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Tuesday, 03 November 2009

My Writing Career

By Johna Ferguson

I never took a university course about writing other than term papers and they weren’t exciting, just necessary. I never seemed to have the desire or the discipline to write. My first introduction to it was when I joined Group Health.

New members were asked to volunteer for various jobs and I applied to work on the staff of the journal that went out to all members monthly. I had just returned from my first bicycle trip in China in 1983, and thought members might be interested in that type of article so I submitted it and it was accepted. I really was quite shocked to say the least.

For the next year I wrote monthly articles on various subjects for inclusion. I didn’t call it writing, just telling people what I felt or knew about different things. Then I moved to China so that ended that venue.

But the writing bug had settled in my veins. In 1986, I took my first laptop computer to China and decided to write. First I would write in a journal daily and second I would write lots of letters. A side benefit of that would be I would get at least a few letters back. One day not long ago, I read through all those years of journal entries plus piles of letters I had written, returned to me by my friends over the years.

Then when I was home one summer visiting family and friends, I visited my old neighbor friend, Sally, living in a retirement home. She was sad and bored with her life as she no longer could drive. I enjoyed telling her about some of the funny or sad times I’d had while in China and she suggested when I returned I write about those times like a letter, but more deeply, like a newspaper article so she could live her sedentary life vicariously through mine which seemed exciting.

In China I started writing her weekly and she wrote back to me a monthly letter filled with amazement at what I seemed to be going through. She just passed on last year, but on my last visit she handed me all those all letters and printed out emails I sent.

But I’m jumping ahead of my time. Another summer when I was home, I signed up for an eight week course teaching how to write your autobiography held for seniors at a nearby center. The first four week,s we were taught clues on how to write our autobiography and the second four weeks were writing for fun. We were to write anything we wanted out of class and bring it to class to read to the other seven students to hear their comments.

That class really got me interested in writing since I heard such favorable comments about the three children’s stories I had written, and I went back to China filled with vim and vigor. I dashed off, which is my usual style, nine more children’s stories. But what for, I said as I sat back after finishing them.

I had many ideas from UNICEF giving me a grant to publish them in English and Chinese so young Chinese could get a quick boost in learning English, to getting a grant from the Gates Foundation to publish them in both languages for both countries with a tape of them in English and Chinese. But I don’t think writers, if I could really stretch the truth and call myself one of that clan, can sell themselves very well, thus there are many agents are around.

Also at that time, right after the class was over, I started on my autobiography. After I had written about 70 pages of single spaced words, I called the former writing teacher to see if she’d read it and make a few comments about the direction I was taking. She replied she’d love to read it but admitted she didn’t have time to critique it or edit it, but would add a few comments. But like the children’s stories, it has just remained in my computer, about three-quarters finished.

Why the bug hits one I have no idea, but when I spied an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer saying they were looking for essays on various subjects, I submitted one and it was selected for publication in December 2005. I thought maybe there’s hope.

Then in April I submitted a second one and it was also selected for publication. I truthfully was in seventh heaven. Even my granddaughter was overjoyed to see her grandma’s picture and article in the paper.

But then drought again set in until I received a poem sent to me by a friend in Anacortes. She’d joined a writing group and was having so much fun at trying different styles and types of writing. She spurred me on again and I started writing essays whenever I felt a subject surface. This wasn’t often, but I did write quite a few, but as usual they were sitting in the computer, on hibernation I guess.

Then there was this entire flap on the internet about blogs and how one should read them or write one. I looked up those for elders and found The Elder Storytelling Place. I have submitted stories that have been accepted and printed. Now how many are submitted weekly, how many are rejected and who does this selecting is out there in netherland, but other reader's comments about my essays are just as good to me as having them published in a magazine.

I just keep plugging away at it. Perhaps one day I’ll actually see my name as the author under one of my writings in some famous magazine. But until then, all I can say is try it, you might like it. You can write about so many things that have happened in your life. After all they only happened to you, not to any of us other interested readers. We’re waiting to read yours, so good luck.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In answer to Johna's speculation about how this blog is edited, I – Ronni Bennett – do the selecting and publishing. In the years since the blog was inaugurated in April 2007, only a handful of stories have been rejected – mostly for racism and misogyny.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I wrote my autobiography years ago and should probably go back and edit it. I sent copies to my children in the event they wanted to save them for their children. I enjoyed doing it, but am not sure I did it right. I have never taken a writing class and just write as I think. Quite often that is done in a very scatterbrained way.

If I had my life to live over I would take Journalism and learn how to write interesting stories. I also need a refresher course on punctuation. ;-)


There's no "right" way to write your story for your children and grandchildren. And you certainly don't need a writing class - you're doing fine on your blog.

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