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Things I Learned Without Asking: Intro

Updated 11 weeks ago David Stone
Things I Learned Without Asking: Intro

From the time, at thirteen, sitting at my desk alone in an upstairs room, that I scratched  out the thirty of so pages of my first novel on lined, schoolroom paper, I was passionate about writing fiction. That story was never finished — most first novels aren’t — and although I eventually completed ten others, I never gave much thought to writing a nonfiction book. That changed with an out of blue stroke of… well, something.

For a few years by then, and on a few isolated occasions after I started posting in the 70s, I’d given journalism and freelance article writing a try. But those were opportunistic jabs at earning some cash with words, not serious career diversions.

I never seriously considered writing a nonfiction book for a simple reason — I had no area of expertise, so why would anyone consider publishing, let alone reading, what I wrote?

…if I ever had a big enough idea to pull up at least 50,000 words, the minimum I considered necessary to be worthy of hard copy binding.

That all changed one day when, after explaining that I was the world’s luckiest man, it dawned on me, ipso facto, that I must also be the happiest. How could I not be?

Then, it just blossomed.

The book came to me.

Since, I’ve read Stephen King’s reflection that, for him, writing’s like being in a trance, something akin to an athlete being “in the zone,” a state of intense awareness and execution that blocks out everything else.

But when it happened to me, I wasn’t aware of anyone having an experience like it. I’d heard about “automatic writing,” a concept that blew by me like so many other fantastic claims that didn’t seem to change the world. I hadn’t knowingly read anything written by anyone whose hand and mind were directed, unbidden, by someone or something inexplicable, claims by the likes of Esther Hicks aside.

It wasn’t as if I had nothing better to do. I had a full time job in outside sales, and I contributed regularly to article farms like Squidoo and HubPages.

I was busy.

Then, I was made busier.

The available time I didn’t think I had seemed to arrive out of nowhere too.

I had a book idea in my head, a full idea, unlike my novels where I normally had a starting point and rough end far off in the distance. This book was mapped out skeletally, in three sections: Morning, Noon and Night.

I even knew, before I started what the word count would be.

This is preposterous, of course, but it was fun preposterous. I started, right away, on A Million Different Things: Meditations of the World’s Happiest Man. 

Here’s the kicker: I had the skeleton but very little idea about what the muscle, organs and bones would look like.

I started anyway because I woke up the first morning and every morning thereafter with a clear idea of where my writing was headed that day. I don’t mean a plan. There was no plan. I was, sort of, taken there.

And, of course, this makes no sense to me, even today, but it happened, just like that.

Not only was I typing out idea after idea, concept after concept, morning after morning on my laptop, I was coming up with stuff — evolution, philosophy, physics — I’d never given a thought or even contemplated. 

Some of it was completely out of my league. I actually seemed to know things I didn’t know. It was really that weird.

But it was in somebody’s league.

It just came to me over a couple of months. Ideas tumbled into words, and I hurried to get them all down as my fingers raced over the keyboard.

Early on, I gave up thinking about what I was writing, then soon stopped worrying so much about spelling and grammar. Getting it down without errors caused a bottleneck in whatever that magical flow of insights was. There’d be time for editing down the road.

Once, I remember laughing out loud, the experience was so outrageous. 

It was like being on a carnival ride, except the ride was immaterial, a whirl of ideas I turned real by typing them into my hard drive.


After about two months, the first draft was done. Edited, it was 60,000 words, just as I knew it would be before the first word hit the screen in front of me.

What was the point of it?

Damned if I know. I never knew. But I was given it, like an esoteric gift, and what the hell? I accepted.

Before turning A Million Different Things into a printed book, there were opportunities to think about what happened.

First of all, I had to start again from scratch and edit the manuscript. I didn’t edit out much because, really, I hadn’t produced this avalanche of ideas. They belonged to some other source.

I kept it all, corrected the spelling and grammar and did my best to polish up the ideas as clearly and cleanly as I understood them, a task made more difficult because so much was new to me. 

Even today, years later, I’ll thumb through that first nonfiction book and wonder, Where the hell did I get that? 

Fact is, I didn’t.

And much of the book is still news to me, almost as if I’m as much a reader as the writer.

But some things do shine through, and that brings me to this project.

Over the next months — or however long it takes before I run dry — I’ll be extracting some specific insights from my book and elaborating on them in a series of articles for Things I Learned Without Asking.

It’ll be like another adventure, going back to explore the terrain over which I once moved so quickly and blindly. 

I invite you to stay with me and see where all this leads next.

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