Why is writing important to you and why do you think it's an important medium for the world? The vitality of words to inform, entertain, and challenge was instilled in me before I could read. I must have been four years old the first time my mom took me to the library. I remember walking out the door, my arms filled with books. The memory remains fresh: I felt connected to something big, something important. From that moment on, the power of the written word has been a constant in my life. It's no accident that my first job was a paperboy (and yes, I read the papers before heading out to deliver them!) Words on the page have a muscularity that cannot be replicated by other mediums. The reader demands the writer to be engaging with the words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters. The writer wants to pull the reader in and not let go. It is an intimate pas de deux that has been going on for millenniums, using a technology that hasn’t changed all the much over the years. We are creatures of the word.
What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer's block? Write the ending first so you know where you're going, the middle so you know how you'll get there, and then the introduction. In drafting, plow through the difficult spots using whatever works, even if you have to write the same sentence over and over again. Write down the words "I remember," and then start writing what you remember. If you get stuck, write down "I remember" again and starting writing what else you remember. Create an unholy mess. As long as you keep slamming down the words, you'll get through the blocks.
What is your favorite time to write? I don't have a routine and I don't wait for the muse to strike (it never does). I write when I can get it in and once I start hitting my marks, I'm a machine no matter what time of day. And woe be to the fool who dares interrupt me.
What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Don't think, just write. Thinking gets in the way of your ideas. Also, read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White at least twice a year, from cover to cover. Adhere to rule #17: Omit needless words.
What excites you most about being a writer in today's age? I write narrative nonfiction, so diving into the past for deep research is my version of heaven. Two of the most joyous days I ever had in Manhattan were spent huddling over a microfilm machine at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, combing through a decade's worth of old Daily Mirror columns by Walter Winchell. I didn't bother to stop for a lunch break. I was having fun! There's nothing quite like finding that tidbit of obscure information hidden away in some archive, then using my talents interpret the item for today's readers. It's a contact high of sorts, and it keeps me going.
Arnie Bernstein's Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing (Updated & Expanded Edition) is out now with University of Michigan Press.