Thursday, November 18, 2010


Writerly doubts? Sure. All the time.

A few days ago I came across this Cynthia Ozick quote in The New York Times:

"I think early recognition is everything. It was everything for Updike and for Roth. It gives you a kind of confidence for life. I write now with the raven of doubt sitting on my shoulder all the time."

And today I saw this passage from a W.S. Merwin poem:

I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write

The poem is called "Berryman," and you can read the rest of it here.

I found the Merwin passage in a Faster Times article: "Writing Advice from Emily Gould."

Gould had this to say about writers who don't have doubts:

"People who are totally convinced of their own awesomeness are nearly always totally crappy writers, or if not, they’re still totally crappy people to get stuck sitting next to at a party."

And this too:

"One of the weird things the Internet has done has made it seem possible to just kind of be a writer — ie, you can be published, a lot of people might read your work, and yet you haven’t had to give up your secure nine to five and alienate and scare most of your friends and family in order to anonymously post your amusing comments on a blog. That little bit of attention and acclaim convinces some people that they are writers. They are not. Writing is not about acclaim. It is also not about being “successful,” in the sense of making your living as a writer. You know who are very successful writers right now, in the sense of being on the bestseller list? Both Karl Rove AND Laura Bush. Being a writer, ultimately, is about writing — writing honestly, writing something only you can write. Every time you do this, you succeed."

So yes. Doubts. All the time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Randomly Random Bits

1. The film Synecdoche, New York really messed with my head.*

2. My contributor copies of Sententia arrived over the weekend. I have yet to thoroughly dig in, but so far I've read Ethel Rohan's short story "The Key" and Roxane Gay's essay "Fat Girl's Rhapsody," both of which I devoured and enjoyed immensely. Thanks to Ryan Bradley for including my story "The Big Empty."

3. The New Oxford American Dictionary honored Sarah Palin by naming "refudiate" the 2010 Word of the Year.

4. In his autobiography Life (reviewed here by Liz Phair), Keith Richards refers to Mick Jagger as "Brenda."

5. The Harry Ransom Center has acquired Spalding Gray's archive. And speaking of the Ransom Center: You can watch a reading to celebrate the opening of the David Foster Wallace archive.

6. Slumdog Millionaire was much better than I expected.*

7. As part of The Collagist's Classic Reprints series, you can read Amy Hempel's "The Most Girl Part of You." Last week, I just happened to read this story for the first time. The whole thing is amazing (hey, it's Amy Hempel), but the ending is one of those endings that leave you breathless.

8. Enjoyed Kirsty Logan's post at the Pank blog about Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays and how the book's short chapters work as flash fiction.

9. My five-year-old son Ethan: "Daddy, did you know that when you put your hands inside your pants, you can feel your penis?" Me: "Yes, I was aware of that."

10. After watching the first season of Deadwood, I've noticed that my inclination to curse has gone way, way up.*

*Finally got Netflix. I've seen more movies and TV shows in the past two months than I have in the past two years. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


A realization after revising my short story collection: a lot of my stories feature driving.

People driving. People in cars. People going somewhere -- or, more often than not, going nowhere.

Is this a writerly tic?

A byproduct of living in Southern California?

Or is it thematic? Something symbolic of the transitory nature of my characters and, well, contemporary life in general?

The latter certainly sounds better, but I'm not sure. Could definitely be a tic.

Note to self: lay off the driving when writing.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing in the Bath

Really like this quote from a Fictionaut Five interview with Sara Lippman:

"Dani Shapiro once told me that when Grace Paley was her teacher at Sarah Lawrence, Paley said she wrote in the bath. Of course, Paley didn't mean she was soaking in the tub with dripping wet pages. What she was referring to -- and what Dani passed along to me -- is the space around the work. The time that you're not physically writing, that's all part of it, and as writers, we need to grant and honor that, too, as part of the process.

"Right now, it's enough of a trick to secure time to write, let alone carve out space around it, but I have this time each day when I walk to pick up my kids from school. Roughly twenty minutes there, and - depending on whether or not my daughter conks out in the stroller - another twenty minutes to get my son. I've 'written' a whole bunch of stuff during these quiet, uninterrupted spells through my neighborhood."

You can read the entire interview here.