The Calling of the Pen and the Pad
Writing this blog post, I kinda feel like one of those characters in a comedy movie—you know, the one who turns up to a party or business event and starts talking about himself, only to see everyone else asking the same question:
“Who is this guy?”
I debated for a long time about whether or not I should actually write this post. After all, I’m not a famous writer—not by a long shot. Writing about my story just seems . . . awkward. Why would anyone be interested?
And yet, despite my misgivings, I decided to write it.
Because this post isn’t really about my story. It’s about yours. It’s about taking a moment to recognize that being a writer is a difficult, terrifying, exhilarating career choice, and that anyone who chooses it—who hears the calling of the pen and the pad and feels compelled to answer—has a story to tell.
So here’s my story—the story of how I became a writer, the story of why I created RE: Writing. It’s a story that, in many ways, is still being told.
It’s not the most exciting story, nor perhaps the most inspiring.
But it’s mine.
A Child’s Dreams
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer.
It just seemed the natural choice. Even as a little kid, I recognized that I had a vivid imagination; my recesses were spent wandering up and down the playground, my mind far away in a magical land filled with dashing heroes and terrifying monsters. To a young, insecure kid’s mind, my imagination was the only unique skill I had. It just made sense that I would express it through writing.
As I grew older, I began my first experiments with writing: writing short stories and sharing them with my classmates. They were kinda depressing—the main character always either died or was revealed to be the villain—and tended to lead to my parents’ wondering if I needed therapy. To a 13/14-year-old, though, they were “dramatic.” (At least there weren’t any vampires.)
When I was fifteen, I wrote a novella called The Slayer. It was a slasher/fantasy/mystery mess of a book, based on an idea for a video game I had. I still contend that, had it actually been a video game, the story wouldn’t have been half-bad. As a book, though . . . well, it sucked. It basically involved a city named Stormlin that’s ruled by a powerful council of lords. Ten years before the book begins, the city is besieged by a serial killer named The Slayer—he wipes out almost the entire council before being stopped by a new Lord called Elren (I may be remembering some of these names wrong). Ten years later, an “adventurer” (a career path that seems to only exist in fantasy) named Aarkon comes to the city and begins having visions of The Slayer killing the new members of the council every night—and every morning discovering that these visions are a reality. To cut a long, rather gruesome story short, Aarkon is revealed to be The Slayer. His near death by Elron and consequent healing by his demon boss (yep, there’s a demon boss) had created a second, more benign personality in him called Aarkon, but now the psychotic Slayer personality is overpowering him (cue ominous music). He heads over to Elron, as the Slayer, to kill him, but Elron persuades him to embrace his better Aarkon personality and join him in defeating the demon. The demon kills Elron, Aarkon kills the demon, Aarkon becomes the new High Lord of the city to do penance for his sins, end of story.
So . . . yeah.
I have no idea what happened to that story. This was pre-cloud days, so it’s probably lost forever on the carcass of our old Windows XP. But these early attempts at writing help remind me that, even back when I was younger and stupider, writing was in my blood.
Fast forward a couple of years. I was about to enter the workforce, not at all sure what I wanted to do. It had been ingrained in me by everyone I knew that the only way to be a writer was to write a novel, and, until that happened (until I made my first million, they would say), I needed a backup plan—something to pay the bills until I “made it big.” The problem was, I had no idea what that “something” was supposed to be.
It still feels weird to write it, but I never even considered trying to make a career out of writing. Back then, I’d only vaguely heard of a copywriter—I thought it had something to do with copying machines.
So I entered the work force as an office worker.
My first job was a 9-5, managing an office at just above minimum pay. I hated it, but it was enough to pay for my rent and my college bills. Over time, I began taking on odd freelance writing jobs. I wrote the webpage copy for a few security firms, and wrote and edited a local Jewish magazine. But, whenever I tried getting an actual writing job, I always got turned down.
I was woefully inexperienced.
And then, one day, my father suggested reaching out to Chabad.org—a huge, international Jewish website—and submitting fiction to them. It was something I’d never considered before—to be honest, I wasn’t even aware that Chabad.org had a fiction section. So I sent them a story titled The Monster of the Woods, and they said yes.
I still remember the moment it went live. It was a Friday afternoon; I was at work. The editor I work with emailed me to tell me the story was live. I clicked on the link and there it was—my story, something I had written, made public.
I will never forget what I felt that day. I was giddy, overwhelmed, smiling like a fool in my—luckily—empty office. It was at that moment that I finally realized that this.
This was what I wanted to do.
I began writing stories for them fairly regularly, slowly building a name for myself in the Jewish community. I began looking again for writing jobs. And then, one day, I found one.
A copywriting job for a daily deals company called Mobstub.
I reached out and, a few weeks later, I got the job.
Becoming a Writer
Unfortunately, the job wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. It only involved a minimal amount of copywriting; the vast majority of it was data entry. That wasn’t due to any dishonesty on their behalf—the staff at Mobstub is made up of genuinely honest professionals. It was simply a misunderstanding between us. But, either way, I wasn’t happy.
So I began looking for other jobs and, again, received rejection after rejection.
After a few months, I gave up trying to find something different and instead turned my focus inward. My copywriting opportunities at Mobstub consisted of writing short product descriptions for their daily deals under the tight deadline of needing to put up a large quota of deals a day. Those were my challenges. On the plus side, no one at Mobstub had the time to read what I wrote.
I was free to experiment.
Over the next few months, I developed my writing voice. Product description after product description, I challenged myself to write emotive, dynamic copy that connected with readers. When I grew bored and complacent, I demanded that I be different. When I ran out of new ways to describe jewelry—a category I was putting up maybe 9 deals of in a day—I researched the field in search of insights. My wife often joked that I knew more about jewelry terms and styles than she did.
I developed a portfolio of my favorite descriptions—ones, over hundreds that I had written, that I felt truly stood out. Later, Mobstub expanded my duties to handling their Facebook account—an opportunity I leapt upon.
I am, to this day, thankful for those no’s. Thankful that I never found a way out of Mobstub when I looked for one. Because, despite the lack of writing opportunities afforded me, I never would have become the writer I am today if not for my time there. If not for Mobstub, I never would have had the experience and skill to apply for a marketing writing position at one of America’s top electronics retailers and, out of a large pool of candidates, have the entire marketing team unanimously vote to hire me.
But here’s the funny thing. When I look back and reflect, try to pinpoint that moment when I ceased to become someone who wrote and dared to call myself a writer, it wasn’t the moment I got that copywriting job at Mobstub, or when I published my first story on Chabad.org.
The moment I called myself a writer was a day or two after my wedding, when my wife presented me with a mug she had designed for me.
It was white, with a black handle and black typing. On the mug was a single word, all lower case, with a period at the end.
Why RE: Writing?
And so here I am today. A marketing writer, a published author of short fiction, sitting down and, against my many, many doubts, writing this blog post. Because this—the story of a young boy with a dream daring to write, daring to call himself a writer—is what RE: Writing is all about.
It began as merely a platform for me to express my different musings on writing. But, through the advice of those closest to me, it became something more. A place for writers to connect. A place where I can share my experiences, my thoughts, my advice, and even my failures, to other young writers looking to tell their story.
That’s not to say I’m not going to bore you with my musings. Stick with me and you’ll find long, pedantic ramblings on whatever comes to my mind.
But, I hope, you may also find something more, too.
You may just find what you need to tell your story—starting right here, in the comments.
Welcome to RE: Writing.
It’s gonna be one heck of a ride.
Eli Landes is one of those weird writers who just can't get enough. A marketing writer by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time, he spends his spare time working on his novel, writing short fiction, or daydreaming (I mean, researching). His main genre is Jewish fiction, but he's been known to dabble in the weird, the absurd, and the truly dark.