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How I wrote and published my first book

You can buy my first book, 20 Something, here. Design by Kevin Kenealy

My high school chemistry teacher told us a story before class started one day about how he was building his wife something for their anniversary. For the life of me, I can't remember what that something was now, but whatever it was at the time, it struck me as truly romantic. It was my chemistry teacher, of all people, who inspired me to begin to write in a writing notebook for high school.

One writing notebook became two and two became three. I turned out page after page of poems, short stories and cartoons in those notebooks. In senior year, when I should have been studying in study hall, I doodled Far Side-esq cartoons or wrote poetry. My outdoor-ed gym teacher told us to make a life list, or a bucket list, of things we wanted to accomplish in our lives. At the time, I could only think of two things to put on that list. One was to visit the Grand Canyon, and the other was to get a book published. Well, I accomplished them both.

Then in the summer of 2007 while away at Eastern Illinois University, I tried an experiment. I would go without TV and the Internet for the summer. I remember when I canceled the cable, I had to fight to get someone in to take it out. They couldn't believe that I didn't want it anymore. Shutting out the Internet was a little more difficult. I still needed it for school at times, but I found that the school's library provided most of the research I needed anyway.

I exercised more. I painted. I spent more time in nature. I discovered things about the world around me that I didn't think about. It was a great summer. I guess you could say that I was a transcendentalist of the modern age. I wrote a bulk of poems that became my first book, 20 Something, a book of poetry about growing up in your 20s and what a strange experience that can be.

I felt lost by my last semester in my senior year at EIU. I spent countless hours in classes and working on the newspaper for a career in journalism, and there I was, unsure if it was a field I wanted to pursue. Maybe I was just scared of the unknown. School felt like my career, until it was over.

When I graduated Eastern, I thought I should be in this big-shot job, but when I wasn't able to find one, I instead worked for a local paper as a designer while I worked full-time at the garden center that I had worked for the last five years. It was fine. I liked it there, but I just thought I should be in a career. I didn't know where I was headed, and I didn't know exactly who I was. So, I kept writing these poems about finding yourself, and about growing up in this adult world.

Around that time, I played recreational baseball with my brother, and my coach was a self-published author and he would tell us about his book from time to time. So, I remembered my dream about getting published and he told me what I needed to do and recommended this company Authorhouse. I looked them over, and they seemed okay, so I compiled years' worths of poetry, edited them and submitted them. I also designed my own cover using InDesign and Photoshop. Within a few months, I was published. My high school bucket list was complete.

Since it was self-published, I needed to do all the marketing on my own. That was the toughest part. So, I attended any events that people would allow me to attend - book talks, library fairs, parties. I spoke at my former Moraine Valley Community College about getting published and following your dreams, which was a great feeling for me. And I attended the Homer Glen Library Fair and got to know other self-published authors. My book went on to be featured in local papers and was stocked in local libraries. It took work on my part, but it felt good knowing that others were reading things that might help them through strange times as well. Since then, I published two more books, and I have two more being copy edited. I would no longer recommend Authorhouse, but they did get me started.

I tell my high school students all the time that the most popular major in college is undecided. I'm partly joking, but then again, there's a lot of truth in that. Had I not been so confused about where I was headed at that time in my life, my first book never would have come out. Sometimes we need to keep asking questions about who we are to find out where we want to go. We also need to make sure we never lose sight of our dreams.

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