Dear Sean

It’s hard putting yourself out there. In fact, this is the hardest part.

DEAR SEAN:

How do you go about writing one of your stories? What is your process like?

Love,
TWENTY-FOUR-AND-WANT-TO-WRITE

DEAR TWENTY-FOUR:

There are many people who can tell you more about the writing process than I can. But I’ll tell you how I do it.

The first thing to know is that writing requires brain power. And studies tell us that the human body gets its strongest surge at 5 A.M. This surge typically lasts until 5:03 A.M. Unfortunately, I am asleep during the surge and I am wholly unaware of it.

So I generally wake up exhausted at about 7:30 A.M. Then, I complain about how badly I slept the night before. When you get older, you don’t sleep as good as you used to.

My mother used to warn me about this. I would laugh at her and say “Ha ha! No way, I’ll sleep great forever! And I will always be able to eat acidic foods after six o’clock, too!”

No.

You quit sleeping well around your thirties. And food? Once upon a time, I could eat an extra-large five-alarm beef burrito and finish the day like a caffeinated squirrel. Nowadays, if I eat one French fry I have to take a four-hour nap.

So anyway, after morning coffee, I wait for my mood to improve. I am not a morning person and never have been. My happy mood in the morning is always fake.

This is because when I was a boy I used to wake up with a bad attitude. My father took me aside once and said, “You’d better learn how to fake a good mood, or your mother’s not gonna make pancakes anymore.”

I’ve been faking good moods ever since.

When my caffeine takes effect, I go to my office. In my office, I have just about everything a writer needs to have around him. I have things like toddler toys, Superman statues, coonskin hats, my Little League glove, broken trumpets, and a taxidermied alligator wearing a Dale Earnhardt jersey.

I have these things for a serious reason. Because writing doesn’t happen when you’re writing. You have to spend plenty of time NOT writing. This act of not-writing is as important as writing.

Let me explain:

To get technical, I am talking about what scientists call, “horsing around.” This is when you wear a coonskin cap and play your broken trumpet and THINK very hard about what you’re going to write.

This thinking process is just as important as writing. Hence the alligator with the NASCAR shirt.

When I’m ready to put down words, sometimes I write on my Smith Corona typewriter. It’s an electric typewriter manufactured during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. The motor makes a whirring sound. I learned to type on a typewriter, I can’t untrain myself to use it now and then.

They’re a lot of fun. Everytime you hit a key it makes a glorious THWAP! THWAP! I think the world would have much better literature if more people used typewriters.

Because when you write on a laptop you can backspace, correct spelling, highlight entire paragraphs, delete them, order dog food on Amazon, stream past episodes of “Dancing with the Stars,” or send an email to Pope Francis.

On a typewriter, your words stick to paper. Forever.

Once you’ve finished your first draft on the typewriter, now you need to get your words into a computer. I use an app on my phone.

It’s simple. All you do is take a picture of your typed pages. Then the app shows an hourglass for approximately forty minutes, and (voila!) just like magic, the app says, “Error 73840.”

Don’t get me wrong, the app is not without flaws. When it finally translates your pages, some of your words come through fine, but other words, such as the word “typewriter,” get translated as: 布特海德.

Thus, you have a mutant manuscript on your hands. Sometimes this is a real pain in the you-know-what. If the computer only changes the word “typewriter,” it’s no big deal. But when the software changes the words “the,” “if,” and “to” into “推特,” you are basically screwed.

But enough about that.

Now it’s time to edit. My policy is to edit once, then keep re-editing until I have created even more mistakes than a chimpanzee swinging a sock full of quarters at a computer keyboard.

But eventually you give up editing and learn to love your mistakes, instead of letting them make you feel stupid. Becuase part of being a writer is feeling stupid.

You put your thoughts out there and lots of people judge you. It’s hard putting yourself out there. In fact, this is the hardest part.

But don’t let that scare you because there are also nice people. Lots of them. Like a twenty-four-year-old who writes you because he wants to be a writer one day.

And even though you have no idea how to answer such a person, you put down your broken trumpet and Davy Crockett hat and decide to write something.

You fire up your electric 布特海德, and you write this kid because he reminds you of yourself. And you’d like him to know something you wish you had known long ago, which is:

If you want to be a writer, you already are.

Enjoy your sleep while you can, kid.

23 comments

  1. Erica Rauzin - August 12, 2019 10:01 am

    Dear Sean, You talk about not writing, and writing, but you don’t mention the very best stage, which is having written. That always leads to a really good cup of coffee.
    When young people tell me that they want to write, I always encourage them, but I warn them that the hardest part is knowing what you want to say. I always appreciate what you have to say.
    Thank you, Erica Rauzin

    Reply
  2. D B - August 12, 2019 10:28 am

    Dear Sean, if I was a writer I would write to you to tell you just how much I enjoy your writings. This is my failed atteptt🥴. I’m so thankful for your gift and the pleasure it brings in the early morning hours when this old lady can’t sleep!

    Reply
  3. Ruth in AL - August 12, 2019 10:45 am

    Sean,sweet thing, you are not yet old, you are still ripening and getting better all the time! I am old and I love your stories. You remind me so much of Lewis Grizzard, Rick Bragg. and other story tellers, but I enjoy you even more. Keep on sleeping because dreams make for good stories. Love yours.

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth - August 12, 2019 10:47 am

    Love it!!!!

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  5. Debbie Taylor - August 12, 2019 11:17 am

    This made me laugh out loud! Thanks!

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  6. TonJa Wilder - August 12, 2019 11:27 am

    Dear Sean, I have loved every single word you have written. Until today, a Dale Earnhardt fan? I am crushed.

    Reply
  7. Leslie Schmidt - August 12, 2019 1:27 pm

    I love it!

    Reply
  8. Donna - August 12, 2019 1:52 pm

    Hilarious! Def need to acquire a coonskin cap (which is NOT an easy task… I’ve tried and failed!).

    Reply
  9. Bobbie - August 12, 2019 2:01 pm

    You have a uniqueness about you that I love. I never know if the next sentence will make me laugh or cry. Sometimes both. And as I’ve said before, I can picture what you’re saying. Would love to be there in person one time to see you at your #!^£§€! As you come up with a story. I’m a writer too, a self-proclaimed one, but nonetheless a writer. That I think makes me more attentive to the words, especially the examples you use. I love them, but that isn’t me…wish I did have more humor. At least I do appreciate it. I’m a more serious type, but that’s my uniqueness. One thing I’d like to say to anyone who aspires to writing, don’t compare! I’m sooo bad about that, not only with writing, but basically everything. Your writing is your writing. Thank you again for sharing your wonderful talent with your fans. So glad people will take the time to tell you how much they enjoy your stories. What encouragement! We all need that.
    Thank you and God bless❤️

    Reply
  10. Carolyn Huggins SC - August 12, 2019 3:18 pm

    Sean, I don’t usually leave a comment…guess you’re just supposed to KNOW how much I always enjoy your posts! One thing has struck me about most of the writers I’ve known…and myself included…and you: We are deep thinkers, have had life hit us hard in some way, and cover some of our hurt with a generous supply of humor! When I was growing up, I thought everyone could write, but it wasn’t until a professor in college(where I attended as a “mature student”) assured me that that wasn’t the case…and that I could…did I take it to heart. And there is the magic to pass on to the young writer: It takes heart! Have an awesome day!

    Reply
  11. Kaye Wells - August 12, 2019 3:19 pm

    I think you just do a dusting and cleaning in your brain—-and out pops a column! 😁😁

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  12. Carol Folsom - August 12, 2019 3:32 pm

    There is truth to this! Thanks for your kindness to the young man, and for your humor. Writing looks easy but so does a root canal.

    Reply
  13. Jones - August 12, 2019 3:48 pm

    👍👍

    Reply
  14. Arelene Mack - August 12, 2019 3:54 pm

    You are much more than a writer, you are a communicator. Your words and thoughts evoke memories, feelings, emotions and self-reflection. I am a professional grantwriter and the non-writing periods you mentioned are indeed so essential to help with interconnection of random thoughts and rabbit trails of related information to be included in the final document. Your writings are good. Your communications are fantastic.

    Reply
  15. Linda Moon - August 12, 2019 4:06 pm

    As a teacher, I knew and taught the process of writing. Book Reports were among the best “writings” I ever read from students. As a fellow-non-morning-person-who-never-will-be, I appreciate your late-morning posts after my caffeine has taken effect! There are three writers in my family. I, and they, always knew they were. You will never be judged by any of us!!

    Reply
  16. Shelton A. - August 12, 2019 4:18 pm

    Lewis would be proud of your writing lesson. Highest compliment I can give a writer of columns. Now, get some sleep…maybe wearing the coonskin hat with your ball glove tucked away like a teddy bear (that may help you sleep without counting peas and Jamie not snoring.

    Reply
  17. David P B Feder - August 12, 2019 4:35 pm

    “If you want to be a writer, you already are.”
    Magic. Best feedback for an aspiring writer, ever.

    Reply
  18. Tammy Moody - August 12, 2019 4:43 pm

    Sean, what time of day were you born?!? I was born at noon and have always told my Momma that my life started at noon and I don’t want to mess that up by getting up early!! 🙂

    Reply
  19. Colleen Stringfellow - August 12, 2019 7:01 pm

    I wish you would stop talking about being old!! You are one day older than my son who is 36; therefore you are just a baby!! So from this woman who is old enough to be your mother, you only think these aches, pains, insomnia, indigestion are bad now….you finish the thought! Love you boy; so proud of you I could burst. Please write some more about your dogs; haven’t heard what they have been up to lately.

    Reply
  20. Janet Mary Lee - August 12, 2019 8:10 pm

    You are one of the Bestest writers I know and love! I thank you every day!!!! (hug!!)

    Reply
  21. Rebecca Brey - August 13, 2019 1:42 am

    The Dear Sean letter to the young man who wants to be a writer is just wonderful. The last two sentences will give him just what he needs. Well done Sean!!

    Reply
  22. Patricia Harris - August 13, 2019 3:54 am

    Good one, Sean. Love your sense of humor and brain misfires!

    Reply
  23. Denise - August 15, 2019 1:58 am

    Love your words of encouragement Sean!

    Reply

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