I love my fellow authors, but they do something that really irritates me. They craft long and tedious bios. With all due respect, you’re not Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Nobody cares that your eccentric high school teacher inspired you to become a writer. Of course, I wrote a lengthy backstory on the creation of my debut novel Transient, so maybe this post is a bit hypocritical. But dammit, I kept it off my main website and dumped it into my blog, a dark pit of random nothingness that catches all my brain leaks. So there! Take THAT, hypocrisy.
And yet, writers continue to ask about my backstory. Apparently they like to know such things, but I don’t personally care, and I’m pretty damn sure my readers don’t care either. On the other hand, regurgitating the same story over and over gets a bit annoying, so this post will serve as a canned answer to that occasional question. I can say “there’s one on my blog” from here on out.
Zachry Wheeler, A Bio of Sorts
The first thing I can say about my writing backstory is that I never intended to be a writer. I went to college to become an accountant, and I really wish there was a punchline to follow that statement. Nope, I actually wanted to be an accountant. No offense to accountants, but your career choice is soul-crushingly boring. I made it through half the curriculum before switching my major to Computer Information Systems. Luckily, all my accounting classes counted as elective credit, so it wasn’t a giant waste of time. I remember sitting in a Cost Accounting class one day thinking, “If this what my life will be like, I may as well end it now.” Thank goodness I had the keen insight to switch to a more exciting career path in, um … programming.
I graduated from Appalachian State University in 1999 with a BSBA degree in CIS. Yes, I left college with a computer degree mere months before Y2K. Talk about lucking into a career trajectory. At that time, companies were giving away high-paying IT jobs to anyone who could spell “computer” (sorry, Millennials). Coupled with a cum laude graduate status, I was off to the money-making races. I even had the extreme foresight (total batshit luck) to teach myself web development as it was gaining momentum. I oopsie-doodle back-flipped into an insanely lucrative career.
That’s when my writing career began, but I didn’t know it yet. Most people think that programming is just staring at code all day. And in a sense, it is. But, there are a lot of other tasks that go along with it, including a large bolus of technical writing. Think documentation, wikis, manuals, etc. At a baseline, most competent programmers are actually decent writers. They need a strong grasp of language in order to do their jobs. It takes a certain amount of skill to translate blocks of machine code into meaningful user instruction. That’s why Technical Writing is a career in and of itself. The good ones are worth their weight in gold because they alleviate a lot of confusion and training costs.
This is why I can say that I’ve been writing professionally for longer than I’ve been a writer. That’s a strange statement to digest, so I’ll give you a minute (cue Jeopardy theme). It took me a while to realize that programming was writing. Plus, coding gave me the tools to develop my own writing platforms. I own and operate numerous online ventures, including BrewChief.com and The Herrington Post. I crafted a unique situation where I didn’t need to hone a writing reputation. I had the next best thing: a killer web presence.
When I decided to write fiction, I already had the basic tools. The only thing I lacked was proper technique. When I wrote the first draft of Transient, much of it read like a technical manual. I needed to learn act structure, hooks, provocation, etc. You know, the things that make fiction interesting as opposed to a sleeping aid. Looking back on it, the first draft actually read quite well as a medical journal about vampires. But, the story lacked pacing, structure, and a meaningful plot. In other words, it sucked, which kind of defeated the purpose.
That’s when my writing career began to take shape. I started learning more and more about the craft. I read constantly and devoured every pro tip I could find. The most exciting moment for me came when I was reading a book and could actually critique it. “This writing sucks and this is why it sucks.” Course, I was reading my own damn book, but that’s beside the point. I had gained the insight I needed to write decent fiction. I was by no means at a Douglas Adams level, but I finally had momentum and I’ve ridden it ever since.
That’s what writing is to me: a never-ending battle of brain-melting masochism. It’s a skill you never truly master, which is endlessly appealing to me. I like learning new things and writing offers a bottomless pit of improvement. This is also why I want to slap any writer that emits a pretentious vibe. Unless your accolades include a letter of praise from Tolkien, shut up and sit your delusional ass down. You write at the kiddie table with the rest of us.
I realize that I’m meandering a bit and to be honest, I can’t think of an insightful way to end this. In fact, if you’re still reading, I’m forced to question your judgement. I know I’m not that interesting, so I have to assume you’re really bored, really wasted, or both. And if that’s indeed the case, then I will gently redirect you to something far more entertaining. Here’s a baby monkey riding backwards on a pig. Enjoy.