When I was in my late 20s, I considered enrolling at The American University in Washington, D.C. to earn an MFA in Creative Writing. I was torn between getting a degree that would help me write my debut novel and a master of science degree that would help me jump start a career as a television journalist. Ultimately, I decided to enroll at Northwestern University to help me launch my broadcasting career. It wasn’t until more than a decade later, after my television career had ended, that I applied to creative writing programs for an MFA and began work on the novel that was to become The Talking Drum.
I’ve sometimes wondered what my life would have been like if I’d taken the other path, if I’d pursued the creative writing degree earlier in life. I’ve fantasized that I’d have five or six published novels by now. Perhaps I would have parlayed my publishing credits into a professorship at a major university.
But, in reality, I wasn’t ready to write that novel in my late 20s. I hadn’t lived enough of life. I didn’t have enough to say. During my “years of incubation,” from my late 20s into my mid-40s, when I was working in TV news, I continued to hone my writing skills, ability to constructively take criticism, to do research to understand a topic enough to write about it convincingly. I reported the news from a farming community in Central Illinois, a former coal mining community in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a suburban Connecticut community outside of New York City, and in Connecticut’s capital city. My work at a Boston, Massachusetts area nonprofit included travel to South Africa, France, and much of the United States.
All of these experiences made me a better writer. They deepened my understanding of people, and cultures. When I began the first draft of The Talking Drum, I was at the right age to write the story. I could look back on many of my experiences to help me with the writing. If I had tackled a novel earlier, I wouldn’t have gotten very far.
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