Go to college planning to become a writer, but not just any writer — a penman with three best-selling novels, two apartments and one house in Maine.
p. One apartment should overlook the Western Edge of Central Park in New York City; the other should be in Paris. Your first novel will consume your summer before college. Consider, at first, writing a coming-of-age story about a teenager who is part werewolf.
p. You will title the book Teenage Werewolf. Every day you will wake up intending to write, but something — a death in the family or a two-for-one special at the local Dairy Queen — will always distract you.
p. This ultimately will be for the best: Coming-of-age tales make the most predictable first novels. Decide that, as a boy of 18, your writing has yet fully developed anyway, and therefore this first great work should be put off until you learn more.
p. When you get to college, enroll in English classes. In your free time you will read books about Kentucky and other parts of the United States that you know nothing about. Your creative writing teacher will tell you that a good writer writes what he knows, so you will do this. You will write one story about strangers trapped on a deserted island, and another tale where a pair of rabbits eats dinner with a black widow spider.
p. Take particular pride in the second story because you consider it a deconstruction of the traditional fairy tale. At the end the black widow spider kills the two rabbits. In order to incorporate your extra curricular readings, there will be at least one character from Kentucky in every short story.
p. You will feel disconsolate when your creative writing teacher hands back your stories. Her comments will engulf the margins of each page in a brushfire of red scrawl. Aside from circling grammatical errors, her comments will say things like “Interesting premise, but where was this story going?” or “Why were the rabbits in your story from Kentucky?” You will curse your professor for failing to understand your subtle message. You will also begin loathing the other students in your class, particularly those who write better than you. Call them suck-ups and leave unsigned comments on their stories that say things like “I hope this was only your first draft.”
p. When you get a B+ in your creative writing class, you will be upset. This poor mark will burden you during winter break, and you will refuse to enroll in another creative writing class, which, are in your words, “utter wastes of time.” You will begin loathing many of your professors because they all seem to give you the same lowly grade. Soon your grade point average will plummet to embarrassing lows. When friends talk about graduate school you will have to leave the room, or you may begin crying.
p. By the end of freshman year, your grades will have sunk so low that you are permanently barred from every prestigious masters of creative writing program in the country.
p. Consider transferring the entire summer after your freshman year. The problem with your writing, you will decide, is not your fault. Realize that your present university suffers from a lack of creativity, and this institutional flaw will continue to stifle your artistic growth. You will visit the webpages of Oberlin College and Kenyon College — places where people care more about writing and less about accounting. Ultimately you will decide to remain for two reasons: because trying situations inspire great writing and because these other colleges cost more than your state school.
p When you return as a sophomore, write regularly for your school’s newspaper. Come to appreciate news writing, which reveres brevity. Write one article on local zoning ordinances and another article about a law that prevents the use of vinyl siding on local homes. When the editorial staff cuts this vinyl siding piece, which was a very riveting example of investigative journalism, you will be okay with their decision. You no longer care whether people read something you write. You write for the distinct satisfaction you get from making clear and concise statements.
p. You will read somewhere that a good journalist questions everything. As a result, you question your motivations to become a writer. You will reread short stories from your freshman year and cringe at the person you once were and decide that writing is not for you. Instead, consider other future careers like lawyer, teacher and hot dog vendor. All this time you will continue writing for pleasure. Aside from the article about the vinyl siding, you will write in your free time. You will begin writing letters and long essays about personal experiences.
p. On a whim, apply to be a columnist for the newspaper. You will almost literally fall out of your chair when you find out you get the position.
p. Surprise will give way to terror, and you will wonder what you have to say. When, in the fall of your junior year, the time comes to write your first column, stare at your computer screen. You have read somewhere that the hardest part of writing is beginning. Take a deep breath and begin.
p. __James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist. His next endeavor is to write his manifesto.__