Burton W. Cole
Accidental Lessons on the Road to Writerhood
The weird thing about life lessons is you don’t figure out that you learned something until long after class is dismissed.
It started for me in third grade when I began fiddling with poetry. Badly. I amused myself for months rhyming words and writing my observations in verse. I loved drawing pictures with words.
I never did learn much about how to write good poetry. But I did stumble upon Step 1 of how to become a writer—start somewhere.
In the fourth grade, I wrote my first novel, Vanish the Killer Whale. The action raced through four chapters over six notebook pages. I wrote it in cursive with a pencil. I illustrated it too.
At this point, I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Basketball player? Singer? Comedian? Actor? Racecar driver?
I missed the fact that the answer was right in front of me, handwritten in pencil over six pages.
In eighth grade, I got up the guts to knock on the door of a ninth-grade classroom where the school newspaper was put together. With a bunch of big kids watching, I stammered out that I wanted to write a humor column. The teacher told me to whip up a sample column and he and the staff would consider it. That’s how Cole’s Corny Corner was born.
The life lesson: Even timid wimps will find their voice when it means enough.
What drives you? What passion has God drilled so deeply into you that will crash outside of your comfort zone to pursue it?
I couldn’t help it. I had to do it. I was learning how much the passion to write possessed me.
In ninth grade, I suffered a hostile takeover of Cole’s Corny Corner. Another guy went behind my back and told the teacher that he would co-write the column with me. He assured the teacher that I wouldn’t mind. Suddenly, my column, my creation, had turned into MC Madhouse. The direction changed and I was miserable.
True, we need to share. But this episode taught me that sometimes I would have to stand up for what I loved. If I believed in it, I had to be ready to defend it.
In a tenth grade honors English class we were supposed to turn in a four-page short story. Mine ran a little longer—TWENTY-EIGHT pages! The Amazing Goon was an inspirational story that combined my knowledge of outcasts, being athletically challenged, the love of basketball, and the love of storytelling.
If your passion drives you to write seven times more than the homework assignment requires, you probably are a WRITER. I was.
I spent years of purposeful study of the craft of writing. But it was the accidental lessons that pushed through three published novels (and counting), twenty-six years of the weekly humor column Burt’s Eye View, and more than thirty-five years of newspaper writing and editing. It’s been a wonderful, exciting journey so far.
I’m still learning. I wonder what the next chapter will bring.
(This post originally appeared in the Storyteller Squad on March 29, 2019.)