I also teach storytelling and screenwriting and share what I learn about the craft and business of writing.
The Long Version
How I became a writer
When I was a teenager, I went home one night, turned on my Commodore 64, and wrote a short horror story. I hadn't planned for it; it just happened.
I took it to school the next day and showed it around. People liked it so I wrote more. The short story became a novel about teenage kids fighting monsters in a high school. I killed off the main character's girlfriend and people were upset I did that. That's all it took for me to get hooked on writing.
The words I wrote had the power to create an emotional reaction.
I kept sharing my stories and people kept reading them. Then one day, friends marked up my grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. It felt like an attack. I grew self-conscious and scared, and quit writing.
For 15 years.
I wanted to write, but fear always got in the way. I'd carry my notebook around and write a lot of ideas but never turn them into a story. I switched to making movies, because I figured I could just film my ideas. I got to university and realized I had to still write the scripts. I continued to struggle.
It wasn't until I discovered the book No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty that I got through the fear. I never read it, but I took the gist of it to heart. Write 50,000 words in a month. No overthinking it, just sit down and write.
Since I had switched to movie scripts, I needed to write four pages a day for thirty days to make a feature-length script.
I committed to the exercise and I wrote my first script...in ten days.
I had heard somewhere that you should at least write four to six scripts to decide if you enjoyed doing this, so when I hit Script #5, I figured I was on the right track. I had also heard that 90% of your stuff is likely crap, so I continued on, hoping that at least one might be good.
After fifteen years of struggling, I had suddenly written ten scripts in one year.
I took one of those scripts—another horror—and tried to turn it into something. I was overwhelmed, so I asked my sister-in-law, Angie Counios, to help me out. We turned it into something a little better and then tried to write something together. The first script was a western, then we wrote a superhero love story, then a thriller. We ended up writing nine scripts, one of which was optioned, and another which was sold but never made.
How I became a writing teacher
After fifteen years of not writing and finally overcoming it, I vowed to help others not have to suffer as I had.
I started a screenwriters' group at the local film pool cooperative to offer encouragement to others. The executive director asked me to teach some screenwriting classes and I agreed to do it. My first class was around four and in a few years, I had a room full of people wanting to learn. Unfortunately, few were doing the work.
I needed a lever to encourage the practice of writing, so I applied for my Master of Fine Arts so I could work with university students and use the grades as my pry bar.
Yet, after teaching for ten years, I've grown tired of grades. Too much weight is put on them by students and institutions and every individual's skill, experience, and creative ability is so varied that it can be hard to show their growth in a fair and equitable way. In the end, I believe it should always be about showing up and doing the work.
How I became a novelist
While I was in school, studying to teach and practice screenwriting, the government took away the film tax credit. Productions quit coming to the province, filmmaking slowed down, and crews and companies moved away. I had a degree that had lost its industry.
My wife and I were settled in our lives and not interested in moving, so I needed to find a new direction for my writing career.
While doing my Masters, I returned to my old interests and took a poetry and short fiction class. The brother of one of my classmates did graphic novels and didn’t understand why more writers didn't publish their own zines. The idea interested me and I asked a couple of classmates, along with some friends, to share some writing so that I could publish it.
I enjoyed the process and decided that Angie and I could do something similar. I reasoned a novel was the length of four scripts, so we could handle that. However, by the end of writing and publishing our first novel Along Comes a Wolfe, I was exhausted and had no energy to market it.
We contacted Heather Nickel from Your Nickel's Worth Publishing to re-release our first book and publish our future ones. Three books later, along with multiple awards and nominations, I'm now deep on my journey as an author.