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Writing Stories

Dec 14th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

I started writing stories at a young age. My mom still has some stories I wrote for creative writing in the third grade. When I entered what was then called Junior High School in the seventh grade, and I had my first chance to write for a school newspaper. I can’t remember what the issues were at that time, but I doubt that they were very interesting. In the tenth grade, anyone who wanted to continue on the journalism path was encouraged to take a course that included an average of one hour of homework per school night. I bypassed that – too much work – and switched to yearbook staff instead. That was a disaster, so in the eleventh grade I snuck back onto the newspaper staff by utilizing a tactic that I have since used many times: ignore what people tell you. We were told that you had to take the tenth grade journalism course to be on newspaper staff in the eleventh grade. I registered for the course as one of my electives and I was enrolled. When the instructor figured out I hadn’t taken the course, I had already written for a couple of issues and he just let it go. I utilized the same tactic when I went to the University of Oregon as a pre-journalism major – I registered for a junior-level class as a freshman and got in. The instructor advised me a couple of weeks in that there were seniors on a waiting list to get into the course, but again, I had done some work in the class and he could see that I would hold my own so he let it go.

I’m sure you’ve heard that old saying: sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. This tactic that I employed is a version of that. I highly recommend it.

High school newspaper staff was where my writing really took off. I was at a brand-new school my junior year and we had no senior class at the school so our class ruled the school for two years instead of one. After a few issues of writing sports stories, I earned a slot as a sports columnist and quickly upset the apple cart by writing a fall sports review that was highly critical of our winless football team. I narrowly avoided an altercation with the backup quarterback in the cafeteria by suggesting that he write a letter-to-the-editor, or that I could write it for him if he were illiterate. Somehow this daring act of bravado (brainlessness really) earned me the respect of our student editor, and she gave me an opinion column slot. Then the real fun started. We had two other regular columnists and we sometimes collaborated. There were very few restrictions on what we could write about, and every two weeks there was some kind of controversy involving an administrator or a teacher or a student or a student’s parents or a community leader – not as the subject of a column, but their reaction to a column. We all dreamed of writing for National Lampoon, I think. I don’t know why or how our instructor let us have the freedom that we have. He was rewarded by having the newspaper staff responsibility taken away from him after we graduated.

I left U of O after my freshman year to start making a series of bad life decisions and I didn’t return to the halls of higher education for about six years. By that time I was working for Gary Coe, who owns Speed’s Supertow and Retriever Towing in Portland, Ore. Gary believed in education and paid half of tuition costs for employees who were taking courses related to business or the towing industry. I was a psychology major at first, then switched to English later so at first I didn’t ask him to contribute to helping me with my tuition costs. However, at some point it came up and he decided to bend the rules for me, and he paid for half of my tuition for probably the last third of my education, which drug on kind of long because I took about 35 credits more than I needed due to the change in major and my desire to continue going to college forever.

When I moved into management at Sergeants Towing in Portland, I started finding ways to use my writing in my work. Besides municipal contract proposals and training materials, I started a monthly newsletter that sometimes was 16 pages. I started a daily Information sheet, a memo that was distributed to all employees every weekday afternoon, and I often threw in anecdotes or rants or incendiary remarks that drew the ire of the inept and incompetent.

When I left Sergeants to come back to work for Gary Coe here at TPN, it took awhile for me to find ways to work writing into my routine. We started with a simple newsletter, at the time weekly, back in 2009, as a low-cost way to promote specials and new items in a way that was entertaining. With all of my experiences, and the experiences of former coworkers, residing in my memory banks, we decided to just recycle that old junk and have some fun with it. Those stories have found a new home here at this blog, as well as our own company blog, and now a blog at It’s hard to say how much it has helped our business, but I know the readership is there, and I often receive nice comments from our customers about the material (and every once in awhile a disgruntled unsubscribe remark). So it just goes to show that if you enjoy something, you can find a way to make it part of your work. It also goes to show that you never know how an investment will provide a return. I’m sure that Gary didn’t worry about a return when he decided to help me pay my tuition costs back in the mid-90s, for my English degree, but now here we are. I didn’t study marketing in college. I read books, and I wrote stories, with a little philosophy and sociology mixed in, and now that writing is what I use every day in my work, and have used every day for almost 15 years now.

Never stop doing something you enjoy.

And have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper