Is there a single story, or bit of writing, something you read, etc., that made you want to first begin writing? It doesn’t have to be a story; you could expand this – a piece of art, a bit music composition, whatever. Can you pinpoint, if possible, an object with which you interacted that made you want to create some real writing for the first time ever in your life and continue to do it until you die and rot?
I would rather focus on that initial first ever commitment to writing. We’ve talked a lot about ways we continue to inspire ourselves to create text (what music we listen to or what art we look at, for example), so this is more of an origins question: the origins of your first ever serious impulse to write. For that reason, it might be a little too hard to answer, but still fun to think about, maybe.
This question courtesy of David Erlewine, who emailed me this:
maybe you could do a post about the story that “got” people into writing. kinda cheesy maybe … and for some there may not be “one” story but i know for me reading shirley jackson’s the lottery absolutely made me want to write/read/etc. for good.
Sure, the question could risk oversimplifying the process a bit, but humor us, or give more than one, whatever.
In my case, I can think of several points in my life when I read something and wanted to try to recreate that feeling I got when I read that something, so it’s hard for me to get to that exact moment when I thought I would try to put everything into writing, commit to it, you know?
But, I’ll try. I’d say, for me, the summer of 2004, when I read Infinite Jest was that moment. And I don’t claim any special ground here regarding Infinite Jest, as I’m assuming this is probably not surprising to many HTMLGIANT readers, I mean, his importance. But yeah, I was living at college for the summer, waking up early to train for cross country season, then working in the campus mail office all day sorting mail, then going to my dorm room to read/write (on the days I didn’t go off campus to stay with my girlfriend/nowwifeperson). Infinite Jest, the story of it, the sheer mass, the language, those things and the solitary existence I lived for those months and the life I’d had had until then all combined into this awareness of how special, I think, it was to see someone, Wallace in this case, so committed and excited about writing. I had read other things before that gave me similar feelings, but I hadn’t been writing as seriously as I had been that summer. Infinite Jest, the reading of it, made me think harder about my own writing. I don’t mean the language/product of it, which was still pretty awful, I guess, but instead, I think I took the actual act of writing more seriously, tried to adjust my way of thinking about it as something I should be more serious about in my activities, especially if I hoped to create a fraction of the thing that Infinite Jest was.
Then I asked David to explain a bit further his experience of “The Lottery,” and here’s his response:
I was sitting in 9th grade English class, not paying attention, skimming through the assigned short story book (one of those thick anthologies with stories by Graham Greene, etc…). The last story was Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” While Mr. Cudd (nice enough guy but a real gabber) rambled on about Graham’s genius, I was reading the last three paragraphs of “The Lottery,” over and over. I can still remember how crazy I was feeling right then, wanting to turn around and tell the guy behind me to read the last story.
The story, plot-wise, is pretty simple: To ensure a good harvest, this little town has a lottery where everyone draws a piece of paper. You know something bad happens to the loser but not exactly what. One woman, Tessie Hutchinson, shows up late, joking with everyone, acting so above it all. She draws the one piece of paper with a black spot. The story ending is too good to summarize:
“Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. ‘It isn’t fair,’ she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, ‘Come on, come on, everyone.’ Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.”
FUCK ME. That’s what I think nearly 20 years later, reading that again.
How about you?