A Father, Son, and Grandson Look Back at How They Learned to Write

I credit three experiences. First, our grandfather read to my brother and me every evening. He read the same great stories that I read to our children and our son read to his children—Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling, The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry, Br’er Fox and Br’er Rabbit by Joel Chandler Harris. Second, I was always encouraged to read and taught that reading was fun. We feasted on Batman and Superman at a time when some parents thought comic books were too violent (imagine that!) and kept them out of the house. With all that fun, no wonder I wanted to write!  Third, my first boss, H.L. Stevenson at UPI, was a tyrant and a great mentor. He piled on the work, insisted on quality as well as quantity, delghted in a well-written lead and loudly scorned second-class work.  He  scared me and inspired me.
William B. Mead

Agreed that reading a lot to acquire an ear is essential. I had the good fortune of seeing my father write for a living, which made it seem possible.  But it’s amazing to think about how little line editing and instruction you get as a kid, even in the most affluent public schools. I think every English class should have a segment called, “Why does this sentence suck?”  My father could provide gentle line-editing that nobody else got.
—Chris Mead

I think just telling stories any way you can is the best start. My family can attest to my childhood spent telling stories that inevitably started with, “On a dark and stormy night…” and inevitably ended with the bad guy “dead in the woods.” When I sat down to write my first short story for a college fiction writing class, it did start on a dark and stormy night and the bad guy did end up dead (in the street, not the woods). I was taught early on that the emphasis needs to be on plot. Writing about big, dramatic events, even if it breaks with the cliche that you should “write what you know,” teaches you how to have the most impact in your writing. Once you learn that, any plot you can think of is open to you.
—Brett Mead

William B. Mead is a veteran Washington journalist and author.  His latest work is the ebook Come Back Moo, a biography of his remarkable grandfather.  His son, Chris Mead, is a Washington lawyer and author of Joe Louis: Black Champion in White America. Chris’s son, Brett Mead, is writing short stories and historical essays as a senior at Washington University in St. Louis.
From Jack Limpert: I’ve asked about a dozen journalists the “How Did You Learn to Write?” question and will post their answers in the coming weeks. If you have a story to tell about how you learned to write, send it to [email protected] along with a line or two about your writing background.

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