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Q and A

Sep 09, 2013; Tom Asks:

Hi Stacey, In reference to you doing readings in a clown suit, I have a question that has been on my mind ever since I saw it on an employment questionnaire. The question is: if they pay were right, would you consider a job in the circus?

Stacey answers:

I've thought about this a lot and the answer is yes.

Aug 13, 2013; A Male Fan Who's Read My Date Cover to Cover Asks:

Your stories seem to indicate that you're fairly familiar with San Francisco. Wondering if you live here or make your way here much. If so, have you considered doing a reading at LitCrawl? Or are you in the tier of accomplished writer at this point and mindful of taking a space that might instead go to a more struggling writer? Also, was there a Sanrio store on Union Square at one time or did you invent that?

Stacey answers:

Hello, Male Fan! On the basis of your sobriquet, I’m going to assume you have a penis. Congratulations! Also, eyeballs and hands. Yes, I used to live in San Francisco, and Oakland as well, and earned my degree from Berkeley. They didn’t have a LitCrawl when I lived in the Bay Area and if they had, it would have been a “Lit Crawl,” because back in the day we put spaces between words. Since, Male Fan, you have a penis and at least one eyeball, I will tell you honestly that I don’t like doing readings, and would only do something crawly if a person I respected both asked me to and assured me that I was not taking a space that might go to a more struggling writer. The reason I don’t like readings is because they’re not any fun, either to do or attend, though I looked at the site for LitCrawl and some aspects of it do look fun. I would probably want to do a reading in a police station, and I don’t see how I could refuse to be part of a presentation called “Writing From the Cunt.” Though as I recall, I got kind of sick of things called Writing From the Cunt when I actually lived in San Francisco. It’s all so boisterous and lefty and accepted there that all the thrilling transgression and shame is drained out of it, you know? Though it's really not very shocking, when you get right down to it, to point out that women might write from their cunts, metaphorically speaking. Or even literally speaking.

There’s still a Sanrio store in Union Square, Maley! It’s the same one, right by the cable car turn around. Take yourself there and stand way in the back. If you listen closely, you'll hear the tiny stickers calling to you in mouse-like tones: "Hello, A Male Fan Who's Read My Date Cover to Cover. Hello, hello." How they do this without the benefit of mouths is one of the great anatomical mysteries of our time.

Aug 07, 2013; Stacey Richter Asks:

Hi Stacey, My name is also Stacey Richter. One time, I was riding on the train and I happened to look across the aisle and see a woman reading My Date With Satan. I spent the balance of the trip considering whether I should hand her my business card and offer to autograph her book. One problem would have been that my business card does not clearly state that I am a writer. Mainly because I am not a writer. In the end, I did not take advantage of the opportunity to be you. I felt I did not have adequate preparation time. If I'm going to be a celebrity imposter, I'd like my first outing to proceed after thorough forethought. Do you agree I did the right thing?

Stacey answers:

Dearest Stacey, hello. Though I understand your reasoning, my answer is no. You did not do the right thing. Bad, bad Stacey Richter. Yes, it's lovely to have adequate preparation time, but it's also important to seize the rare opportunity to declare oneself a Stacey Richter. After all, it would be a valid signature, even if it's not the author's. However, I'm in love with you for calling me a celebrity, so in a sense you can't do anything wrong. Good, good Stacey Richter. If you ever want to do some readings/signings for me, let me know. We can either put your headshot on a book jacket or dress you up in a clown suit with a rubber nose and call it a day.

At this point, if I/you/we told people that Stacey Richter only does readings in clown suits, I think they'd believe it.

Aug 02, 2013; al Asks:

I took a class by Mark Poirier this summer and he recommended to us Twin Study and I'm really glad he did because it is awesome and so is your advice here in QnA. There seems to be another resurgence in short story popularity. Will we see another short story collection from you in the future, or are you more interested in publishing a novel? how do you choose between the two?

Stacey answers:

Thanks for the support, Al. I didn't realize there was another resurgence in short story popularity. I will have to look into that. As for short vs. long things, I'm not sure. Mostly I want to moan and lie face down on the carpet for two years with my cat occasionally sniffing my head to see if I'm dead. So I guess that means I'm more interested in publishing a novel. Short stories are fun to write but I love reading long, and you know, you gotta follow the love. Also, the only people who read short stories are people in writing programs, and while I have nothing but respect and affection for that group, I sometimes wonder if there's anyone else out there. Hello?

Jul 02, 2013; name Asks:

Since graduating college with a BFA in creative writing, I've whiled away my twenties in a high-pressure job I don't want, trying to get to a place financially where I can support myself for a minute as a writer. I keep telling myself that next month or next year I'll have the time and space I need to write, but the years pass, and I'm still unpublished. I've written some stuff in the meantime, but only when I've taken a big chunk of vacation time to do so.

I'm almost thirty and I'm fed up. I told my employer I wanted to be part time, so that I could focus on writing. They agreed, and though I'm showing up for fewer hours and for half pay, I feel just as emotionally drained by the work, and it seems to be sucking up just as much time as before.

So far in my life, I've been too much of a wuss to brave unemployment and poverty--but maybe that's what I need to do to write? My husband's opinion is basically that I'm being a baby, everyone has to work, and if I want to be a writer (something he sees still as a pipe dream, as I have yet to prove myself), then I just need to fit that into my working life.

So I'm wondering...do you think that the distractions of poverty and a lack of income will be greater than the distractions of my current, high-pressure job? If I keep the job, do you have any advice on how to carve out the time and mental space to write within a busy life?

Stacey answers:

Yes, I have a suggestion, and it's brutal, so brace yourself: get up in the morning and write for an hour before you go to work. Do it every day. A lot of authors have written their first books this way; I know Nicholson Baker wrote The Mezzanine before work, and when I was searching the web for other morning authors I found this site: http://writetodone.com/2008/01/17/how-to-write-first-thing-in-the-morning/ Check out the comments too because people LOVE it. I have a friend who loves it and he's not a morning person, he's a beer person. Here's another site that is maybe less specifically about the a.m. but has an awesome picture of Joan Didion smoking: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/11/20/daily-routines-writers/

An hour might not seem like enough time, I understand this, but it's worth a try. It's hard to overestimate the amount of sheer brain-power-concentration you need to write but common to overestimate the amount of time it actually takes. If you're consistent, an hour a day is a lot. Life is long. It adds up, and once you get into your project, you'll be able to tweak your schedule for longer stretches if you really need them. Anyway, I'm pretty sure that half of most people's writing time is spent freaking out (I'm at about 75%). If you squeeze it into an hour in the morning, you won't really have time to freak out, and if you're a little groggy, you won't have the energy. (I recommend you freak out later, at work, while you're on the clock).

And name, I'm proud of you for being a young woman with a high-powered job that pays a lot! That's not nothing. Even if it's not a job you really wanted, it's a lot. I don't want you to quit. I don't want you to give up your dreams either, but I hope you're not downplaying your real accomplishments, at least not to yourself. Taking some satisfaction in what you are doing might lower some of the bad-pressure you're putting on yourself to write, write, write. There's motivation, which is good, and there's self-laceration, which is a soul-siphoner. If I could crawl inside your head and tweak your attitude about your job, I'd make you more proud of yourself and less conscientious. You know--like a guy. A proud-of-himself-for-being-good-enough type of guy. Then you'd have more energy to write. And try the morning.

Jun 13, 2013; Tom Asks:

The slug-o-sphere ain't such a bad place for a little vacation. Be sure to wear your shorts and clogs. Have you seen Batboy in the slug-o-shere?

Stacey answers:

Batboy Found in Cave.

Jun 07, 2013; Tom Asks:

Have you seen the latest version of The great Gatsby? If so, what did you think? I thought it was fun to watch but not a very good film, I liked Tom Buchanan in this film better than in the one from the seventies. The Redford Gatsby is the better of the two. On an unrelated subject. That character Batboy, what's he up to?

Stacey answers:

I haven't seen it. Do I have to?

Jun 01, 2013; Wag Asks:

What's the most embarrassed you've ever been?

Stacey answers:

I can't actually remember--I'm pretty much embarrassed all the time and find life itself humiliating--but maybe when Ben Minot threw a pair of my panties at Howe Gelb? It sounds worse, or maybe better, if I don't explain the circumstances.

May 31, 2013; Tom Asks:

Thanks to Michael for the question and thanks to you for the brilliant answer. Have you ever considered writing a book on fiction writing?

Stacey answers:

Yes. But I'm not sure it would work because I'm giving it away for free here.

May 30, 2013; monsoon Asks:

I wanted to stop by and say that I am looking forward to your reply to Michael's question (although, this morning I see it is there and it is, of course, brilliant). I have a similar problem, except that I don't write much. I just have that nagging sensation that I should. But then I think I suck and I don't. I even took a course for external validation, but then I figured everyone gets A's and good comments, because they've paid and the coordinators want people to sign up again or spread the word. How do I get past this? Or do I resign to writing SQL and dotnet?

Stacey answers:

Monsoon, I’m so sorry it took me so long to answer your question. The delay had nothing to do with your question—I just got sluggish. Your question is actually exciting, because your dilemma is the flip side of Michael’s. You are a feely writer. Feely writers have to push themselves. Feely people need routine, and habit, and a structure that gives them (or forces them into) the time and space to write. Without it they go sluggish and neglect to answer questions on their beloved Q & A board, or resign themselves to writing SQL and dotnet, not because that’s what they want to do, but because they forgot/avoided/wriggled out of the effort it takes to do something else. Which truly sucks, because then their lives are over and they die. Oops.

So let’s rededicate ourselves to a little structure, Monsoon. I will write every day, frequently enough that I stop forgetting the difference between “everyday” and “every day,” and you will write regularly too. You can do the same exercise I gave Michael, but instead of limiting your pages, you’ll need to push yourself to finish them. I recommend you write your three page story in one hour, three times a week (that’s three stories, 3, THREE, iii) and remember to make them suck. Sucking is good! They’re supposed to suck. If you knew how to write excellently from the get-go, it wouldn’t have enough enough mass to pull at you in a meaningful way. Writing fiction, or making art of any kind, is a big, huge, sprawling, messy undertaking that enfolds you and pulls on you and spits you out and makes you feel smart and talented and stupid and broken. If you think your favorite authors are typing sentences while thinking, “This is fucking fantastic!!!” you’re woefully mistaken. They too are thinking about how they don’t write enough, they suck, and that any validation they’ve earned is specious and corrupt for various logical reasons. They’re thinking maybe they’ll give it up and start a marzipan delivery service. Because who wants to leave the house for marzipan when they can have it delivered? Not me.

The thing is that some things are things that if you want to do them, you have to just do them. Writing can be demanding and difficult and unrewarding and make you want to gnaw off your arm, but it can also be awesome and challenging and give you an anchoring point from which to understand your life and life in general. You know Monsoon, I have no idea how old you are, but when you brought up the issue of external validation, it got me wondering if you might be suffering from a little Generation C-itis. People who are generation C (some call them Y) grew up with eager, compensatory parents known for offering a steady stream of congratulations for mundane acts. The idea behind this—a sweet and noble one—was to bring up children with strong self-esteem, but the constant, strobe-like injections of praise turned some kids into praise-junkies. (I call them C because I used to see them walking around campus, talking to their moms on their cells, getting another hit of encouragement). Gen C’ers are marinated in positive reinforcement, in direction and organized time—which isn’t what anyone gets when they sit down to write. And though it’s wonderful to be encouraged, if you’re accustomed to earning applause for ordinary acts, it makes sense that validation would lose its worth. You might even become suspicious of praise in general. Then you might get that feeling you got in your writing class: getting an A doesn’t mean anything, it seems like it might be about the teacher more than the student, and good comments must be meaningless because everyone must have received them. Deception surrounds us; hence, the defeated tone of your question.

But I think that might just be the negative voices in your head talking. I kind of hate to contradict them, because I’m charmed by the notion that your local creative writing department is running some kind of flimflam scheme, deceiving and flattering students into “spreading the word”--that must be some good heroin…oops! I mean COMMENTS they’re handing out over there. I’m not sure if I need to point out that a more logical explanation is that you’re good and deserved an A? In the end, you’re going to have to decide for yourself if you think you’re any good. Some people take classes to get them writing, so that’s something you could do. Otherwise, you’re going to have to get yourself going. I’ve been reading books about procrastination lately, and they all say the voices in your head don’t matter. What matters is habit—if you want to be good at piano, you have to practice piano every day. If you want to write, you have to write. Just do it like going to the gym. You don’t have to be overflowing with enthusiasm to go the gym or consider yourself a great exerciser—you do it because it makes you feel better. Like that.

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