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The Call of the Wild: Fiction Writing

May 28, 2011

By Matt Robb

I believe it’s never too late in one’s life to begin writing fiction. I learned that lesson four years ago shortly after turning thirty. For me, the inciting incident occurred one brisk October evening when a friend lightheartedly challenged me to participate with him in an annual writing event called National Novel Writing Month; the objective of which is to turn out fifty-thousand words of first-draft fiction during the month of November. Thrilling, exhausting, and rewarding are three words that best describe the event.

Flash-forward to today and you’ll find that I call myself a fiction writer. Why? Because I write. I write in the evenings when my wife goes to bed early. I write on the weekends when my wife sleeps in late. I daydream about writing while working as an information technology analyst. I jot down story and character ideas into my smart phone precisely when inspiration strikes. Most importantly, though, I schedule time to write.

How I became a fiction writer puzzles me. I can’t say I was shaped or influenced in any way by talented authors like C.S. Forester or Ian Fleming. In fact, I only recall partially reading three books for entertainment as an adolescent:  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, and Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary.

The bulk of my fiction reading, err… skimming, occurred in high school with novels like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I became very proficient reading only the first sentence of each paragraph of several chapters while snacking on chocolate Tastykakes in the school cafeteria.

My desire to read for entertainment increased somewhat in my college years and throughout my twenties, albeit works of non-fiction like biographies, business books, and software language instructional books.

So how is it that a thirty-four year old adult who rarely read a fiction book in his life comes to call himself a fiction writer? Because to me, I discovered that writing is a fine art.

Throughout my life fine art has always been a constant. I’ve always enjoyed photography, detailed pen-and-ink drawing, and performing in stage plays. I realized that fiction writing is just another form of fine art. It’s about taking a blank page and inserting just the right words to invoke a specific feeling, either from you or from others. Ultimately, writing fiction is all about capturing life and emotion, right there in black and white.

Unlike many fine arts, getting started in fiction writing is easy. At the very basic you just need a pen, a notebook, and your imagination. There’s no complicated or lengthy set-up or clean-up effort, and you can do it almost anywhere, even when you only have as few as five minutes available to work on your art. I think that’s one of the selling points that appeals to me as I get older.

Today I frequently read fiction novels with an appreciation of the painstaking detail that went into creating them. I allow myself to get immersed into the action as the author intended. I marvel at a particular turn of prose. Not unlike Buck at the end of The Call of the Wild, I realize my old life prior to writing fiction is a thing of the past. I am now a fiction writer.

  1. May 28, 2011 10:12 pm

    Welcome to the fiction writing world, Matt. Good story and good luck!

  2. May 29, 2011 6:43 am

    Welcome to the craziness, Matt! I’m glad you’ve found this art and are enjoying it!

    I’ve told my story before, but my path to where I am as a writer today has certainly been a circuitous one. I wrote every day as a kid, all the way through my teenaged years. In college it slowed to occasional writing and then upon graduation and the addition of a real job it simply stopped. For nearly 16 years, I wrote virtually nothing. This was thanks in no small part to excuses about why I didn’t have time to write or how I could just write tomorrow.

    Then in 2006 I decided the excuses were no longer good enough and I started writing again. NaNoWriMo was a major driving force for this in terms of actually making me stick with it. And now, aside from my constant battle with the excuses that try to overwhelm me each day, I am a writer.

    To me, it doesn’t matter how you get there—if you write, you are a writer. And the world is a better place because you are.

  3. May 29, 2011 8:54 am

    I had to laugh when you intimated ‘thirty’ was a late age to arrive at writing. Some of us got there much later! As you say, though–never too late to yank that geni from its bottle.

  4. May 29, 2011 1:07 pm

    Hi Matt!

    I had no idea you were one of those people who hadn’t found the joy of reading until recently. I’m glad you finally figured it out and now are enjoying all the amazing possibilities as a reader and writer.

    You know, as much as there is a point in reading the literary canon (each work in it was amazing in its own way and for its own time) it seems like far too many English teachers fail to infect their students with a fevered love of fiction that can be so enjoyable not just while we are students, but also for the rest of our lives. Too much focus on dragging kids through works that are too removed from their everyday lives and not enough on letting them explore fiction that calls to them.

  5. May 31, 2011 1:19 am

    Well I beat you to the joys of reading, but you have the better on me for the writing. Still wondering whether that quip of being old at thirty is an insult or not. If so, you might have to be a bit careful round here.

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