As someone who has spent most of my life as a writer, one of the side benefits of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is that it has given me more time to write than I have ever had in my slightly more than 72 years on this planet.

But just because I have more time to write does not mean I have been writing more. In fact, just the opposite has occurred. Prior to the column that was in last week's Daily Independent, it had been more than a month since I had written anything.

I have read a number of stories on the Internet and elsewhere about how a number of well-known authors are taking advantage of the many hours they have been forced to stay at home because of the pandemic to write, write and write some more. As a result, there should be many new novels by well-known authors coming out in the months ahead.

But instead of being encouraged by these articles about authors having more time than ever to write, I have been discouraged by them because I have been wasting my time.

I now am going to make a transition that may strike many as odd and maybe even a bit inappropriate. But at the risk of failing to convey the point I want, here goes:

I have never been a good swimmer. In fact, I could not swim a lick until I was 15 when a girlfriend who lived by the public pool in Washington Court House, Ohio, vowed to teach me to swim — or else.

Her method was to push me into the deep end and watch me struggle until I either drowned or made it safely to the side of the pool. Her method taught me how to tread water well enough until I safely reached the side of the pool, but she never taught me much more than that.

Today, I can swim a little better than I could at 15, but not well enough to swim laps in the pool at the Ashland YMCA. I neither have the energy nor the ability to join the other lap swimmers in the pool. The problem with just treading water you will eventually wear out and sink to the bottom.

As a writer, I have spent the last six months treading water, and if I don't start doing more to move forward, I am going to drown.

In the nick of time, I have just finished reading the book “Dimestore: A Writer’s Life” by Lee Smith, which is this month’s selection by the readers group that meets at the Jesse Stuart Foundation on 13th Street. It has been many years that a book has inspired me as a writer as much as this one.

Although Lee Smith, who lives in North Carolina, has written a number of novels and is well-known as a southern Appalachian writer, I had not read anything by her before "Dimestore” which is named for the first of 15 superb essays in the collection.

In fact, to me Lee Smith was the name of Lee Ward when she first joined the staff of The Daily Independent. She took her late husband's name when they married, but I still call her Lee Smith just like I still call my female friends from high school by their maiden names.

If you are an aspiring writer, I recommend "Dimestore." I only wish I had read it 40 years ago. which would have been impossible because it was published in 2017.

"Dimestore" has inspired me to get off my duff and start writing again. I have started writing essays about important people I have met and lessons I've learned in my life.

It's unlikely they will ever be published or read by more than a handful of mostly family members, but just writing them has already been good for my soul. I'm no longer just treading water.


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