I tried uniformly applying a variety of “systems” — note cards, wall-sized outlines, all kinds of things. Color-coding and cross-referencing may or may not have been involved. I may or may not own a triple hole-punch. Ultimately, though, I felt I was spending more time playing reporter/writer than being reporter/writer—the systems search, I realized, was a form of procrastination. Here’s what I do now, and it’s very basic: Bring the scraps back to the nest, arrange them chronologically, develop a timeline that shows everything more clearly, and then build out from there, hewing to that backbone yet following each thread to its known end. That’s just an organizing principle, [...]
I'm torn on advice. Sometimes you're given some and it matters right there on the spot. Then there's the advice that sits alongside pathetic life-as-lit, lit-as-life devices—think fantasies of watching your own funeral or accurately narrating your life as it unfolds. This is the kind of advice that, either in the moment or as memory, arrives perfectly formed and quotable, a single well-turned line that turns your life into a teaching tool for all humanity. And then there's the advice that slips by unnoticed at the time, that you cull meaning from only in retrospect, out of metaphysical necessity. How did I get here, anyway? Someone must have told me [...]
As National Novel Writing Month slogs on, the next in our series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished.
Do you remember the episode of "The Simpsons" where Marge scores the fake Chanel suit? She looks incredible in it, straight-up incredible, and then this rich bitch she went to high school with spots her and briefly ushers her into Springfield high society? Anyway, she has only the one fake Chanel suit, so she has to transform it into culottes and an evening gown, etc. in order to keep the illusion afloat, but ultimately she stays true to herself because of Homer and [...]
Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins, which hits bookstores today, tells the story of a Midwestern family whose matriarch is binge-eating herself to death. There's a lot of talk about the obesity crisis in the country, but it tends to happen along one of two set tracks: either accompanying stock footage of headless fat people, or else coming from sinewy trainers barking at the imagined laziness of their frightened charges. It's fair to say that people are ready for another kind of story, and The Middlesteins has the potential to fill that gap. It isn't a polemic about the sagacity of good nutrition, or about personal foolishness. It's about how and [...]
For Frank O'Hara, L was definitely for Lunch. He wrote most of Lunch Poems during his lunch hours—pausing, as he put it, "for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe" and taking notes on what he'd seen while roaming Manhattan. Eating and writing, eating and writing. I adore the book's title, not just for its banal literality, but for its figurative (ahem, poetic) potential as well: The volume of poems, small as a subway map, tucks easily into one's pocket. Like a snack. And the poems, too, can be consumed that way. As O'Hara's famous "A Step Away from Them" suggestively ends: "A glass of papaya juice / [...]
"There is almost nothing better for your work than having someone cook and clean for you who is neither a relative nor someone you’re sleeping with."
In a 2005 article about hecklers, Stewart Lee related an anecdote about his fellow stand-up comic Daniel Kitson. "Privately, the debate continues amongst comedians, 'what is Daniel Kitson doing?' Why, many wonder, does he do [small Edinburgh venue] The Stand when he could do the big room at Assembly? Why does he insist on shaking off half the following he has established every couple of years by doing a sensitive story show? Why doesn’t he have a nice haircut? Surely he could afford it now. But Kitson once told me, that after his Perrier nomination, he was doing a run at the Soho theatre. Sitting in a toilet cubicle [...]
Since 2002, Jason Ross (@jasonjross on Twitter) has been a writer for "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," where his team has won a half-dozen Emmy Awards for outstanding writing and produced the best-selling America: The Book and Earth: The Book.
Jason Ross: Here I am.
Ken Layne: Hello, sir! I'm in the middle of the greatest consumer survey in human history.
Jason: That is a fairly low bar to clear.
Ken: Disneyland is building Star Wars Land. This will make Disneyland much more tolerable for me:
Which of the following Star Wars locations would you be especially interested in visiting at the Disneyland Resort? [...]
National Novel Writing Month comes to an end tonight—at midnight! But our series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished will carry on. Here's the next entry.
Where are all my End of the World Party invitations? The characters in the novel I never finished—the promotion for which I foresaw myself being very busy with this month, incidentally, the timing of the book's publication being part of my brilliant meta marketing concept—were buried in End of the World Party invitations by now. In the mid-pre-post-apocalyptic world I imagined, December 23, 2012 was the new New Year's.
These parties would be taking [...]
As National Novel Writing Month gets underway, here's the first in a month-long series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished.
In the fall of 1998, I was at UC Berkeley, mired in the early stages of a history Ph.D. program that, even in a best-case scenario, would last until 2003 and then spit me out into an increasingly tenuous academic job market—and my performance in grad school so far didn't necessarily promise a best-case scenario. I had few friends and had just had my heart broken rather badly; the latter, thankfully, served as a catalyst for some life reforms. 18 months later, [...]
So you didn't win a Nobel Prize in Literature this week. Unless your name is Mr. Mo. Although, if you live in Europe, you did win a consolation Nobel Peace Prize at least. (Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union is like giving an Oscar to Alf.) Anyway, I know, it’s total bullshit. You totally deserved it. But you might just be a calendar year away from getting the recognition you so obviously deserve. Let me show you the way.
I waited by the phone all week for that congratulatory call from overseas myself! Not for the stuff I’ve already written, which, let’s admit, is pretty amazing. But [...]
Jennifer Egan's "recent sci-fi excursions expose her not as a writer resigned to the waning importance of literature, but as a literary 'luddite' willing to take things to the next level, to begin a sabotage." —I'm not buying all of this but I like this as an idea.
Shane Jones’ new novel, Daniel Fights a Hurricane, was published last week by Penguin. Like his first novel—Light Boxes, in which a town bands together to fight the month of February—Daniel Fights a Hurricane centers on a force of nature. The hurricane takes many shapes, including a mob of angry children, a monster with sharp teeth, and the madness that may or may not be filling Daniel's head with visions. The book is filled with surreal, hallucinogenic imagery ranging from the terrifying to the hilarious—there are “banana bombs," rotten bananas thrown like grenades—that work to create a sinister, modern fairy tale, but one written for the demented adult [...]
Part of a two-week series on the pull of bad influences in our lives and in the culture.
I don’t remember all that much about my first year at university except that it was the year we converted from pounds, shillings and pence to "decimal currency." I shared ground-floor rooms, overlooking the Third Quad in college, with a bearded, bear-like chap I called (for reasons which need not detain us) Eighty Two. He was impossibly good: for all practical purposes a saint. His father ran a school for the blind. He had just spent part of his gap year (though the term wasn’t in use back then) in a 12th-century [...]
Appearing here Wednesdays, Turning The Screw provides existential crisis counseling for the faint of heart. "Eat two custard-filled doughnuts and call me in the morning."
So, this is going to sound so dramatic and stupid and of-course-you-already-know-the-answer-to-this-why-are-you-even-asking? But I'm confused and I want to talk about this with someone. I moved to this cold, Midwestern state from the South (which I loved, but didn't want to stay in for career reasons) two and a half years ago for law school. I left partially to get away from a bad relationship. A couple months in, I met someone else in law school. Things moved very quickly. I'd [...]
As National Novel Writing Month enters its final days, the next in our series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished.
There's a novel I didn't write, and another novel that I did. I'll tell you about the second one first. It's finished—or notionally finished and objectively un-sold, although my agent tells me it received several posi-polite notes of no-thanks—and still here with me. It's in my head, and at least virtually is right there on this laptop's desktop, where it is both ostensibly complete and current through my last idle tinkerings with it, which I made on a slow and stop-full [...]
Appearing here Wednesdays, Turning The Screw provides existential crisis counseling for the faint of heart. "Because your butt does look fat in that personality disorder!"
To continue your dialogue with letter writer #1 a few weeks ago ( "don't quit your day job," etc.) and with a dude who wrote to you as "rabbit" way back when about his jealousy of his ex's new musician boyfriend: I'm an editor at a little-read academic publication; the job is well-paying and provides excellent health insurance, I'm (very) good at it, and my boss is an awesome mentor who respects me and allows me autonomy—basically the jackpot.
1. Underwear is definitely pants.
This has been an issue, I believe, ever since the first writer ever worked at home.
A general guideline: underwear isn’t pants. That is, you can’t tell yourself, “At least I put on pants today,” if it was just underwear—and no, you shouldn’t sign for a delivery like that.
There's no shame in working in your skivvies, though. Victor Hugo used to get undressed and have his valet take his clothes away. Be proud; just know that it's not pants you've got on. Now go back to work.
2. All you need to be a writer is talent.
Despite the success of [...]
Dwight Garner's case for critical criticism came out just in time, looks like! "What we need more of, now that newspaper book sections are shrinking and vanishing like glaciers, are excellent and authoritative and punishing critics—perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise, abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star." Well he's in luck… on part of that?
Five days previous came this NYTBR piece on the latest by Dale Peck, by Ron Powers, who you likely don't know, but was the first TV critic to win a Pulitzer. In 1973. Lesse: "self-absorbed overreaching, a compost [...]
"Relationships often change people, but this was a weird one, because I was the same before and after it, but very different during." —The Lena Dunham story in the New Yorker (subscription-only) is totally worth it on a lot of levels (both "laughing at" and "laughing with," though mostly John Cook has the "laughing at" covered quite grumpily), but it's also a good addition to what I think is the best part of her projects about youth: what is it about the certain kind of person who can completely annihilate their personality because of love? I was like this when I was younger and it's completely alien to [...]