On Writing I


I moved to New York intending to become a writer. The city, with its high cost of living, broke my resolution within a month. Every day I watched my bank account dwindle as I struggled to rewrite my manuscript. After battling my manuscript, I would lie awake in bed and consider the starving artist’s grim reality. I didn’t have the balls to live by my word. I gave myself until the first of the next month to mourn the lose of my constitution and then I began applying to jobs.

I wound up in forestry despite my lack of applicable experience. I was hired because of my education, or so I believed at the time. Presently, I believe my willingness to work in any weather, year round, with limited access to food, water, and bathrooms, played a far more significant role than my education in the acceptance of my application.

At any rate, I was offered the job and accepted.

What I didn’t realize was that I had accepted what I was afraid the pursuit of writing would bring, namely, a lack of food and water, in exchange for a few bucks.

The new job did allow me to comfortably afford my rent, however, and plenty of booze besides. The booze was the premier benefit of my employment. It provided me with a means to assuage the guilt which had begun to preoccupy my idle mind at work. Around this time is when my writing began to deteriorate.

The booze blunted the worst of my fears, but the deterioration of my writing still nagged me. In my drunken stupor, I bought tens of books on how to write. I thought the answer to the question of how to live off writing must be in one of them. Reading how to write books is like scratching lotto tickets, you know the answer isn’t in there, but you hope that you’re wrong. Of all the how-to-write books I bought in New York, I use only one, The Elements of Style. The rest collect dust on the bookshelf. In general, grammar books are the only books on how to write.

I keep the unused books because they are useful in their uselessness. They remind me of my vain quest for answers. They remind me that a fixation with answers can debilitate a writer. In short, they taught me the way to begin writing.

All writing begins with one of six questions: who, what, where, when, why, or how. The difficulty of writing, while perpetual, is eased by questions. Questions are a writer’s greatest asset. Questions allow writers to unlock the potential of the blank page. As we carve a path through the blank page with words to answer our question, we subconsciously lay the foundation of our piece.

Questions that divert mental energy from the process of writing, questions of confidence or purpose for example, must be banished forthwith. These questions belong to the process of reflection, not writing.

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