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Why I Write

James "Jim" Whitfield

My father was a journalist. He was a correspondent for Time Magazine and an editor at the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, for more than forty years.

I grew up with newsprint on my hands. And a typewriter on our kitchen table. How could I not write?

My parents worked and my two brothers were quite a bit older than me, so I spent a lot of time alone as a child.

And, as all writers know, it is in that interior world that dreams and words take flight and find their way to the waiting page.

I wrote my first poem, entitled “Life”, at the age of 10. I remember the words welling up in me. I grabbed a piece of lined notebook paper, ran to the kitchen, and typed it out on my daddy’s Royal Typewriter.

1941 Royal "Quiet Deluxe"

I showed it to my parents. They smiled knowing smiles. I thought then that they were proud of my accomplishment. Perhaps they were amused. Or, perhaps my daddy smiled because he saw a bit of himself in me.

What does a ten year-old know of life? Not nearly as much as I would know (and understand) four years later when my oldest brother died in a fatal mountain climbing accident in Scotland.

My dear friend, Jan Karon, NY Times bestselling author of “The Mitford Years” wrote her first story at the age of 10. Jan learned that many famous writers began writing at that age.

Anyway, I kept writing poems and published in my high school literary magazine.

When I ran off to New York to model at 19, I kept a journal. When I finally returned home, I tore out many of the pages. They were too painful, too dark, to risk discovery.

I returned to college, graduated, and landed my first job at McKinney, Silver & Rockett Advertising. I was Chick McKinney’s assistant. But secretly I wanted to be a copywriter.

I hung out with the copywriters. I read every award-winning ad our agency produced. I studied the headlines. Learned about style.

Pretty soon, I quit my job and started free-lancing. I did that for eight years.

For several years I worked as the staff writer for an international relief organization.

When my children were young I wrote a very, very bad screenplay. A romantic comedy, the standard 120 pages. It was just something I needed to do.

Since then, I have published several magazine articles. Written three (yet unpublished) children’s books. And I am about to finish a non-fiction book on preparing your child for kindergarten. I also have a weekly newspaper column on parenting (see “Lifestyles”/columnists).

So that is my writing life to date. Oh yeah. Except for this blog. Who knew when I wrote “Life” that I would have a writing life to write about?

But, then, life is full of surprises.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Love this post! It was so wonderful to gain a deeper glimpse into your journey as a writer. I know you will continue to go far as a successful writer.

    April 17, 2011
  2. Thanks, Bethany! You’ve made a great start yourself. Keep it up!

    April 17, 2011
  3. Shawn Bailey #

    I think we probably need to see that poem in the next entry…

    April 18, 2011
  4. Hello fellow beach lover. Beautiful blog. I really like your writing style and absolutely adore the photo of your father. So evocative.
    We have a mutual love of Paris. I was there 2 years ago for a writing workshop on the banks of the Seine upstairs at the English bookshop. It was a stunning few days organised by Faber & Faber.
    Now back in Brighton struggling with a non-fiction book on the benefits of being just a bit older, a novel and a children’s book. Hard to get published isn’t it. Just had my first agent knock-back.
    Still as the song goes, I need to ‘pick myself up,dust myself down and start all over again.’
    regards and success.

    April 19, 2011
    • Thank you for your kind words, Penelope! The workshop you attended sounds divine! Paris and an English bookshop! Heaven. Would love to know more about your books. I’ll DM you my email address so we can correspond there. As for publishing, it’s all about rejection. Remind yourself that it’s not you or your book. You just haven’t found the right fit. Hang in there and keep sending out queries!

      April 19, 2011

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