How to be a writer

If you want to be a writer you have to read. Alan Natali, 1995

Alan was a professor of mine but, more importantly, he stepped up and found a way for me to have a graduate assistantship when I finished college and had no idea what to do with my life. I lost two years of retirement saving but I gained two years to think about what direction my life should take.

He wrote a book and it was published while I was in graduate school. Most people liked Alan ‑ he was smart, direct, funny, honest, cared about himself (fitness and style), cared about others, and after the book came out he was a certified expert at something. Before the book, he was a role model as an athlete, a professor and a journalist. After, he became a role model because he was a writer.

He chewed snuff, would randomly smoke a cigarette and he told wonderful stories. He was the advisor for the school newspaper where I worked which is where I learned most of what I know about him. He didn’t like lazy people, he could finish crossword puzzles in ink, he loved golf but couldn’t play it because he would get too angry, and he apparently went through some sort of phase that required him to snap out of, which he did when he watched an MTV video that freaked him out. When he was contemplating the words to type he would shift his stare from the computer monitor to his fingernails, take a bite, gently spit out the tiny scrap of nail he plucked with his teeth and go back to typing. I wanted to be like him, minus the hint of misogynism that would occasionally rear its ugly head.

I imagine I wasn’t the only one who wanted to be like him. After witnessing a conversation he had with a young, confident man he told me, “He wants to be a writer but he never reads anything. If you want to be a writer, you have to read.” That summer I read as much as I could, convinced my writing style would be determined by reading.

I bought Alan’s book and he signed it for me. “If you can make a 3-pointer, you can do this.”

Do it!

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