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My Son, the Writer Part 2

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Continued from part 1

So, there I was, going into college. I never learned to spell—and now that we have computers—no one needs to learn to spell. And I've since learned that written English is just a language—and I have a void in my brain for languages.

Anyway, in college, I flunked my only course—freshman English. Seems I was ill-prepared in grammar and had no interest in critical writing about 18th century romance novels.

So, I was invited into remedial English. And that's when I finally learned grammar. Not that I was all that great at it, but now I knew it existed.

Eventually, I would have a 25-year career in Engineering, which I discovered didn't really interest me, and one that I was ill suited for. Although there were moments of creativity, more often than not my job was order processing—and I was not very good at following orders.

Giving full reign to a mid-life crisis, I left the "security" of being periodically laid off from a 9-f desk job and became a raft guide in the Poconos near Jim Thorpe, PA. The Lehigh River and Lehigh Canal, and the town itself housed a story needing to be told—so I told it.

First I told it to the guests on the trip—other guides called me "the professor," and then with an early Mac and an early version of desktop publishing software, I cobbled together a booklet, The Lehigh River & Canal at Jim Thorpe, PA.

I self-published 1,000 copies. That's when I began my education about writing, publish, printing and distribution. We only learn by making mistakes. And when it costs you money that you don't have to lose, you learn much quicker.

I went around to local shops and over the next ten years sold out my stock. How many authors can claim that? Most publications lose money. I made money. Not much, but still a profit. So, now I was both an author and an entrepreneur.

I still couldn't spell—and I still can't—and my grammar sucked—it's gotten better, partly because I've learned, partly because today's readers are more comfortable reading stuff written the way they talk.






In fact, when I comment on a submitted article, or give advice, I often note that the writer's style is like a 1950s seventh grade essay: formulaic, mechanical, boring. We learned in school to write business-style. Probably much of what we learned in school was developed to educate workers for the industrial revolution.

My desktop publishing lead to freelance assignments writing manuals, advertising and newsletters for engineering companies. But my spelling and grammar were never good enough. They would have proofreaders go over my copy and red-line my mistakes—many redlines. They used to call it"bleeding" over the copy.

I would say to the proofreaders, "If you are so good, why don't you write the story?" And they would say, "I can't write." So, I was beginning to see that good English and good stories were often worlds apart—probably two parts of the brain that connect this way and that in different people.

I later moved to Jim Thorpe and started writing for the regional newspaper, the Times News of Carbon County. After a while, I realized that the right wing publisher and my left wing liberalism made for an incompatible system of flight. So I started my own online e-magazine, Jim Thorpe Today, later Carbon County Magazine, and more currently California Update.

Along the way, I had several people help with the proofreading, the software became increasingly helpful, and I learned a thing or two about writing, editing and publishing. And of cause, the best part of publishing your own writing is—you and your publisher are a mutual admiration society.

And so I continue to write and publish. Why? Mostly to encourage budding writers to get their work out to the public and for a public to have the opportunity to read grass roots writing—no ads, no fees.

Thanks for being part of California Update.

~ Al Zagofsky










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