We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Dean Nelson. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Dean below.
Dean, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. How did you learn to do what you do? Knowing what you know now, what could you have done to speed up your learning process? What skills do you think were most essential? What obstacles stood in the way of learning more?
I learned about writing well by writing a lot (and doing it badly), and by reading a lot. Eventually, the good writing started replacing the bad. There’s no leapfrogging in creative work. You do the work, do the work, do the work, and you hope that something turns out better each time. Samuel Beckett’s advice applies here. “Fail Better.” I would add, “and fail as quickly as you can so you can move on.” Life presents some big obstacles to doing creative work. But welcome to the human race. If you want to do this, you’ll figure it out.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I got into writing professionally because my wife’s uncle saw that I was headed nowhere fast. I was running a coffee house in Detroit. I’m certain he had more concern for his great niece than for me, but he sat me down and asked what my plan was for the future. I had no plan. He asked me a question no one had ever asked me: What are you good at? I told him I thought I was a pretty good writer. So he set me on a course for getting developed as a writer — just by one conversation. Later on I realized I could have that kind of impact on others just by showing some interest in them.
I still write, conduct writing workshops, and interview writers, all while keeping my day job of being a journalism professor.
One of my favorite dimensions of being a journalist is engaging in what the writer Ray Bradbury said during my interview with him. He said it was the writer’s task to “bear witness to the miraculous.” When I can do that, I feel that I am fulfilling my true vocation.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
When I first got out of journalism school I got a job with a major corporation at their headquarters, working on their employee magazine. Eventually I became editor of the magazine, and was making lots of money. But I was miserable. I didn’t want to use my writing ability just to help some company make more money. I wanted to tell good stories. Eventually I took a big risk (against the advice of my wife) and accepted a teaching position where I could both teach writing and pursue my creative interests. There was no guarantee that this would work. But it did work.
I make a lot less money than if I would have stayed in the corporate communications world, but I have a lot more freedom, and I am no longer depressed. The risk was that I would crash and burn professionally. I didn’t. It was worth taking the leap into the unknown.
Is there mission driving your creative journey?
I mentioned Ray Bradbury’s advice earlier, but maybe the best creative advice I’ve gotten is from a Mary Oliver poem called “Sometimes.”
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.”
Writers get to tell about it. It’s a privilege.
- Website: deannelson.net
- Facebook: Dean Nelson
- Linkedin: Dean Nelson at Point Loma Nazarene University
- Twitter: @deanenelson