Bruce Lilly

                                                                            Professional Writer and Editor

 

 

 

 

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The following essay explains how I came to pursue writing as a livelihood.

 

Taking a direct path in life has never been my strength.  I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and now Bloomington, Indiana is my home.  Interstate 65 runs almost due north from Birmingham for hundreds of miles.  If you take it for a little over four hundred of those and then go west for a little under an hour, you’ll be in Bloomington.  So really, the two towns aren’t that far apart.  One good day of driving and you’re there.  My route, however, took me through all of the lower 48 (except maybe North Dakota, I’m still a little sketchy on that), Mexico, Canada, England, and the other side of the world, with extended layovers in San Francisco and Japan.  My high school headmaster may feel that I took his maxim—“Going is the goal”—a little too far. 

Though I was born in Birmingham, I grew up mainly in Tuscaloosa, the university town an hour away.  If your family moves a lot during your childhood, you get confused about which place to call your hometown.  My theory is that the place where you go to high school usually gets the nod for hometown honors.  My family didn’t move that much, but during high school I was a boarding student at Indian Springs, a school just outside of Birmingham.  This left me with an attachment to Birmingham, even though I hadn’t lived there with my family since I was two. 

It was at Indian Springs that I learned how much I hated writing.  I made decent enough grades, though French and chemistry were never easy.  Nothing, however—not balancing chemical equations, not trying to bluff my way through the oral exams in French, not having my mind become soggy mush during calculus class—none of these things brought with them the sheer terror or sustained anguish that accompanied writing assignments.  “The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Fine.  Only, what if you cannot get your mind off of those thousand miles and you become frozen, your feet glued to the ground, your feeble willpower trying frantically to counter the assault of overpowering thoughts going, “That’s a lonnnnnngg ways, you must be a fool to think you could make it, you’re better off not even starting, that way you won’t have to suffer the humiliation of failing.”  I just could never get the first sentence down on paper.  The headmaster may have preached “Going is the goal” to us starry-eyed kids, but for some reason he apparently exempted the teachers from this campaign, and I routinely found them unreceptive to my attempts to submit a work in progress when a completed paper was due.  They wanted the finished piece.  Granted, somehow I always did get the papers written, but it was always—always—a struggle, and I was elated to be free of that oppression once I graduated. 

Had my life followed the clichés of popular fiction from this point, you would hear about how my phobia of writing haunted me endlessly and caused me personal and professional strife until I summoned the courage to confront it head on and overcome it once and for all, no doubt humbly saving lives and reluctantly becoming famous in the process.  In fact, even though the personal strife component did come into play, my story turns out to be slightly less dramatic.  Somehow, over time—and I don’t know why—I came to love putting words together.  I logged in two years of college a few years out of high school while living in San Francisco, and then finished my bachelor’s degree years later in Tuscaloosa.  My nemesis remained powerful during my early college days, resulting in an incomplete for sophomore composition simply because I couldn’t cough up a two-page paper, despite the fact that I was given an entire year to do so.  Yes, this episode did register a rather high personal strife index. 

But when I returned to college some time later in Tuscaloosa, it was as if I had entered some parallel universe, where everything was identical, except for one thing—I didn't cower in front of writing assignments anymore.  To my amazement, I quaffed all of the ones in sight and then fabricated new ones.  Offering honors credit to people willing to do extra work for a course, such as an additional paper, perhaps?  Sign me up!  How about semester-long independent study projects?  I'll take as many as you got.  No tests, no class—just one long paper due at the end of the semester.  Want to do something other than the standard research paper?  Sure, I'm game, and let me make a suggestion: I'll give you the first chapter of a novel and the plot scenario for the rest of the book.  (The novel hasn’t been finished and published yet, but stay tuned.)  A final bit of evidence that this parallel existence was no fluke: during my last semester I managed to cough up a 75-page honors thesis.  Something had clearly changed. 

The genesis of this transformation remains a mystery.  I pursued various goals, but learning to write was never one of them.  Wanting to experience life outside of the South, I moved to San Francisco a year after I graduated from Indian Springs.  My time there ranged from the mundane to the sublime, as I spent several years working in the printing industry and also studying Taoism and Traditional Chinese Medicine with a Taoist Master from China.  When people hear that I was once a stripper in San Francisco, I hastily explain that “stripping” is a printing industry term once used for some of the work done before jobs go on a press.  Over time I added other titles to “stripper”: Master of the Darkroom, Platemaker First-Class, Small-press Operator Extraordinaire, Chief of Bindery Operations, Special Liaison for Number One Clients, Director of Inventory, Shipping Wizard, Ace Production Planner, and Blue Ribbon Sales Representative.  In short, I covered all of the bases in the printing world. 

My first professional work as a writer came in Japan, where everyone speaks Japanese, but also where many, many people want to speak English.  Shortly after moving to Tokyo, I found work at Nullarbor Press, a company that produces materials which assist Japanese people engaged in the noble pursuit of learning our language.  My task was to create news articles, business letters, sales promotions, technical manual excerpts, memos, invitations, advertisements, directions, instructions, brochures, newspaper editorials, obituaries, book and movie reviews, governmental notices, public signs, radio announcements, speech excerpts, personal letters, letters to the editor, monologues and dialogues of all sorts, and... well, you get the idea.  In addition to composing work myself, I managed other native English speakers, developed the curriculum for a writing course in English, and acted as a language consultant during recording sessions.  In my spare time I slept. 

That’s basically it.  After settling in Bloomington with my wife, two step-children, and cat, I arranged to work for Nullarbor Press through e-mail.  I continue to love writing, and I now offer my services to clients in Bloomington and Tokyo, Birmingham and San Francisco, and to anyone, anywhere with one foot in cyberspace. 

 
 
   
 
 
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