Now that writing has become something of an occupation for me, I've learned to ask other writers how they go about it. When faced with a blank computer screen or piece of paper--where do they go for the inspiration to fill it? What do the first random words of a 4,000 word article look like? Is it better to outline, or just dive into an opening scene? Do they need a deadline and a badgering editor, or can they write to completion on their own? I get dozens of different answers, although coffee shops, rough outlines, and harassing editors are common themes.
I'm facing one of those empty pages as I start a feature story on my family's farm in Pennsylvania. I try to think back to previous articles I wrote, but my memories of the first drafts are always swallowed up by the stronger impressions of the final revisions. I can never remember that magic moment when my sentences and paragraphs cease to be fragmented ambitions, and merge to become the hot, spinning core of a story. Each time, it seems, I must rediscover how to write.