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Entries in The Rumpus (4)


"Without risking failure nothing important can be written"

From Jane Vandenburgh, some paraphrased advice on writing from one of the most gifted memiorists out there, Cheryl Strayed:

To write any book that matters you'll need to own both your own most ridiculously lofty ambitions together with the sobering notion that you're likely doomed to failure. You will fail, she says, because each of us is a broken and leaking all-too-human vessel, too weak and insignificant to be carrying such an important story.

Why? because each of us is profoundly, even fundamentally mediocre -- this is Strayed's perfect word -- so it's only by asking ourselves to do what we actually cannot yet do that we step up to take on the critical challenges that will be necessary.

Without risking failure nothing important can we written so we must settle down to the fact that we're sure to fail, then fail, and then fail again. If there is one true task of a writer, she says, it is to take up a story that is too heavy, one too difficult to bear, shoulder it, then walk a thousand miles.

Read the rest here!

If you've read and enjoyed any of The Rumpus's Dear Sugar columns (this one is my favorite), you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of Tiny Beautiful Things. Pick up two, because you're going to want to give the second copy to someone who needs to read it.


"Talent = Work + Desire + The ability to smell shit in your own work."

From The Rumpus, some great advice for younger writers... or any writers, really. But for some reason this at the end spoke most to me:

Like any other writer I fantasize about sitting in my well-lit office eight hours a day, contentedly transcribing this on-going dialogue I have with myself as fat checks are pushed through the mail slot, which my lovely creative professional husband will take to the bank to deposit on his way home from picking up our darling, well-behaved children from soccer practice, after which we will sit in some patch of freshly cut grass and express our gratitude that we are so lucky to be a family supported entirely by income from the arts. But children, we know, are not always darling and well-behaved and lovely creative professional husbands often forget to go to the bank and it’s rare that anyone can write for eight hours a day and fat checks are mostly found elsewhere.


There is no endgame. You must be alive at your desk and know that it will not always be pleasant (though sometimes it will be) but pleasantness is not the point. If you love to be challenged, then your desk is your oasis of challenge. And remember you are a writer for the process of writing first and foremost.

(Read the rest here!)

My fantasy is, incidentally, very similar to this one, except that my wife will be picking up my darling, well-behaved children from their Dungeons & Dragons game, not soccer practice.


A room of one's own in the middle of everything


Until recently, I never much understood the whole room of one’s own thing. Love me some To The Lighthouse, but I didn’t need my own space. I could write anywhere: library, coffee shop, the bar before starting a shift. In part, I preferred writing in public—the people, the action, the whitenoise—but mostly this nomadic office was determined by necessity. I lived in the city. Space is expensive, and a second bedroom was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Also, like many freelance artists/teachers/servers/twenty-somethings, I had three jobs; no time to spend in a second bedroom even if I had one. Also, I moved around a lot, apartment to apartment, neighborhood to neighborhood, relationship to relationship, so I learned to write whenever and wherever I could.

Aren’t you supposed to build your writing process around your life?

Or—wait. Is it the other way around?

Read the rest at The Rumpus!

I crave a gorgeous book-crammed study with soft lighting and a leather reading chair, but my writing usually happens more like this—between things. How about you?


Two spoonfuls of Sugar

The Rumpus's Dear Sugar column is one of my favorite things on the internet right now, and if you're not fanatically reading and re-reading these columns then do I have a treat for you.

The first concerns writing vs. being an author:

If you are a writer, it’s the writing that matters and no amount of battery acid in your stomach over who got what for what book they wrote is going to help you in your cause. Your cause is to write a great book and then to write another great book and to keep writing them for as long as you can. That is your only cause. It is not to get a six figure book deal. I’m talking about the difference between art and money; creation and commerce. It’s a beautiful and important thing to be paid to make art. Publishers who deliver our books to readers are a vital part of what we do. But what we do—you and I—is write books. Which may garner six figure book deals for the reasons I outlined above. Or not.

Read the rest here.

The second is from my absolute favorite Sugar column. It devastates me every time I read it (in a good way). It's about pushing yourself to be more than what you think you are:

I told her that escaping the shit would be hard, but that if she wanted to not make her mother’s life her destiny, she had to be the one to make it happen. She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal.

Read the rest here. (And you ready should, though perhaps not at work...)

Sugar recently came out as Cheryl Strayed, author of Torch and the upcoming memoir Wild. I'm reading Torch right now and it's just as good as her columns.