“Sean, every time I sit down to write, I can’t make the words come…
“Maybe it’s because I’m not any good. I got a C in my journalism class, and I feel like I’ll never be a true writer, but a big failure. What should I do?”
This question was posed to me by a twenty-one-year-old journalism major who I will call Merle.
I call him this for two reasons. Firstly, Merle Haggard is one of my favorite country singers. Secondly, this person’s name is actually Merle.
The thing is, Merle, you have more credentials than I do. I’m not what you’d call a “true writer,” either.
A true writer finds incredible stories, then polishes them into poetry. I don’t do that.
Case in point: Once, I wrote an entire column about eyebrow hair.
This proves that I am not an “author” in the traditional sense. Actually, what I am is a “talker.” Which means I can talk at great length about topics I know absolutely nothing about. Kind of like I’m doing now.
I inherited this natural gabbiness from my mother. My mother could chat with anyone or anything.
Once, when I was a boy my mother lost her prescription eyeglasses in a JCPenney and mistakenly struck up conversation with a cardboard cutout of Brooke Shields advertising tight-fitting jeans.
After Mama’s conversation, she remarked, “That was a nice young lady, maybe you’ll meet a young lady like that one day.”
“I doubt it,” I said. “That was Brooke Shields.”
“Well, Brooke’s mother should’ve never let her leave the house in those tight britches.”
Not only do I feel like a non-writer, Merle, but I am a late bloomer.
Just last night, I was watching a baseball game. The announcer was Jeff Francoeur, a former big league right-fielder who is one of the greats.
The game was rolling, and I was listening to Jeff comment on the finer points of pitching.
I made a passing remark to my wife. “I wonder how old Jeff is.”
Within seconds, my wife pulled up Wikipedia on her phone. My wife announced that Jeff Francoeur was born in 1984. This makes him thirty-five years old.
I set down my beer and started to feel bad about my lack of accomplishments.
Not only has Jeff Francoeur played for eight major league teams; not only has he won a Golden Glove award; not only did he once hit a walk-off grand slam against the Nationals; not only did he help win the first ever World Baseball Classic; not only did he have his own fan club named “Francoeur’s Franks;” Jeff Francoeur doesn’t even have an AARP card yet.
Me? I graduated from community college when I was thirty, maintaining a steady GPA of 1.9.
And, the only award I ever won was a safe forklift-driving award. The “Silver Fork,” it was called. The trophy was an actual stainless steel dinner fork given to me by my boss, Lamar, who had just used it to eat spaghetti.
Merel, you and I are on the same playing field. In fact, I’m probably just like you.
When I started writing this blog, I began writing about simple things because I didn’t think I had the skill to write about anything else.
I wrote about things like dogs, fishing, eyebrows, my family, waiters, single mothers, dogs, greasy food, truck drivers, sleepy cafes, dogs, my late father, my wife, and dogs. But most of all, I started writing about people like you. Good people.
People like the man who carried heavy bags of potting soil to the car for an old woman at Home Depot. He had a prosthetic leg.
Or the Birmingham woman who was being followed by a scary-looking guy dressed in rags. She waited at the crosswalk. The man stood behind her.
The crosswalk light turned. She was about to step across the street when the man grabbed her and pulled her back from the curb.
A transfer truck sped past and missed her by inches. This man saved her life.
Or the little girl who saved a turtle from traffic.
Or the old man who paid for a single mother’s to-go order at Zaxby’s.
Or the preacher who performed a funeral service for a ten-year-old’s Labrador.
And here’s another one:
A twenty-one-year-old young man. A kid who decided he liked writing, so he majored in journalism. He feels like a failure, but we all know what is really inside him.
He has heart. And grit. And they can’t teach things like that in classrooms.
Certainly, he might never win Pulitzer prizes, literary awards, accolades from Harvard, or the prestigious Silver Fork. But none of that matters. Because he is a human being. He is special. And when this world bloodies him, he will stand up and try again. And again.
Until one day, he will wake up and discover that he was never a failure. He is a true writer. And he always has been.
If you don’t believe me, just go ask Brooke Shields.