Friday 13 February 2009

Twenty-Five Random Writerly Thoughts

by Sarah Stonich

I was told Facebook was “A great place for writers to Network!” So I bit it and created my page and started scratching around for friends. Soon I had a few dozen – writers, teachers of writing, small press editors. I became member of groups like The Irish Writers Centre, fans of a number of journals and writers too important to have a personal page. Then I waited to see what would roll in…Invitations to be in anthologies? Requests to appear at book clubs, conferences, writer-in-residence-residencies? The cable book channel? Grant offers? Agents eager to represent my short fiction?

Of course not. On the hour I get pitches to buy books and invitations to attend fundraisers. Every day come multiple invitations to readings, which on Facebook are called (gag) Listening Parties, which on average take place 1,500 -6,000 miles away. I also get several daily updates as to what other writers are doing to avoid writing: Louis is steaming the wallpaper, or Nathaniel is filing Bouvier’s dew-claws.

You get sucked in – it’s a bit of a soap opera, kind of addictive. Honestly, if time spent writing Facebook drivel was directed to real writing, we’d be crapping out books at the rate Joyce Carol Oates does. Aside from the satisfying voyeurism that reveals others writers’ lives are just as banal as mine, each week there’s usually some popular diversion - last week it was an invitation to write “25 Random Truths About Yourself” then “tag” 25 friends to send it to - the quintessential narcissistic chain letter.

I didn’t have any other writing that couldn’t wait, unless you count the memoir due to my publisher in just months – of which I’ve written only 70 confused pages (the advance is already spent, so, where’s the fire?) And I could put off finishing the WordStalkers website that will showcase my free-lance writer prowess and which will finally break the cycle of my awkward financial situation.

I started with:

1. I harbor an irrational certainty that one day massive good fortune will fall in my lap with the sort of force that dropped the house on the witch.

2. I have a love-hate relationship with humanity. Especially in parking lots or at the grocery store, or whenever watching clips of Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter…

By now I could see this was only going to turn into a whinge-fest, so I nipped it in the bud because it might be too revealing, or too confessional, ie.,

3. My guilty pleasure foods are bacon, Lucky Charms, and grilled cheese sandwiches made with cheap yellow American faux-cheese.

Like I want anyone to know that.

4. If I was told I had a terminal disease I would eat the food in #3 every day, topping off each course with an American Spirit cigarette. Cuz I’m already dying, right?

See what I mean?

But. What if I were to twist the list of 25 to better suit me (typical) in a “networking” sort of way, among writers, say, 25 random thoughts on writing!

Rules: Write twenty-five random truths about your writing or about yourself as a writer. At the end, send it twenty-five writers on Facebook, or MySpace, or MyFace, whatever your social network is.

1.I personally am great at starting things like this list. Or that screenplay, or that parody of a romance novel, Love’s Tender Loins. Or those Six Easy Pieces - the writing samples I’m hoping to pitch to editors at womens' rags like O, or More – topical burning-issue-pieces for women who can afford to throw money and spend time – pieces with titles like, Lube? (the perimenopausal among you know) or Ready For Your Close-up? (about my annual pelvic, when my doc blithely invited a gaggle of medical students along for a lark) Or, Are you Throwing That Away? Cuz I’ll Eat It If You Are, on the practice of gleaning and other ways to cut your food budget in challenging financial times.

2. Growing up a reader, there were many words I understood but had never heard spoken. This caused later embarrassment when I would inject them into actual conversation, putting the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable, Thinking I was clever to use words like superfluous, or conundrum.

3. Most writers' pasts seemingly brim with loving memories of some library and how they were inspired there by a kind, grey-bunned librarian, sitting for hours soaking up literature in the atmosphere of old leather and green lamps. Our library was one room in a cement building, so tiny there was no space for a chair or a vagrant to occupy it. The librarian was a righteous bitch and wouldn’t loan me the titles I claimed were for my older sister even when I handed over my phony list, forcing me to steal books I only sometimes returned.

4. I think it doesn’t matter what you write as long as you are writing. For years before he was known and respected, Larry Brown wrote terrible stories about men mauled by bears, or lost while fishing. Writers become writers by writing, just as readers become readers by reading – it doesn’t matter if it’s harlequin romance, or grisly crime. The main thing is to jump-start the imagination, whether it’s with phrases like turgid protuberance or terms such as vivisection or flense. Words, people. Words!

5. I don't understand why writing is regarded as such noble endeavor since it seems such a self-indulgent one. As if the act of putting thoughts to paper makes them weigh more? As if what a writer has to say is so great?

6. Why does literary criticism exist and who came up with the concept? I seriously want to know, because I think it’s the dumbest ever endeavor. To those of you who write literary criticism I say, The Writer in Question is just a writer, and their Work is just writing for fuck's sake, so who are we to second guess motives or intent? Is the answer similar to the adage about teaching? You know, the old "Those who can’t, teach" – is lit-crit really just a way for "Those who can’t write books to write books about writing books they can’t write?"

7. Writing feels like a tiny clubhouse for one with a big sign outside that says Keep Out. It’s lonely, but when writers say the writing itself is hard, or talk about writers block, then I don’t understand why they bother, because wouldn't it be so much easier to get a real job and suffer in a different way, with health benefits?

8. “It” takes more perseverance than talent. When I sit at my keyboard and watch the vermin squirrels outside my office literally climbing up the GLASS to get at my squirrel-proof bird feeder, I'm impressed, incensed, and motivated. Yes I can!

9. I've written four books but still have no idea how they got written. It seems I just juggle and juggle and juggle words and ideas until at some point it all falls to land as a pile of book. It amazes me I can finish writing one, never entirely sure how it happens.

10. Things and people and life suck up way too much writing time. I don’t really wish anyone harm, but does Armageddon sound so terrible? Sure, everyone I know will be dead, my house will be a box of ash, but my Google calendar will be completely clear and viola, I'll have all the time in the world to write!

11. I think it would be a good practice to pause when I get news of a fellow writer receiving the grant or residency I applied for and so much more richly deserved than they did. I would strive to feel brotherly, writerly love for them. I would offer warm congratulations when I next saw them. Would I go to or B& and write nasty reader reviews of their undeserving work? Probably.

12. Up to now, writing life has been very kind to me, but if I die without one of my stories making it to film, even a shitty, made-for-TV movie - I'll have been totally gypped.

13. This is true: Frank McCourt told me to my face that the title of my novel These Granite Islands was terrible. “It’s a dirge of a title. Awful,” said he, who came up with that festival, Angela’s Ashes.

14. Writers, rise up and demand your rights to have input regarding the jacket designs of your books. It wasn't always like this, but we (pussies!) have slowly caved on this issue, when we should actually eating the young of publishers who bar us from this critical piece. Do I sound bitter? Go to Amazon and check out the hardcover version of The Ice Chorus (Little, Brown & Co) it only looks like the biography of a circus performer, but it is actually a novel.

15. What writers endure: Inevitable dreaded questions from audiences during q&a after readings: "Do you write with a computer?" "Where do you get your ideas?" which only makes me want to shout back, "Where did you get the idea to wear those slacks with that blouse?" Some aren’t questions at all. "Yaw, hey I have a really great story that would make a great book" Jesus wept.

16. It’s a stretch to think of 25 writers to send this to, frankly this is where Facebook comes in handy, when you can weasel your way onto the lists of writers who wouldn’t know you if you left your ass-print on their keyboards. Like Rick Moody. Rick, are you reading this?

17. I tolerate nearly everyone, but I love my readers. I didn’t consider their existence until they started writing to me. Detractors tend to not bother, so the mail is usually filled with compliments, and reminders that there are people out there actually reading this stuff. Such responses have prompted me to start writing to writers, knowing how encouraging it is to hear any scrap of praise.

18. I'm too self-conscious to dress the way I would if I was alone - all capes and drapes and eccentric writer garb à la Edna O’Brien. But of course haven't achieved her stature yet – maybe after writing more books, or by my 70th Birthday, whichever comes first. By my calculation, I'm about twenty titles away from a turban.

19. God, am I only to 19? I’ll degenerate to listing favorite books soon. Is now good? The Book Of The Eskimo by Peter Fruelich is the best, most honest and insightful account of a white man injecting himself into a culture that was just fine without him thank you very much. This is a brutal and fascinating story. Take a hiatus from political correctness, grab a bucket for the nauseating bits and just read it.

20. Being a writer is neither glamorous nor lucrative, only interesting. In 2001 I spent several days in Milan on a bonafide press junket – the kind where you have a dozen interviews each day with an interpreter, and sit for professionally lit photo shoots, all in a lovely hotel. A week later I was back home, sweating and buns-up kneeling into my open refrigerator, scraping liquid silage out of the crisper because while I was gone my electricity had been turned off for non payment.

21. I find readings, er - Listening Parties - often hard to sit through because rarely does the quality of the work and the performance line up. I’ve heard steaming piles of poem sound magnificent because the elocutionator was trained in theatre, and I’ve heard wonderful prose degenerated to garp by writers who sound as if they are harboring goldfishes in their mouths (Sorry, Michael Ondaatje). I have wanted to kill even good poets because:

22. They. READ. Like. Thisssss.

23. Not everybody can give good read. The very best writers I know are social retards who can barely pair up socks and can't locate their own gas tanks. Some of the worst writers I know are so witty, engaging, kind and silky I just want to buy them tags and keep them.

24. Laying in bed tonight I'll come up with what I think are profound revelations and ideas, but will not write them down because I never do, and in this way half of my best writing is lost, and that’s just the way the it is for a writer as lazy as me.

25. I (still) harbor an irrational certainty that one day massive good fortune will fall in my lap with the sort of force that dropped the house on the witch.

Sarah Stonich is the author of These Granite Islands, Her short fiction appears in journals and magazines all over the place. Her novel The Ice Chorus will be released in paperback by Alma in March. To read from her new collection, Vacationland visit

1 comment:

  1. Great post Sarah – made me laugh and spill my wine a couple of times!

    Keep 'em coming!




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