26 tiny paint brushes- on writing! – by Terry Howard

Okay, I love to write.

Am I good at my craft? Well, only my readers can answer that question. But I’m here today to share a bit about my history as a writer utilizing the Q & A format. Here goes:

Q: Terry, when did you decide to become a writer?

A: Although I love sports, it didn’t take me long to realize that a NBA career was not in my future. And science and math were not my strong points. Singing? Dancing? Since I’m the worst singer and dancer in the history of the world I ruled out those two options. So I figured that since putting pen to paper was something I enjoyed, plus I had great English teachers, I decided to major in English in college.

Q: What is it about English that inspired you?

A: When I was a young snotty nose kid growing up in Virginia, I was fascinated by the alphabet and how on Earth 26 letters – “26 tiny paint brushes”- strung together could morph into a sentence, birth a paragraph and evolve into a book. So like the canvass is to the painter, the old IBM typewriter and later the Word document became my “canvass” where images and pictures could be etched out and “painted” with words.

Q: What else?

A: Well, this may sound weird but for reasons unknown to me at the time I found few things more exhilarating than the great paragraph, the clout of the exclamation point, the italic for emphasis, or the finality of the tiny period. I soon realized that the adage, “words have power,” was indeed spot on.

Q: What intrinsic benefits does writing offer you?

A: Writing gives me a platform for raving or ranting, for consoling or cajoling, for praising or pummeling.  In writing I provide a voice for the voiceless, puncture comfort zones, plunge deep into imaginations, into contradictions, to sooth or to nudge readers tantalizingly close to the edge of realities they accept or reject.

Q: How would you describe your writing style?

I try to evoke an eyebrow raising, “oh my, he really went there,” response from readers. “Forever the provocateur,” is the label my friend “Molly” characterized my writing style a few years ago. My buddy “Hans” from Germany dubbed me “The syntax matador,” who resides a split second away from being “gored” in the belly by some reader I managed to tick off. I’m amused by those two monikers.

Q: Can people who read a lot become good writers?

A: Intuitively one would think that, but I’m not really sure. However, and without any solid evidence to back me up, I do believe that great writers cannot become such without being great readers. Plus I believe that good writers must be good – strike that, great – listeners and observers of people and how they interact with each other and the realities of the world they live in.

Q: So tell us about your personal reading history and what you’re reading today?

A: When I moved to Boston after high school, I lived with an uncle who had an insatiable appetite for reading. When I walked into his house I had never seen so many books in my life and thought for a minute that I had entered the Boston Public Library. He handed me a reading list and made it clear that reading was a condition for my living with him. So Carter G. Woodson, W.E. B. DuBois, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Ellison occupied the top of the list.

What do I read? Well, in addition to my favorite columnists Maureen Dowd, Leonard Pitts, Eugene Robinson and Frank Bruni – okay, each one hopelessly left leaners like me – I try to read at least one book a month. Right now I’m finishing up “Andy and Don,” a book on the main characters in “Andy of Mayberry,” one of my all-time favorite TV programs.

Q: Is there such a thing as “writer’s block?”

A: Perhaps. But for me it’s the frustrating results of “writing in haste” after seeing my finished product published – sometimes with glowing reviews – and realizing that something was missing or perhaps could have been worded more effectively. The problem with “writing in haste” is that if you linger too long, you overthink the draft and that can result in analysis paralysis.

Q: Any parting advice?

A: Well, as the saying goes, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day for the rest of your life.” So it’s never too late to find your lot in life, your niche, whether it’s painting, teaching, researching, sports…or writing! And pour your energy and creativity into making it uniquely yours.

Terry Howard

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