I have been a writer for almost 50 years now. My first essays lacked originality but made up for it in word count.

I will not trade baseball cards in class… I will not trade baseball cards in class… I will not…

500 sentences. 4000 words. Long-hand. I’ve learned many lessons in writing through the years and they started right there in 3rd grade. You must suffer for your art. Ask my sister and she’ll tell you l’ve shortened this to a life motto, “You must suffer.”

It was in 5th grade that I learned how delightful it was to write about my favorite subject. Me.  The Autobiography of Tony E Roberts was part mythic, part statistic recounting of my early athletic prowess. I remember it best for the cover – an huge orange baboon in the lotus position.

In his book On Writing Stephen King says,

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

Apart from the Bible and dictionary, we didn’t have many books in the house, but my parents encouraged me to get books from the school library and from the most beautiful, bountiful bouquet of wisdom and adventure – the bookmobile. They were also thoughtful enough to excuse me from chores so I could bury myself in a book. My sister — April “Cinderella” Roberts picked up the slack. But it was all good. Remember — “You must suffer.”

I wasn’t all boy scholar. I watched a boatload of TV. But it was all educational. Brady Bunch. Good Times. All in the Family. As my tastes matured I latched onto a spin-off of the Mary Tyler Moore show — the serial drama Lou Grant about a Los Angeles newspaper and it’s hard-hitting investigative journalism.

On one show, the ambitious punk writer Rossi looks into a case of library book burning and finds many classics. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Bell Jar. And Rossi’s most formative — Catcher in the Rye. I went to the library the next day, borrowed it, and read it that night.

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him on the phone whenever you felt like it.  ~ J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.

BAM! Like a lightning bolt from heaven my vocation was set.

The pursuit of my calling was a rather circuitous route. For one thing, I was still in lower level English classes learning parts of sentences. When I changed school districts, I scored low on language comprehension. In spite of being a voracious reader, I was not a quick one. Timed tests and I were not friends. So instead of sitting under the feet of the Socratic Ms. Lott expounding on Plato’s Republic, I sat in the corner of Mrs. Mellencamp’s class doing statistics and getting “A”s. When she realized this she, being the great educator she was, asked me be her assistant, grading papers and tutoring my peers. I had to pay attention now. It was then I learned the value of learning by teaching. Thanks Mrs. Mellencamp!


to be continued…