August 21, 2018 § 32 Comments
Yesterday I went viral on Twitter:
Toni Morrison: 40
Mark Twain: 41
Marcel Proust: 43
Henry Miller: 44
JRR Tolkien: 45
Raymond Chandler: 51
Richard Adams: 52
Annie Proulx: 57
Laura Ingalls Wilder: 65
Frank McCourt: 66
Harriett Doerr: 74
Harry Bernstein: 96
No, you’re not too old to publish your first book.
— Allison K Williams (@GuerillaMemoir) August 19, 2018
And aside from 17 replies of “But I’m 97,” a few scoldings on how I shouldn’t glorify Laura Ingalls Wilder, 12 “What if I’m just lazy,” and a couple of crabapples sniping about factual accuracy (yes, I should have said “novel” for Twain), the overall response was one of relief.
Thank you, I needed that.
There’s still hope.
I needed to hear that today.
A lot of people are worried they might be too old, or not published enough (the paradox of not publishing until you’re published), or that being a writer is somehow a special condition and only certain people are allowed to contract it.
It was fun to see so many retweets and likes, and I checked in periodically while putting together a PowerPoint for a workshop next weekend, “25 Hours in the Day: Planning and Living a Writing Life.” I made pretty slides about saying no to tasks that don’t help your writing, and how many “obligations” we take on aren’t really things we’re obliged to do, and apps and tools to manage our time. Then I edited two hours for a client, went to the library and printed some maps I needed for novel research, refilled a prescription long-distance and answered some email.
My day also included a panic attack, where I wept and vented on the phone to my best writing friend, because I’ve just finished a writing workshop and booked myself three days of personal writing time in the same location, and I’m spending that time working for other people.
Not writing my book.
I feel my age closing in, the sense that I’ve “wasted my life,” which is patently ridiculous given that 1) I’m only in my 40s; and 2) I’ve already done three successful careers which, surprise! gave me shit to write about.
But in a one-on-one consultation with my teacher last week, he looked at me very sternly and said “You need to stop editing and write your own book.” I repeated that to my husband, who said “That’s what I’ve been telling you for four years.”
I like editing. I like teaching and speaking and helping other people work for their dreams, and I don’t want to quit entirely. I like blogging for Brevity.
I don’t want to quit teaching circus entirely.
I don’t want to quit traveling.
And all these things help me write, yes, but they also take time from writing. They demand physical and mental energy. That’s what we forget when planning our writing lives: it’s not the obligations we chafe at that are hard to shuck off—It’s the stuff we love.
Many writers love being a good spouse. Parenting well. Looking after a family member who needs help. Those aren’t writing hours.
We enjoy living in a nice place and keeping it up. We like working to pay rent and food and the care of people who need us. We take pride in doing well at that work—some of us even adore the work itself. Those aren’t writing hours.
If I’m going to write, I have to make writing hours. A lot of them. I don’t have kids, but I like being a good wife. I like the self-respect that came from being self-supporting. Some of being a good writer is sacrificing some of those two things. I contribute to the house with money and work, but after twenty primary-breadwinning years, I’m not self-supporting any more. My best writing time is often away from my husband by thousands of miles. And it’s hard to say no to editing clients, because I’m arrogant enough to think I can help them best.
Small things help: I pop in my earbuds and put on the song that launches me into one book or another. I maximize my time by turning off wifi and my phone. I updated my website to say I’m not taking on new writers, because it’s easier to have potential clients say no to themselves before emailing me.
I’m privileged that these are options I have; your barriers may be different and much harder to surmount. But it’s easy to make time for writing by saying, “I’ll get the kids to do their own laundry and start doing groceries only once a week.” It’s much harder to look at things we love and value, and decide we might love writing more. Especially when we aren’t living on our writing money, the time we spend can feel like self-indulgence, like a frill.
But we’d tell our treasured friend, You deserve that time. We’d say, Modeling dedication and focus is also good parenting. We’d tell them their spouse should be supportive, and applaud the spouses who were.
Let’s tell it to ourselves, too. Let’s ask, What’s stopping me from writing? and be brave enough to let go.
Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Follow her adventures with the monthly I Do Words TinyLetter.
April 4, 2013 § 4 Comments
Pablo Piñero Stillmann, author of Life, Love, Happiness: A Found Essay from the Twitterverse in the March 2013 issue of Brevity, reflects on the origin of his essay and his peculiar fear of The Screen:
Every few months I have a panic attack re: The Death of Literature and/or The Death of the Book and/or The Screen Completely Taking Over Our Lives and/or You Get the Point. Even though the symptoms of these attacks are always kind of the same—anxiety, dread, pacing back and forth in my bedroom regretting a decade committed to The Obsolete, compulsive podcast-listening, etc.—my reactions/neurotic solutions to them are ever-changing.
For example, I once wrote a short story that I really liked. (This happens .0034% of the times I write a short story.) My reactions to writing this piece were, Hooray, I wrote a short story I’m proud of. Too bad short stories don’t exist anymore. I might as well have become really good at Atari. I’m a complete failure.[i] So as I took a nervous walk in the upstate New York woods, completely lost (figuratively), I called a friend and asked her to convince me that Literature was not yet dead. “Talk me down,” I told her, as I’ve told so many of those close to me before and since then. “God save you if you talk me down.”
Sometimes I respond to my fears by just lying in bed or eating a lot or both (a.k.a. feeling so, so sorry for myself). At one point I completely freaked out and decided to stop reading and writing fiction forever, a vow which lasted for almost a year. But come with me to the other end of the spectrum: sometimes I respond with an angry defiance. If I want to be A Serious Writer—I thought in the summer of 2012, during one of these waves (tsunamis) of self doubt—I must not ignore The Screen, but rather wrestle with The Screen, become one with The Screen. (Mina Loy: “[T]he Future is only dark from outside. Leap into it—and it EXPLODES with Light.”) My way of facing The Screen, instead of continuing to run from it, tears and snot covering my face, was to edit a series of found essays from the twitterverse, of which “Life, Love, Happiness” was the first.[ii]
The strangest thing I realized after spending hours scrolling through hundreds of strangers’ tweets was that Twitter has a voice— a self-centered, scared, aggressive voice that wants to come off as funny. (As I write this I feel a bit of anxiety about Twitter completely doing away with humor.) I learned while gathering the material for the piece that 72.8% of all tweets are about Justin Bieber. Also, the process of “Life, Love, Happiness” taught me that a good number of tweets are about being in love with someone or being dumped by someone or dumping someone or a friend not understanding s/he needed to dump her/his certain someone. In short, tweeters be triflin’. (I’m almost certain I’m not using that word correctly.) We’re all so horribly alone and Twitter seems to be a good escape valve for that feeling.
But don’t get me wrong— I’ve enjoyed being a Twitter voyeur. Behind all that anger, snark, humblebragging and selfies of duck faces is a deep sadness and a feeling of being adrift that I completely relate to. Even though big chunks of the twitterverse are only concerned with Unimportant Superficialities, deep down all tweeters are human and most of the time they can’t help but to let it show. The Screen, like anything, looks scary and evil from afar, but vulnerable and playful once you get it into the ring.
March 4, 2010 § 1 Comment
In the “Gee, Brevity rocks, but why so many words?” category:
Electric Literature asked Rick Moody to write a story using just 140 characters at a time. In other words, Twitter-ready.
Here is Moody talking about the experience on the blog, Future Perfect Publishing.
FPP: What inspired you to write a Twitter story?
RM: I think my contempt for Twitter is what inspired it, initially. In general, I think the way to describe the world is to get longer not shorter. Twitter, by virtue of brevity, abdicates any responsibility where real complexity is concerned, because it forbids length. This seemed to me like a challenge, then: how to get complex in a medium that is anathema to complexity and rigor. And a challenge is always thrilling.
FPP: What is the most difficult part of writing a story 140 characters at a time?
RM: That’s it’s 140 characters at a time! Is that not difficult enough? It’s very difficult to get real traction and real change into that space.
FPP: What is essential to carrying the story line in this new species of storytelling?
RM: I think you have to imply a lot of story because there’s just not that much action you can get into the character-count box. You can’t dramatize a scene so much on Twitter. Or, you have to cut up scenes into the little hunks available. To the extent that you can imply action rather than depicting it, you’ll have more room available for doing other bits of fictive work. Description, dialogue, character, and so on.
Moody’s story sits behind a $9.95 cent firewall, but you can read the opening excerpt here: Moody Does Twitter.
So we’re wondering if anyone wants to try this with nonfiction? Our pals at Creative Nonfiction have been running just such a contest, but we’re thinking we’d allow a total of 750 words, but in discreet 140 word segments, as Moody has done.
August 21, 2009 § Leave a comment
Not sure what is more amazing here, the close inside look at what it means to be a New Yorker staff writer, or the fact that it is all conveyed in tweets, as in ‘on Twitter. ‘ Here’s an excerpt, but anybody who wishes she wrote for the “slicks” should read the whole thing for a sobering perspective:
It took me seventeen years to break into the New Yorker. I’d been a freelance journalist that long, and had sent in
Proposals from time to time. I never even got rejections. The New Yorker doesn’t send them. If they don’t want the
Story, they simply don’t respond, so filing to the New Yorker is like filing to the dump. You send in a proposal, and
If you’re smart, you forget all about it.