Budding Writer, 1978-79: The Uncommon Era

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Bright Angel Sunrise at the Grand Canyon, North Rim, August 22, 2003. If you look closely at the horizon, you’ll see that even 20 years ago the Southwest had the haze from wildfires that plague the Northeast this summer. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

This post marks an anniversary of sorts. It was on this date, 45 years ago, that I declared my independence.

1 August 1978
The First Day of the Uncommon Era

… I have begun this journal under a variety of motivations — Dave Heywood’s announcement of making one (anything you can do , I can do better, Dave); my decision to leave law school and strike out on my own, which takes effect with the mailing of my leave requests today; my own attempts at making entries in Libellus Meus; my long-dreamed-of-diary and autobiographies.

I describe this as the first day of the Uncommon Era because this marks my emergence as a dedicated, and perhaps professional, writer. A daily journal will serve as a record and repository for memories and experiences; it will force regular writing and planning; it will serve in self-analysis and review. In short, it will bring about a less common existence in my life and help me live it to its fullest. Although I have not yet had a response to my first magazine submission I consider myself a writer now — what I’ve always wanted.

1 August 1978

And so I set out on a journey to become a Writer. A year later, taking stock, I gave it mixed reviews:

… Now, a reflection on the Uncommon Era. So far, it’s been a little too common. Encouraging points: I am supporting myself writing, I’m doing what I like to do, and at least my boss seems to think I’m doing it well. It looks as if God has a plan for me, steering me away from things that are not quite right, possibly toward something that is. I hope. And I have become disciplined about my writing, and thoughtful, and fluent. I’ve sold fact and fiction and have enjoyed dabbling with short stories.

Discouraging points: Lately, I feel that my work quality at the paper has slackened — a bad time to do so. Not only that, but I’m reduced to living in the House — which indicates I haven’t been any too successful. Now add that living in has cramped my free time writing allotment, and that my general discomfort has made me unwilling even to do the work of cleaning up after myself, let alone getting down to writing: the scene gets pretty miserable.

There is a bright prospect, however; there always is. This time, it’s that no matter what happens with the Gazette, things are opening up enough at the J-O that I could conceivably take over some new territory. This could enable a move to there, where I would be close to work and off by myself to write. There is potential. By God, there has to be, or we’d all go crazy.

But so far, the Uncommon Era has been pretty common. Not that it was not expected.

1 August 1979

And that’s the end of my first year as a writer — a very common “Uncommon Era.” From here, I took a two-week hiatus. The journal continues as I move to Bradford, Vermont, to settle into the life of a small-town newspaperman.

But that’s an entirely different story, a new chapter in my life. Let me know if you’d like to read it.


2 thoughts on “Budding Writer, 1978-79: The Uncommon Era

  1. Something unexpected, back then you considering yourself and work “common.” It is my experience that nothing could be further from the truth. Something in me is proud of you making your own way in the world, getting on with the business of life, and something in me is impressed by your seizing the potential in your own fashion and to your own drummer. Sure wasn’t easy. You got all the skills and research capabilities by the doing of it, and have MADE the opportunity you had… happen. Carpe Diem, I learned.

  2. Thanks, Celeste. Yet I was a graduate of an Ivy League school. Where my classmates were off to graduate schools or high-paying jobs, I had dropped out of law school and spent half a year evaluating my options before trying to eke out a living by writing on spec or for low wages. It wasn’t the grand success I had envisioned.

    Common? Perhaps not. But not as uncommon as I boldly set out to be. I had given it the old college try, but I was still hanging around the college.

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