who are one sect of scores of religious factions in the world.
So each Italian Pentecostal congregation held different beliefs about what you had to do with a chicken before cooking it. Of course, being good Christians, the members of each church believed that the members of the other would, for their erroneous belief, rot in Hell.
With that in mind, I feel like I could end the book here — with two congregations of fundamentalists, each believing in the same god as described in the same Bible, thinking each other was going to Hell, all because of chicken blood. If that is not grounds for atheism, then nothing is! But I will carry on writing The Atheist Chronicles and outline the rationale for rabid theism and religion and my reasons for rabid atheism.
But first, I want to tell you when and why I lost my faith. I clearly remember the day. I was about six years old and a fervent believer in someone more important to me than god or Jesus. I remember a cousin, about two years older than I was, whisking me down a dark hall in the house where I grew up. He had something important to tell me. In the darkness of that hallway he whispered in my ear five words that I will never, ever forget: “There is no Santa Claus!”
I was totally devastated to learn that Santa Claus was fiction that our parents told us as a way to get us to behave all year long — unless we wanted lumps of coal in our stockings on Christmas morning. From there it was not much of a stretch to atheism. No Santa Claus, no god. No god, no Jesus. No Jesus, no Heaven or Hell. No Heaven or Hell, no carrot and stick prodding one to live by all strange rules of the Pentecostal religion.
That did not mean, released from rules of religion, I became a juvenile delinquent, a criminal or even an asshole — not a big one. After all, we have secular laws to keep us in place. And I find that most people, not all people, are inherently decent. In fact, some of the biggest jerks I know are members of the so-called religious right: the people who found in their hearts the ability to vote for the opposite of everything their religion allegedly stands for by electing Donald Trump — a lying, racist, sexist, belligerent, ignorant sinner — President of the United States of America.
If that too is not grounds for atheism, then nothing is! But this is not a book about politics. So with that digression out of the way, I will return to my look at atheism and the grounds for it and my look at theism and the grounds against it. This book primarily addresses monotheist religious zealots, known as fundamentalist Christians. However, it cannot do that without some background on the history and evolution of religion. And it will touch on other religious sects now and then to give the evolution of religious beliefs and god worship necessary context.
Read more about The Atheist Chronicles: Why the Beliefs of Theists of Every Stripe Are So Unbelievable
I’ve done it. I’ve written my memoir, The Accidental Writer. It contains sex. It contains violence (if getting kicked in the nuts is violent enough for you). It contains writing. And there is a lot more in the book, like how I became an accidental dad and accidental dog lover.
As the author, I am biased, but I feel I’ve produced an entertaining and engaging book.
I had a blast writing it and now think that all writers over 60 should write their memoirs, as I told one writer I know. He said something that got me thinking. He said, “My memoir would be as boring as watching paint dry.” (Yes, writers are allowed to use cliches.)
My reply was immediate: “When writing your memoir, you leave the boring bits out!” In other words, you are not writing a comprehensive autobiography. If I were to write such a book even I, the writer, would be asleep before I got to the end of chapter one.
With that in mid, here’s what you need to write an entertaining and engaging memoir.
- You need to determine your theme. The theme gives your memoir focus. My theme is accidental, as in I am an accidental writer even though I have been writing for 50 years, the last 40 as a paid, as in professional, writer. Once I had established the theme of accidental, I expanded it beyond writing — to fatherhood and dog ownership. Hence the title and subtitle of my book:
The Accidental Writer: A Memoir
Didn’t know rules of grammar; became a writer
Had a vasectomy; became a dad
Liked cats; became a dog loverWith that in mind, what’s your theme? I am not saying having one will enable you to write your memoir. I am saying that without one, writing your memoir will be a chore that results in a book that lacks focus. But I am not saying your memoir can only be about your theme. You can move beyond it in ways that relate to it and in ways that don’t. Your theme will pull you back and keep you focused.
- You need to determine your tone. My tone is jocular or tongue-in-cheek. Just as I digress from my theme, I digress from my tongue-in-cheek tone and cover some serious material. But I always come back to the tone of my book. Like my theme, it helps keep the book focused.
- Finally, you need a style. My style is apologetic. No, I do not apologize for who I am. I keep on promising that my book will be chronological, which it is and it is not. When it is not, which is not frequently, I apologize for it not being chronological and try, in my jocular style, to get back to being chronological, which I do for a while, and then start to jump around in time. In fact (spoiler alert), the book ends about two-thirds of the way through my life. But I relate that ending, in a jocular manner, to my theme.
I am not saying your theme, tone or style has to mirror mine in any way, shape or form. I am saying you need to find your theme, tone and style.
And if you finish your first draft and think, ‘Well, this is sh*t’ may I say that you are a writer. You know that the first draft of anything is sh…
If you think you might want to self-publish your book (I’ve self-published 15 books) read Mini-review of Produce, Price and Promote Your Self-Published Book and eBook and if you’ve never written a book before, take a look at How To Write A Non-Fiction Book in 60 Days.
So before you sit down to write your memoir, even before you start to gather the content for your memoir, think theme, tone and style. And then put together the content for your entertaining and engaging, or serious and engaging, memoir. Write your shitty first draft. And then edit the heck out of your book about you!
If you like series written by and starring Ricky Gervais, you will love season one of After Life, a six episode comedy (and I use the word “comedy” loosely) on Netflix. In After Life, the wife of main character, Tony (Ricky Gervais) dies after a prolonged battle with illness. Tony’s nice-guy persona is altered into an curmudgeonly one as he combats depression, views videos his wife has left him and that he has taken of fun pranks he pulled on her and generally doesn’t give a shit about life, friends and co-workers.
He contemplates suicide and the only reason he doesn’t off himself is because he has a dog who needs to be fed. (As a dog owner, I can empathize with the need to feed your best friend.) He also visits his father, who is in a seniors’ home, and kind of mentors a new writer at the community newspaper where he works, while driving many of his co-workers crazy with his antics and attitude. (By way of aside, the various headlines you see in the paper are hilarious and, evidently, all taken from or based on headlines that have appeared in various community newspapers.)
So why do I use the word “comedy” loosely to describe After Life? After all, Gervais is a funny guy. The Office, Extras, his stand-up specials (including his hosting of the Golden Globes), and other work he’s done has always been hilarious. In much of the work he’s done though, there has always been a hint of, even a dollop of, tenderness. In After Life, Gervais skillfully combines the ingredients of an engaging premise, intriguing characters, humor, tenderness, touching moments, and even a hint of drama into the perfect series cake. (I call my cake “carrot”, my favorite flavor; you can chose your favorite cake flavor.)
With only six 30-minute episodes in season one, the series flies by way to quickly, and yet is fully developed and resolved. In short, if you have previous give series written by and starring Ricky Gervais a 7, 8 or 9 out of 10, you will give After Life a 12+. It really is that good. If you want an entertaining and redeeming romp through life after a major loss, go forth and watch After Life. Can’t wait for season two,
These are three short passages from a very rough beginning of Family Tree, a novel, historical fiction, that I may be writing. I am looking for feedback. Feel free to post detailed feedback here (or email it to email@example.com), or simply let me know if, based on the prologue, you think you might be interested in reading the book — especially if you like historical fiction.
Family Tree Prologue
Germany February 1945
The bombing of Dresden was an intense British and American aerial attack on the capital of the German state of Saxony during World War II. In four raids over two days in February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. Over 20,000 people were killed. And at least one tree south of the city was almost mortally damaged.
Some of the planes that were meant to bomb Dresden came under flack attack and dropped their bombs before reaching their destination. The bombs of one plane fell just south of Dresden and exploded close to an ancient Linden tree, reducing it to a bit of branchless trunk protruding out of the earth. However, its root system remained intact.
When the bombs fell near the ancient Linden, the branches of more than fifty Linden trees in England, the United States and Canada shook violently. The roots of these trees sent out a silent scream, electrical impulses that travelled towards Germany. The impulses crossed the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel and were picked up by Linden trees within a 1,000 miles radius of the old Linden that had been all but destroyed by the fall of the wayward bombs.
The trees that picked up the impulses replied. “Do not worry. We will feed the roots of your father.” And with that, they sent food through the soil to the old tree, keeping its roots and what was left of its trunk alive.
The land of the Saxons, a Germanic tribe that occupied the North Sea coast of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, often flooded. The frequent flooding made it difficult to yield enough crops to feed the Saxon population. Many Saxons crossed the English Channel, looking for new places to settle and farm. But Great Britain was occupied by the Romans who killed many Saxons and drove those that they did not kill back home. And so, at the start of the fourth century, the Saxons sent in their armies and the battle for supremacy over Great Britain began.
When the Saxon armies first crossed into Britain, they too were beaten back by the Romans, as the Saxon settlers had been. They were repulsed by Roman soldiers guarding Hadrian’s wall. The wall, 80 miles long and stretching from sea to sea, seemed impenetrable. It had been built on the orders of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and was meant to separate the Romans from the barbarians who inhabited Britain before the Saxon invasion. However, in 368, the Saxons stopped trying to penetrate the wall and started a year-long series of raids meant to demoralize the Romans by killing Roman soldiers who were protecting the wall, destroying Roman installations along the wall and by looting villages near the wall. These raids led to the Roman abandonment of Hadrian’s Wall.
An uneasy co-existence between Romans and Saxons in Britain began, with intermittent raids and battles taking place. However, in 383, more Saxon armies sailed across the English Channel to fight the Romans. The Romans were having problem at home and their armies in Great Britain were beginning to leave the island to join Roman legions in Rome. The newly arrived Saxons helped to drive the remaining Romans legions out of Great Britain before settling down to farm the lush land they now called home.
Megan, a Saxon warrior, marched as chief at the head of her father’s old warband. Although Saxon warriors lacked the discipline of Roman battalions, the warriors in the warband were professionals, fed and paid by their leader. Megan had to battle three Gedriht, who had been followers of her father, for the privilege of leading the warband. After she defeated her third opponent, the challenges from the men who aspired to lead the warband ceased. She kept the men she had defeated as her Gedriht, personal followers who were sworn to die with her should the need arise. Each Gedriht led a troop of Geoguth, or young warriors. They formed the bulk of the warband and carried shields, spears and Seaxes or single-edged daggers or short swords. Few had helmets or armour, but all fought with great abandon for their leader.
Megan and her Gedriht wore helmets and chainmail armour and proudly carried their Gars, 2.5-meter long spears with ash shafts. In addition to her Gar she carried with her a small satchel that contains her few belongings and five seeds from the Linden tree that grew by her parents hut on the small plot of land that they farmed. Her father had taught her all she knew of fighting and battle. He had led the warband until injured in battle. When injured, he settled down with his wife to farm a plot of land granted to him by his cyning or king.
When Megan told her father that his old warband, her new one, would be sailing for Great Britain he gave her five Linden seeds and said, “When you find a place to lay your head and to raise your children, plant them as I planted our Linden when your mother told me she was pregnant with you. Then give five seeds to your first born and tell your child to do likewise. For this is our family tree and it should stay with our family forever.”
Toronto, Canada and Dresden, Germany, 2020
Alwin Linden, his wife Mary and their daughter Ashley landed at Dresden airport at one o’clock in the afternoon, Dresden time. They had taken the ten-hour flight from Toronto to Dresden and, although they were each feeling jet-lagged, it did not take them long to retrieve what little luggage they had brought. Unlike many large international airports, the arrival and departure areas at the Dresden airport are combined and there is even a viewing platform under the same roof where one can watch planes take off and land. While the airport has its own motorway exit and S-Bahn or city rapid railway station, the Lindens dragged their luggage through the concourse in search of the exit where the Meyers, a family they only knew from online chatting, said they should meet.
It didn’t take long for the Lindens to find the Myers. Everett Myers was standing with his wife, Blythe, and their daughter, Hanna. Hanna was holding a cardboard sign with the name Linden scrawled on it in black marker. Although the families had never met, other than online, they hugged like long lost friends, or relatives. And presuming Ancestry DNA was correct, they were indeed long lost relatives, connected centuries ago by Saxon blood and the ancient lineage of a family tree.
This is an excerpt from a memoir that I am writing, The Accidental Writer. It focuses on life in high school, Bloor Collegiate Institute (BCI) in Toronto. Hope to have the book available this summer.
I have some distinct high school memories. Not a lot, but some. Very few of them have anything to do with what was going on in the classroom. The classroom was boring and repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, I learned stuff in school. I’ve even retained some of that knowledge. But I don’t remember day-to-day classroom learning activities.
I do remember one day in French class in grade ten, a bunch of guys (I honestly don’t remember if I was one of them) picked up this skinny guy, a nice guy named Ron, and tossed him out the second floor window. There was a very wide ledge, so he did not fall to the ground. The guys then shut the window and pulled down all the blinds. When the teacher came in, we were all pounding on our desks to mask the sound of Ron pounding on the window. The teacher asked us what we were doing, but we continued to pound away. She shook her head like we were all crazy and then asked why it was so dark in the room. She went to the window and opened the blinds, and there was Ron standing on the ledge, pounding on the window. And that, your honour, is why to this day I speak no French.
I have a few other in-class memories like that. In other words, none of my in-class memories have to do with learning. And yet I learned, barely. But I learned enough to pass high school, barely.
As I said, most of my high school memories have to do with extracurricular activities and with drinking beer, often too much beer. And a few with getting stoned.
I played football, but not very well. As a chubby kid, I was put on the line and told to block — to defend the quarterback, who was Rob Sotnick when we were in grade thirteen. I remember ducking a lot so I wouldn’t get pounded by defensive linemen. And I remember this: in the last quarter of the last game of the grade thirteen season, we were about ten yards from the opposition goal line. Rob was a decent quarterback, but in three years of quarterbacking (he was only my quarterback in grade thirteen because he was a year older than I was so he played at an older level than I did until grade thirteen) Rob had never scored a touchdown. He had passed for many and handed off for many. But he had never scored. With emotion in his voice — look at that, I remember his voice quaking — he called for a quarterback sneak. The players in the huddle called “break” (which was what we said once the play had been called) with particular enthusiasm — even me. Damn it, I was going to block the hell out of my opposing defensive lineman and help Rob get his touchdown. The snap was on three. I jumped out prematurely on two, I was that pumped. Rob scored, but the play was called back. Offside. I remember hearing Rob say, “Who was offside.” Somebody said, “Lima.” Somebody else — the half-back Gary — said, “Kick him in the head, Sotnick!”
Shit, I failed enough for lack of trying. But even when I tried, I managed to fail.
The ball was moved back ten yards. We failed to score on the next play and had to give up the ball. See, that is the kind of fun stuff I remember from high school. That, and as I said, drinking beer and smoking pot.
Having said that, I was in the drama club in grades twelve and thirteen. I wasn’t very good but I was in two plays, I Remember Mama and another one that I don’t remember. I played the father in both plays, minor roles befitting the quality of my acting. Of the two plays I remember one line — “Trotsky!” — although I don’t remember which play it was from. In the play, I was heading to the washroom and had a book. My wife asked me what I was reading. My reply was “Trotsky!” The director had to explain to me that this was funny because I was going to the bathroom and Trotsky was a play on the word “trots”, slang for diarrhea, at least it was when the play had been written. Ha-ha. The line never got a laugh the three times, at least I think it was three times, we performed whichever play it was.
I don’t remember auditioning, rehearsals or even performances, other than one night one of the actors hit a lamp with his hand while making a gesture. The lamp broke and cut him; he had to get his hand bandaged up next time he was off stage, and the play went on.
Ah, the show must go on. As must life. As must my memoir. Well, I guess my memoir doesn’t have to go on, but I choose to continue to move my fingers over the keyboard and make squiggles known as letters show up on the screen.
I do recall other things about high school. Not a lot. But there are other memories. For instance, I had a girlfriend in grade eleven. She was in grade nine. I swear Francis picked me. I knew guys were supposed to have girlfriends, but I didn’t know what guys were supposed to do with girlfriends. I didn’t know how to date a girl or socialize with one. I had only had a couple of episodes that involved kissing up to that point, not that I remember much about kissing, other than spitting after my first French kiss, after the girl was gone. I was, how shall I put this, rather disgusted with the exchange of saliva. You’d think I’d remember the name and face of the first girl I kissed, and where we were and when I kissed her. I don’t. All I recall is spitting afterwards.
Don’t get me wrong, I fantasized about women and jerked off while doing so, but beyond my fantasies, which were total fiction, I did not know what to do with, or how to be with, a real woman. Rather than admitting to any of that, I simply broke up with Francis, a sweet, gregarious, fun person who liked to laugh and had a great sense of humour. (What the heck was she doing with sourpuss me?)
I ran into her on Facebook recently and apologized for how we broke up. She is now a mother of three, with nine grandkids. Facts that this dad of one sired by another man finds kind of overwhelming. When I apologized, she digitally shrugged her shoulders and said it was no big deal. In the overall scheme of things, I know she is right. I mean every guy I knew was dating and breaking up, other than a couple of guys. They were either not dating at all or dated one girl and married their high school sweetheart, but eventually got divorced. So I’m sure Francis and I would have broken up eventually. It’s just that I don’t like the fact that we broke up because of my ignorance over how to be in a relationship.
Part way through grade twelve I started to date Ana and she became the love of my life. We broke up in the fall of 1972, before the start of the Canada-U.S.S.R. summit series — an eight-game showdown between hockey’s two superpowers. We got back together the day the last game was played. I remember Ana and I talking somewhere while the last game was on. I was so in love with her that I skipped the last game of the series to talk things through with her and to get back together.
(For what it’s worth, Canada only won that series because of Bobby Clarke’s cowardly and sickening game six slash on Russia’s best player, Valeri Kharlamov. The slash broke Kharlamov’s ankle. It may have been the turning point for Team Canada but winning the tournament set back hockey in Canada forever. Okay, I’ll get off my hokey hockey soap box now.)
And of course, at the end of grade thirteen when I told Ana that I imagined us eventually living together as I continued to write my abysmal poetry (only I left out the word “abysmal”) and she worked at whatever she wanted to do, she broke up with me. I was heading off to wander aimlessly through university; she was off to work for an airline and to have a real life. She clearly saw the fact that there would be no long term fit with me. That and I guess she didn’t want to support a miserable poet. Now that was grounds for breaking up!
Ah, I have more high school memories, but they hardly seem worth telling. For what do they have to do with me becoming an accidental writer, an accidental dad and an accidental dog lover. Speaking of which, the dog is asking to go for his afternoon walk, so this seems like a good time to end chapter five.
Again, this is an excerpt from a memoir that I am writing, The Accidental Writer. It focuses on life in high school, at BCI. Hope to have the book available this summer. If you want to be notified when the book is available, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Accidental Update”.
Introduction to The Accidental Writer
I have been one of Canada’s most successful freelance writers and one of the country’s most successful freelance trainers. Now before freelance writers and trainers who have been more successful than I have been start to say, “Hey, wait a minute. Not as successful as me!” please reread my opening line. I said “one of Canada’s most,” not “the most.” I’ve not been the most successful freelancer. But still, I’ve done okay.
I started out as a full-time copywriter way back when, became a freelance journalist and then a six-figure freelance corporate writer and author of over a dozen books on business writing, promotional writing, online writing and the business of freelance writing. When I added training (business writing, promotional writing, online writing and media interview preparation) to the list of services that I offered, my soaring income soared to even greater heights.
But why am I using past tense here? As of this writing, I am 64 years old. I have multiple sclerosis (MS), and it’s fair to say that I am more retired than not retired, although I teach online writing courses for the University of Toronto and conduct the occasional writing webinar. But for the most part, I am simply having fun writing this memoir and outlining a novel, one that I am not sure I will ever write. Time will tell.
The fact is, I am an accidental writer. I am also an accidental dad and an accidental dog lover. Stick with me, because this book will explain it all. And it will take a few digressions into other aspects of my history along the way.
Some people might call this book a memoir. Some might call it an autobiography. There is a difference, or so I’ve been told by writers who are more knowledgeable about such things. But just as there is a difference, there is also a spectrum. When it comes to writing like this, the spectrum might have a strict definition of memoir at one end and of autobiography at the other. But there is a heck of a lot of room in between for writing that is a bit of both or somewhat more of one and less of another.
It’s kind of like the spectrum for gender and sexual orientation. Not that I am in the middle of either of those spectrums, although there is some, limited, same sex fooling around in my life. And, come to think of it, there are a whole lot of guys out there who are much more macho than I am. In fact, you might say, if you were to invoke stereotypes, that I have a strong feminine side. But I digress, as I warned you I would, in an autobiographical manner that has nothing to do with my becoming an accidental writer.
However, to be clear, I do feel this book belongs somewhere on that spectrum, the literary one, not the gender or sexual orientation one. It is a memoir about how I became a writer and trainer and dad and dog lover. But it is also an autobiography, one that leaves out a lot of stuff about me. So this work fits somewhere on the spectrum.
But before we get on with the book, here is a bit about memory, which is an important component of this book. Memory does not work like a DVD waiting to be played. It is not stored like a video file waiting to be downloaded or streamed. Memories are formed in networks across the brain and every time they are recalled they can be subtly altered. (At least that is what I’ve read online.) At the same time, I know people whose memories are much more vivid than mine are and I know people who are much more emphatic about what they remember. For instance, many people know exactly where they were when they heard that John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was assassinated. I haven’t got a clue where I was. But a friend of mine remembers, and I am in his memory. So we were at the same place at the same time. He says we were walking home from public school when several boys walking down the street stopped us and told us the news.
It was November 22, 1963. I was nine years old, about to turn ten in four days, and in grade four. I was not in a great mood because an aunt was getting married on November 26, my birthday. That meant I would not be having a birthday party but would be at her reception. So I remember being peeved that there would be no birthday party for me; I do not recall hearing that JFK had been killed. Priorities.
On the other hand, I remember where I was when I heard the news in the early 1980s that a passenger jet had been shot down. I was working as a copywriter for Radio Shack, the company that is now known as The Source. I remember feeling depressed about the loss of life. Who would kill all those innocent people and why? However, I don’t remember how I heard this news, what country the downed plane belonged too (although South Korea comes to mind) or what country shot it down (but I have a nagging feeling that it was Russia, but I could be wrong).
So why remember some things and not others? And why have holes of various sizes in some of the things that I remember? For instance, I remember where I was on 9/11 and how I heard the news that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. I also remember who I immediately told about it. Perhaps it has to do with age and with what else is going on in life at a particular time, as much it does with the event itself. As in I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday — unless what I had for lunch was particularly spectacular, which it wasn’t if I prepared the meal — but if a major political figure or famous person had died yesterday, I suspect I’d remember that.
With that in mind, most of my memories in this book are suspect. In some ways, this book feels like a work of fiction; I feel like I’m making up characters and events. But I can assure you that this book is not fiction. I am not lying, at least not deliberately lying. This book is me, as best as I can remember myself, becoming a writer … a dad … a dog lover. All accidentally.
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