Four Writers Explain How They're Writing Novels

JENNIE PORTNOF
I’ve been writing my book for two years, and realistically it will probably take another year or so before it takes any kind of shape that I’m good with. I think there’s a correlation to a tremendous amount of stuff to do and sex and exploration and New York City and interesting, attractive people that makes or breaks a poet and writer. There really is nothing to do except pull things out of the continuous waterfall and utilize them. Really. I think if you can become aware of yourself here in any capacity, as an artist, a person, a human being, a writer or poet, you’re miraculous in and of yourself. Parties, readings, museums, art openings, music. None of these cost as much as a drug or drinking habit. You’re not really writing anything; you are being written… After freelancing for many years, I found my way to a job that was full time for 5 years before I was laid off and then rehired. I leave all my work at work and come home and write. I find working in general to be exhausting in mind and soul and body but something in me loves to feel useful and competent and “valued.” I have no problem working if I can write or paint; but it’s very hard to strike a balance. Capitalism really does a number on you. I’m actually writing at every moment, or gathering. Balancing? Who does that? The danger for me has always been total immersion and then flame-out and exhaustion. I’m just now starting to incorporate yoga et cetera into my world as a serious discipline. If you write or create in any way by default you are an outsider and obedient only to that source, it’s not dignified… you just are. It just takes a few singular human beings to stand up to you and call you out or support you in some way that makes you put down roots in your dreams. I’ve been blessed in that respect. Not one special person, but many. I really don’t think I understand this word, balance. I think I understand the word peace better and I feel at peace with my family after many years of being in a kind of war with them and everything. They are supportive of me, whatever I do and that was a long time coming. If you find something you love to do and it calms your mind or heart, like gardening, then you are in luck. It doesn’t get any better than that and that is fine. It took a fuck of a long time for me to be satisfied and deeply grateful for all these people who just showed up and had love and faith for me. There’s a kind of hunger where you start to eat yourself and if you have friends who make you laugh and who you love then you won’t be sad. It really is all about love. And the truly great ones are generous, remember that. If you ever meet someone you adore and they are not generous, they are also not really genius at whatever they do. They are putting you on. I write every day. Every single day, or I do something that nourishes that. I used to write one poem every day, or draw a little drawing or paint. And now it’s this book. I write on my laptop and I write longhand with a small notebook I keep in my pocket because writing that way you can actually feel all this great energy that sometimes a laptop can’t. You start a poem in one corner of the sky and you end up in another. I’m a little obsessed with the kind of pens I write with, that matters a whole lot. They have to be medium black gels or I have trouble with the flow. I like eating hard-boiled eggs and if I am having a very good day I like making deviled eggs, and I like snuggling with my animals. Or working in the garden or swimming with friends. The most enlightening and beautiful thing about writing this book has been the ecstasy of it. It’s a practical thing. You tap into it and the anxiety and fear and anguish, whatever you are carrying with you, maybe it’s an obsession with someone, maybe your heart is broken. I repeat: it’s very practical, it just means you don’t know anything for sure and I don’t fear failing and you become pretty fearless and kind in that respect, even if you aren’t kind most of the time you learn to be kind to yourself. And that’s a start. I think the other interesting aspect of all this is a very particular DIY aesthetic. I mean we’re building something out of nothing for the sake of doing it. And that involves community and language and secrets and Kinkos, and it’s always the same impulse, the same fire. And that is what is so beautiful about it. Whether you ever end up being canonical or not, you’ve touched the secret of the world. And if you don’t know what I am talking about scroll on by.

Next: “My book is already like 300,000 words and it has zombies and magic crystals that turn people gay.”