Where and How Writing Became My Journey
I didn’t come out of my mother’s birth canal holding a pen or learn the Qwerty format before I could walk. My path in writing began in printing in junior high school. It sounds strange that I learned to set cold type by hand, character by character, upside down into sentences, and then lead (line space) them. Once done, I locked what I had formed in a metal chaise (also spelled chase) with furniture (wood strips and blocks), using a key and quoins (pairs of wedges).
And, yes, I operated a letterpress and an offset press, from which I printed flyers and a small weekly newspaper. Unfortunately, my part-time apprenticeship ended abruptly because the three-person print shop folded in less than two years.
Besides graduating, I accomplished three things in high school that brought me closer to writing: a habit of studying well, learning to type, and learning German. Then, three months after I graduated, I enlisted in the Army. After my training, the Army stationed me in Mainz, Germany—home of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of movable type and the wooden printing press, among other things, and home of the Gutenberg Museum.
On my first morning at my duty station, the company commander asked if anyone typed 35-40 words per minute. I raised my hand. I wrote company correspondence, memos, and newsletters, which I printed on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine from a blue stencil wrapped on a round drum. They became my duties by default.
Joined College Newspaper Staff
I enrolled in college three months after my military discharge. Before my first year ended, I decided I wanted to earn a living as a writer. I declared an English major and a minor in journalism. Language arts held my interest as well. I renewed my German language studies and became a staff member of my college newspaper, reporting campus news and working as its news editor.
During my last two summers in college, I worked as a paid intern at the Winona Daily News, where I eventually worked as a full-time reporter until an event caused newsroom layouts. I was a casualty. I picked up news correspondence (stringer) work for a few months and worked for three months as an editor at a weekly newspaper. After that, I landed a full-time writing job as a technical writer at an engineering company. While not in journalism, I’d still write for a living, and the position paid well.
As a technical writer, I wrote technical papers for engineers, news releases and newsletters, and copy for trade magazine ads. My contact with trade magazine sales agents introduced me to ad agencies and copywriting, which appealed to my creative side. A few warned me that the deadlines in the ad biz would make me old fast. How bad, I thought, could they be? Certainly not any worse than the daily deadlines I faced as a journalist. I soon discovered that landing a job at a major ad agency without an award-winning creative portfolio was next to impossible.
So, I did the next most sensible thing that came to mind. I started my ad agency, finding my niche where the big agencies couldn’t afford to venture. Okay, had I lost my marbles? Hey, when you are young, the whole world’s your oyster. To survive as a copywriter at my ad agency, I quickly discovered that I had to learn the business side—selling, marketing, promotion, and understanding balance sheets and profit and loss statements. Ugh! I survived and am wiser because I learned that the business stuff made the creative stuff possible.