John Scanlan started writing in a journal when he left home for college in 1978.
"I grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting," said the Hilton Head Island resident, who was raised in Ohio. "The boy with a dog and a pond, and a house and a creek in the woods -- everything that a boy should grow up with."
That's what he likes writing about. And what started out as journal entries has turned into several stories published in magazines and books.
After retiring from the Marine Corps in 2003, Scanlan wrote and self-published three books. Then he started freelancing for magazines. His stories have been published in Boys' Quest, Capper's, Fun For Kidz, Country and Air & Space magazines.
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Scanlan also has had several stories published in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books. His latest story to be released, "Use It or Lose It," is featured in the book "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Boost Your Brain Power!"
In that story, Scanlan writes about how he enjoys doing crossword puzzles and how they keep his brain active.
A self-professed health nut, Scanlan said he exercises six days a week and watches what he eats. But after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2009, Scanlan said he thought, "What else do I have to worry about?"
Alzheimer's disease is something that really scares him.
"I said, 'Man, what do I have to do to prevent that? Whatever it takes, I'll do,'" Scanlan said. "So I just devised some things to keep my brain sharp. For all these years I've been keeping my body sharp. And now at the age of early 50s I thought, 'Oh, maybe I should start exercising my brain like I have been my body.'"
The crossword puzzles are one way he exercises his brain. And writing is certainly another. He writes for about six hours a day six days a week.
"I'm going to keep writing until they bury me six feet under," Scanlan said. "I really enjoy it."
I figure that the brain is just like a muscle -- use it or lose it. So that's why I challenge my brain with crossword puzzles. However, I recently stumbled upon a very interesting component of that challenge.
I am right-handed, but a minor accident prevented the use of my right hand for two weeks. Thus, I continued my crossword puzzle challenges, but I did so holding the pen in my left hand. Immediately, I discovered how much more intently I had to concentrate -- not only on the puzzle, but also on the simple task of writing with my off hand. I felt like I had discovered gold! So after my right hand eventually recovered, I continued to use my left. To this very day, I still do crossword puzzles with the pen in my left hand as a workout for my brain.