As any nerd knows, all introductions to computer programming start with the above phrase, so I think that's a good way to introduce me, since I'm someone who's done quite a lot of programming. Oh, programming was never my goal, of course. After all, who wants to be a computer programmer? But, long ago, I did discover something interesting about it.
My third-grade teacher had a Commodore 64 in her classroom. During a class recess, I sat down and I wrote something like this:
10 PRINT "WHAT IS YOUR NAME: "
20 INPUT C$
30 PRINT C$ " IS AWESOME!!! "
40 GOTO 30
Of course, I invited some kids in class to come over and try my program out. They were beyond amazed, and excitedly told my other classmates to come and see. One of the kids named Ryan watched in awe as the phrase "RYAN IS AWESOME!!!" repeated over and over. In a matter of minutes, I had gone from "that boy who reads books at recess" to something akin to god-like status.
I didn't bother tempering their praise. Never mind that what I had written was about as simple as printing "Hello world." Writing something impactful, you see, is not about the complexity of language. In fact, impactful writing is just about writing something meaningful to the person experiencing it. I entertained Ryan in a way that he thought it was just for him.
I've heard some people say that they write for one particular reader, real or imagined. The same is true for me, but there's often times when that particular reader is me. Another truth about writers is that writers write what they want to read. Both of these truths became even more poignant after I experienced a difficult separation. I found myself obsessing over things that went wrong. At the same time, I recognized that it was getting me nowhere. I wanted someone to smack me out of it, but I was not a fan of violence nor confrontation. I thought about therapy, but I realized I didn't really trust anyone at the moment. I tried self-help books, and they seemed to fall short of the mark, mostly because they were boring. Someone who wanted to help me needed to entertain me, because entertainment is what I value. They would need to make me laugh, because humor is like oxygen, only it bonds less with hydrogen, and outer space is not devoid of it.
Then, one day, I heard a voice of a character (with a distinctive southern drawl) who said, "Just stop having problems, stupid!" Dr. Matt had arrived.
As I continued to write down what this unique character said, laughter transformed pain and soon I had a finished book sitting on my computer screen. It wasn't a long book; it was more like Dr. Matt bursting into the room and shouting, "Hello, world!"
Such a character does not, of course, leave the scene with just one book. Dr. Matt started to write blog posts, which were often in the form of short stories, and eventually, he recorded podcasts.
Eventually, it became clear that he wanted to say a lot more about the subject that had started it all: relationships. Not one for tact, he decided to title his next book When It Comes To Relationships, You've Been An Idiot. The title made me a little uncomfortable, but that's Dr. Matt for you.
Over the course of two years, he talked about relationships. Each topic was quite a journey, and by the end of each chapter, I had laughed and I had wept. That's when I knew I really had something. I didn't know whether to call it fictional non-fiction or non-fictional-esque fiction, but that's a marketing problem, not a writing problem.
In fact, when it came to marketing, the way that Dr. Matt was fearless in his promotion of his finished books continued to teach me: this time about visibility. It stirred in me something I knew for some time. I didn't just want to write; I wanted to be out there with my writing. I wanted not just to entertain my friends or a few kids in a classroom, but to step out and be. After all, if Dr. Matt could do it, so could I.
Just weeks ago, I started dusting off stories I'd previously written, some of them that I'd written with only the intention of one person reading them. They were stories written by "Matthew Dean Leichty". Know how to pronounce that last name? Don't worry, no one does. But that seemed easy to fix. I picked up the first story. I edited the byline to read simply "Matthew Dean". That was my name, after all.
And Matthew Dean is awesome.
You can follow Matthew on Twitter: @matthewdl. Dr. Matt's books, posts, and podcasts can be found at TheDrMatt.com