At eighteen I wrote my first novel, a western entitled "The Bear Paw Valley," which was pretty much a Louis L'Amour pastiche. One of the English profs at Arkansas Tech University where I went was a writer with a dozen published novels, and he was also the only writer I'd ever heard of who grew up in my tiny home town of Charleston, Arkansas. I took my book to him to read and he graciously did so. He came back and told me that it was unpublishable, which was true, but that I seemed to have a talent for writing and that he'd like me to write something else for him, and that he'd look it over for me and then send it to his agent. That was probably about as high as I'd ever been.
I went home that night and started a new novel, a much more contemporary and autobiographical work. Within a week I had over thirty pages, and I went to talk to him the next Monday morning about my progress only to find out that he'd choked on a chicken bone and died over the weekend. The man's name was Francis Gwaltney, and even though I'd known him only a little while I'd come to like him very much. Apparently he'd gone out to celebrate the publication of his new novel.
I took Gwaltney's death pretty hard, and part of that honestly was because it seemed to destroy a dream that I'd had for myself of writing. I remember taking it as a kind of sign and I didn't write another word of fiction until I was in graduate school in psychology, which was about six years or so later.
In retrospect, it was a childish thing for me to do, to give up on my writing because of something that happened to another writer of my acquaintence. But if I was so childish as to do so, then maybe it was a good thing. Because maybe it showed that at the time I didn't have a damn thing to say. Writing is not just the words and the style. It's about something. Maybe nothing profound. Maybe nothing more than "here's the way I see it." But even that can be important. Even that is needed.