I’m going to tell you a story you’ve heard before.
Three years ago, I was broke as hell. I had struck out on my own – with my parent’s tenuous support – and had quit my job at Panera Bread because the difference in pay was, to my horror, not especially dramatic.
My parents had agreed to bankroll this little venture; but middle class is middle class, and the strain was evident in the dwindling amounts they could provide. I couldn’t pay my bills for electricity, or credit card debt; and, to top it all off, my tiny single apartment with an alcove retained heat, all year round. Unable to afford air conditioning, new clothes, bedding, or groceries, I would wake up daily sheathed in sweat, put on my worn down clothes, and walk down to my mecca: Coolidge Corner.
I had set up rituals for myself, to keep whatever remained of my sanity intact. I was down to three essentials: two fast-food meals a day, and books.
In Coolidge Corner, with whatever album I was listening to that day, I would eat a breakfast sandwich, admire the fact that poverty was doing wonders for my figure, and figure out what the hell I was going to do, because I had no money, and interviews were fruitless. Then I would go to the bookstore: Brookline Booksmith.
Brookline Booksmith is one of those beauts of Eastern Mass bookstores: deceptively arranged like H.P. Lovecraft’s Non-Euclidian Temples to Cthulu, minus all the terrifying elder gods.
You walk in and you see it go all the way back. It’s deep. It’s almost martial in its formation of books, arrayed like Book-Nerd feng-shui that draws the eyes down the length of its horizon line. In the front were baubles that bookstores like to sell for people who don’t like to read: colorful plates, pencils, miniatures. The air wasn’t quite musty, but it was a dream.
I still feel the sensation of the brown hardwood floor that held me steady as I would walk in with a dancer’s grace to avoid hitting the platforms; and then I would feast under the bright light whites.
I would dance, and massage the textures of the books. I would hold them, admire them; I would find a particularly great passage and laugh my balls off to the ambivalent looks of other patrons.
It was a second home for me, and I bought books.
Now, before you think my despair of poverty ended with Freelance Writing: it didn’t. During this time, I had been freelancing, and had learned how much of a horror-show it can be, if you don’t have any fucking idea what you’re doing.
But I wanted to write. I had drafts: screenplays, books, short stories, poetry. A pile of unreadable garbage. I had purchased an Alpha Smart to write more, and had succeeded. It held a privileged space, next to the stack of books for which I had no shelf. I’d had the gift of gab, but no confidence, and no knowledge. I would admire these book store offerings, but I always felt the distance.
Then, one day, during my morning ritual, I found Stanley Fish’s book: How to Write a Sentence, and how to read one. Even though I had about 30 dollars in my bank account, I decided to purchase it. Then something clicked, and I realized how amazing a sentence can be.
I started searching for good sentences. I burned through the book, I got a job which taught me a lot of things; I got some money; I got a writing gig; and since, I’ve focused my obsession for narrative craft into something spectacularly intricate.
There is no end to this story, sorry. But there is a point: for the last three years, I have consumed and made an active effort at writing sentences so that they land. I have written 4+ manuscripts (still need editing) and I have listened, watched, and obsessed over Narrative Pedagogy, as well as just learned so much by observation.
So this series is my attempt to give something back. Writing 344 is my attempt to Fish it up, and teach you how to write, if not well, then better. I love good writing. I love aspiring writers. But more than that, I love good craft.
And writing is that, by a pretty wide margin. In my bracket (unpublished, but obsessive), I note a lot of very common areas that can be improved, and a lot of things you may not have picked up on. I hope to share these observations, and provide you with a guide-boat to writing.
My story is far from finished, but I hope you will take it with me. We’re going to go over as much as I can humanly remember, and then some. Each course will be conversational, and will focus on one thing at a time. If you like what I have to say, please drop a line, and I will be happy to hear you out, and help you become your best writer.
If you don’t like it, well, cool, you do you. But I hope you do enjoy it, and learn to appreciate the fine thing a good sentence can be, when it’s done write. I hope you come to appreciate a shapely theme; balanced exposition; the right kind of conflict; character development; scale; weight; all the way down to my favorite of punctuation marks: the Semi-Colon.
And, most importantly, I hope you improve your writing. The only thing holding you back from going forward, is you. Just write, and the rest should come. But you can always use a little help.
And that’s what I’ll do.
Now that I’ve told you a story, let’s start with yours.