“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 man’s name is actually Merle.
The thing is, Merle, you already have more credentials than I do. I never took a journalism class. In fact, 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” per se, at least not 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 life-sized cardboard cutout of Brooke Shields who was advertising tight-fitting jeans.
After Mama’s pleasant conversation, she remarked, “What 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 britches.”
Not only do I sometimes feel like a non-writer, Merle, but I am a classic late bloomer.
Just last night, I was watching a baseball game. The announcer was a former big league right-fielder who is considered one of the greats. He seemed so old to me. The game was rolling, and I was listening to the announcer comment and I made a passing remark to my wife: “I wonder how old he is.”
Within seconds, my wife pulled up Wikipedia on her phone. My wife announced that the guy is about a decade younger than me.
I set down my beer and left the room to change my adult diaper.
Sometimes I feel bad about my lack of accomplishments, too. I don’t have many.
Me? I graduated from community college when I was thirty-something, maintaining a steady GPA of 1.9. It took me—not one, not two—three attempts to pass a single remedial math class. I had to take four college math classes.
Also, 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. I still have the fork.
Merel, you and I are on the same playing field. In fact, I’m probably just like you. When I started this blog/column/online thingy/verbal shipwreck, I began writing about simple things because I didn’t think I had the skill to write about anything else. And you know what? I realized I had a lot to say.
I wrote about dogs, fishing, overgrown eyebrows, dogs, my family, waiters, dogs, single mothers, dogs, greasy food, truck drivers, sleepy cafés, dogs, my late father, my wife, and of course, dogs.
But most of all, I started writing about people like you. Good people. Regular people who think they’re common, even though there’s no such thing.
People like the man I saw who carried heavy bags of potting soil to the car for an old woman at Home Depot yesterday. He had a prosthetic leg.
Or the Birmingham woman who messaged me and told me about being followed by a suspicious-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 and saved her from walking face-first into a transfer truck.
Or the little girl who rescued 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, even though sometimes feels under-confident and his grades aren’t always stellar. But do you know what? He had the gift.
He had heart. Grit. Human kindness. They can’t teach things like that in journalism classrooms.
No, this guy, Merle, might never win a Pulitzer, or literary awards, or Edgar Awards, or win the prestigious and highly coveted Silver Fork. But none of that matters. Because he is a human being. And by definition this means he is no failure. If you ask me, being human is the only requirement for becoming a true writer.
But, hey, don’t take my word for it, go ask Brooke Shields.
orgillian - July 19, 2021 7:07 am
You are a first class story teller and have a knack for relating seemingly separate incidents in a way that links them together to form a unique, memorable tale. I read your column daily and imagine it being the same as if we were sitting on your front porch talking with me doing most all of the listening.
sparkerlpc - July 19, 2021 8:28 am
Another winner, Sean! I always share your columns on my Facebook page.
Would you please tell the story of the preacher performing the funeral for the Labrador? I’d love to read that!
Have a great day, OK?
Susan Parker - July 19, 2021 8:34 am
Sean, this is another winner. I always share your columns on my Facebook page. Usually with captions like, “Y’all can’t miss this one!”
Would you please tell the story of the preacher conducting the funeral for the Labrador? I don’t remember reading that one, and it sounds like a wonderful story.
You have a great week, OK?
RL - July 19, 2021 10:39 am
This young man should not despair. I was a parks/recreation major who wanted to be a park ranger. I realized very quickly that you make very little money in the field. So I found my way into journalism – a field of interest that paid even less. I jumped the fence after 10 years to work for a big corporation in public relations/communications. The point? With a little luck and a little desire, things most times fall in place. It is the “want to” part of being human.
Ed (Bear) - July 19, 2021 10:52 am
Sean of the South, you are special! You have a natural gift plus, like many of us, you were traumatized in your youth. Trauma can make you or break you and it never lets go. It just becomes an old scab that remains in place. We learn to deal with it but it’s still a scab. Kudos to all the persevering scab bearers!
Your natural writing talent might well stem from your life experiences and your mother’s genes. All I know is that your writings lift my spirit.
Dina - July 19, 2021 11:02 am
I no love the way you write!
Dina - July 19, 2021 11:03 am
I love the way you write!
Kip - July 19, 2021 11:33 am
I’d love to be able to write the way you do, but I’m a socially anxious hermit and never meet people, so I guess that’s off the table!
I love starting the day with your email!
Dee Jordan - July 19, 2021 11:39 am
One of your best. As a writer, I highly related to this one! Good job!
MR Russell - July 19, 2021 11:55 am
Thanks for starting my day off with laughter every morning, Sean!
Paul McCutchen - July 19, 2021 11:57 am
Sean, I know how Merle feels and I only write stories to my mom.
Sarah - July 19, 2021 1:13 pm
Another good one!
Tell us a story about how you write these columns. Is it done in a day? Days? Do you write more than one at a time? How do you make time for your books too? And what about these illustrations? You’re quite the talented visual artist too!
Ann Robbins Phillips - July 19, 2021 1:21 pm
What you are, without a doubt, is an ENCOURAGER. To us authors, to broken people, to those that might otherwise give up on humanity!!! Thank you.
Dean - July 19, 2021 1:25 pm
Thanks for another great column. I am not good at writing things on paper but i can talk to a brick wall. HA HA
Karen Snyder - July 19, 2021 1:26 pm
True writers, I think, are first of all true listeners and keen observers. You passed those classes with flying colors!
Mac Blair - July 19, 2021 1:35 pm
Don’t every think you are not a good writer. I enjoy you so much. I look forward to you writing every day. Sometimes I l laugh and sometimes I cry but they are al good, so true to life. I read some to my wife and send some to my friends. You help make my day.
Robyn - July 19, 2021 1:38 pm
Keep on wrtin’/talkin’/bloggin’ or whatever it is you do Sean…we need more folks like you in this ol’ world. Thanks, Robyn
Bonnie Stewart - July 19, 2021 1:45 pm
Sean: I look forward to reading your columns every day. You always lift my spirits. I send them to my friends around the country. Please keep them coming.
Kenneth R Johns - July 19, 2021 2:34 pm
I just started reading your blog and yes I’m hooked keep up the fantastic work
Suellen - July 19, 2021 3:01 pm
I’ve always heard that “writer’s write” meaning that they just can’t help themselves to put their thoughts to paper. I’ve always wanted to be a writer but have never actually produced anything that wasn’t dependent on getting a grade. My husband will spend hours composing an email where I always say I’m more of a stream of consciousness writer. Plunk my thoughts down and hit send. The fear of no one actually wanting to read my piffle has held me back. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in too many classes that stressed the carefully crafted sentences and I know that’s not me. Writing done right can be work.
Helen De Prima - July 19, 2021 3:26 pm
And never give up, Merle! I completed my first novel at age 65 and didn’t get a publishing contract until age 70. You’re way ahead of the game by recognizing much earlier that you are indeed a writer.
Stacey Wallace - July 19, 2021 4:19 pm
Sean, thanks for encouraging Merle and for making my husband and me laugh.
Wyndall and Nancy Hutcheson - July 19, 2021 4:49 pm
Keep it going, Sean! You’ve really found your niche in writing! You take the simple everyday pieces of life we all experience on a daily basis…..and expand on them…all the pieces of the human puzzle that add up to a life well-lived! Your writing brings to mind for me a simpler time when we really valued the important parts of life. You’ll never know this side of Heaven the number of lives you have touched. Keep up the good work,Sean!
Nancy and Wyndall Hutcheson
Anita Smith - July 19, 2021 5:28 pm
Dear Sean, I too am a late bloomer. I was 45 when I completed my 2 year degree at community college. I also took remedial math. I still break out in a sweat when I see one of those problems that starts with “If you have X number”. It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it.
Christina - July 19, 2021 7:22 pm
I would give you the “human kindnesses award”
MAM - July 19, 2021 8:25 pm
The only secret to being a writer is not a secret. Just Write!
Linda Moon - July 19, 2021 8:44 pm
Merle Haggard is better than the best, and I can’t find a word to describe “better than best”. I can find a favorite song, though. It’s “Mama Tried”, because all us Mamas do. Some of us succeed with no son in prison, but unfortunately, the Mama Merle sang about didn’t. Thank you for saying a lot to us readers, Sean. A lot of us are in the same boat with you, but it’s not a wreck from all this chattering. I think our boat of human chatter is a LIFEBOAT. Your written words, Writer, deserve a Pulitzer for your recent column, “Gettysburg”. And you deserve accolades for being so very human!
Melanie - July 20, 2021 1:22 am
I think it’s been a while since you wrote about your mama, Sean. Is she doing ok?
TANSTAAFL - July 20, 2021 1:58 am
Look up Larry Correia’s website and read his advice to young writers.
Here’s a guy who started writing on a website, people liked his stuff, he self published then got picked up by Baen Books.
A quick check shows he’s published 36 books, solo, collaborations and anthologies.
Randy - July 20, 2021 3:58 am
Used to read a Southern writer named Lewis Grizzard. Your writing reminds me of him. Just flowing and conversational. Thanks for sharing your talent and bring back memories.
Peggy ALEXANDER - July 20, 2021 4:02 am
To Paul. I am glad you write your “MaMa” I know she loves to get those letters or 📝
Robert L Chiles - July 22, 2021 3:16 pm
I once did a funeral for a 42 pound pet raccoon. An Episcopal funeral at that.
Heather Cromer - July 23, 2021 12:52 am
I love you Sean. You make my heart smile.
Bill Harris - July 27, 2021 10:14 pm
Thank you Sean