The final and most important step on how to become a writer is this: embrace the fact that you didn’t choose the subject, the subject chose you. It waylaid you. It flattened you on a lonely desert highway, like a scene from a cartoon.
You must write on this subject with pure instinct and without any regard to conventional literary wisdom. Of course, you will have read all the prison literature, but you will never emulate a single word of its various styles or themes because that would constitute utter cliché and you are no hack writer because you haven’t become a writer yet!
(Note to potential writer: never, ever, use the cliched phrase “going down the rabbit hole” to describe anything unknown, let alone the experience of belonging in The Registry. A rabbit hole by definition has a purpose and leads to a toasty warren where there are cute, carrot-chomping, furry creatures capable of nuzzling love and serving as sweet characters in children’s stories. No, that’s not The Registry at all.)
Be bold! Cut your long hair and tear down the pillars! You must consider yourself the greatest avant-garde writer on the subject of The Registry that has ever existed. Write what ever drifts through your transom. Use words like transom. Write completely without narrative structure, let alone with a coherent narrator. Go gonzo if necessary. Go William Burroughs and cut-ups. Go Oprah. Take Annie Dillard’s advice and write the book you want to read. If you have to culturally appropriate, then do it! Steal rain. Steal human misery. Steal Stevie Wonder. Line up the wheelbarrows and start hauling away as many nameless stories from the Gulag as possible.
Above all, you must take a radical approach to the material and never compromise…unless a publisher asks you to sell out. Then you will sell out and sell out fast because you need the money and because Joan Didion once wrote: writers are always selling out someone somewhere. But that’s okay—that writer is you!
It’s going to be hard, this becoming-a-writer proposition. Dedicate all remaining emotional and financial reserves into the project. Go to the brink. Go for it. Go Kafka! Go over the middle. Go into the fifth set on clay. (Note sports metaphors.)
Make this one last final stab, with everything finally riding on it, your livelihood, reputation, humanity and mortality. Give this How to Become a Writer dream everything you possibly have, but don’t be delusional either. Realize it’s probably not going to work out with this subject, because nobody, not a single person in the publishing world wants to touch it.
Touch. You just used the word touch. That was funny and morbid, in a Woody Allen-Manhattan sort of funny and morbid way. Good, keep the humor moving, put your ass in the chair, crank up the Thin Lizzy, and get to it! It’s a long way to the bottom if you want to rock and roll.
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