Episode 51—Jessica Lahey on Hidden Monsters, The Gift of Failure, and Keeping Your Butt in the Chair

Jessica Lahey in the classroom.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Jessica Lahey (@JessLahey on Twitter):

“Give me everything that was wrong with it and have me learn.”

“I’ve realized that long walks and gardening are a part of my process.”

“Almost always the editor is right.”

“Our tagline is, ‘Keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game.'”

“The work of being a writer means you get words on the page.”

Jessica Lahey, author of the essay “I’ve Taught Monsters,” which recently appeared in Issue 63 of Creative Nonfiction and the NYT best seller The Gift of Failure, came by the show to talk about teaching and getting the work done.

“The work of being a writer means you get words on the page,” Lahey says. “It’s as simple as that. I means you read, you write, and get words on the page.”

We talk about her approach to teaching and language, and also how Stephen King’s On Writing influenced her style. We also talk about what it means to work hard as a writer, a very nebulous term. What does hard work look like?

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Episode 49—Dinty W. Moore on the Gift of Feedback, Reading Like a Mechanic, and Patience

Dinty W. Moore, author of “The Story Cure.”

Tweetables by Dinty Moore:

Tweet: “I don’t spend a lot of time lingering over breakfast.”

Tweet: “The people I know who fail as writers … lack patience, stubbornness.”

Tweet: “The story’s got to move on.”

Tweet: “I don’t think, ‘Oh, God, I hate myself. I’m a horrible writer.’ I think, ‘You know what? I can actually fix this.'”

By Brendan O’Meara

Dinty Moore (@brevitymag) runs the creative writing program at Ohio University. He founded Brevity Magazine, an online magazine dedicated to short (<750 words) nonfiction. He’s written a dozen books.

“I don’t spend a lot of time lingering over breakfast,” he says on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast. [Subscribe on the Apple Podcast app or Google Play Music! And leave a review in iTunes. One generous soul has left a 5-star review! Join him/her!]

Dinty’s latest book, The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir (Ten Speed Press), will help diagnose—and cure!—common ailments in your project, whether you’re far along in a book (as I am) or you’re just getting starting.

Check this: When dealing with early drafts (and Dinty writes as many as 40), he says, “I don’t think, ‘Oh, God, I hate myself. I’m a horrible person.’ I think, ‘You know what? I can actually fix this.'”

Great advice for patience and kindness to you and your work.

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I also mention Mary-Heather Noble and Kim Kankiewicz as it applies to a part of conversation on patience. Check them out if you haven’t already!

Episode 48—Roy Peter Clark Redux

By Brendan O’Meara

This week on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast decided to revisit my episode with Roy Peter Clark (@RoyPeterClark on Twitter), this time condensing that two-hour interview and pulling out the best moments.

In it we hear Roy talk about how he learned to swim in the language, the moment he learned the true meaning of literacy, and when research can become crippling.

I’m experimenting with the form and making it more like a mini one-source profile. Let me know what you think. I think it makes for a better overall listen. Ping me on Twitter @BrendanOMeara with thoughts, or to say hi.

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Thanks for listening!

Episode 47—Shawna Kenney on ‘Zines, Advice, and Finding Your Tribe

Shawna Kenney, punk rock to the bone.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Shawna Kenney:

“The punk scene became a pre-Internet web of people for me to connect with.”

“Like any reader, I liked that [words] could take me away.”

“I’m much better on the page than I am verbally.”

“I always wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson without the drugs.”

“It’s not like I pitch an outlet and sit there waiting hopefully.”

“There’s no one right way to do your art.”

Shawna Kenney, author, writer, teacher, coach, editor, joins me on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast to talk about her origin story as a teenage fanzine founder, punk rock, and her delightful short essay “Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing,” a brilliant piece of satire.

She grew up in a conservative family in small-town Maryland, so the nearby punk scene in Washington D.C. held tremendous appeal. “I always wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson without the drugs,” Shawna tells me.

Her work has such an edge that I was surprised that she didn’t have that edge in conversation. “I’m much better on the page than I am verbally,” she says, which isn’t true at all. She’s great on the page, and she’s a great conversationalist.

Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, the New York Times, Vice, and Playboy, just to name a few. Be sure to follow Shawna on Twitter @ShawnaJKenney and go to her website to read more about her and her work.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 46—Editor Hattie Fletcher on Seeing Rhythms and the Power of Reading Slush

Hattie Fletcher
Hattie Fletcher, editor selfie

By Brendan O’Meara

Hattie Fletcher Tweetables:

“I spent a lot of time getting at what writers were trying to do with their stories and trying to make stories be the best form of that.”

“If you want to make a print object there’s an obligation to make a nice print object.”

“Editors, I guess, wield power. I don’t know anyone who loves saying ‘no.’ It’s not a personal thing.”

“The best part of my job—and it comes four times a year—is saying ‘yes’ to people.”

“Reading slush is such a great exercise for a writer.”

“I don’t think art that is deliberately mapped out is any less artful.”

Here we are for Episode 46 (!) of The #CNF Podcast with Creative Nonfiction’s managing editor Hattie Fletcher.

If you want to improve your writing and possibly improve your chances of being published in Creative Nonfictionthen this is your episode.

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Thanks for listening!

Episode 41—Jennifer Niesslein, the Full Grown Person behind Full Grown People

Jennifer Niesslein
Jennifer Niesslein talks about what it means to be an editor.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables:

“I only write when I have something that I really need to figure out.”

“My job is to get the essay to its platonic ideal.”

“I took a personal crisis and made a publication out of it.”

“I wanted to make the magic happen.”

“So much of writing is rhythm.”

Jennifer Niesslein, formerly a co-editor and co-founder of Brain, Child, and currently editor and founder of Full Grown People, joined me on Episode 41 to talk about the art of editing.

Her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, the Brevity blog, Virginia Quarterly, and The Nervous Breakdown.

She’s also the author of Practically Perfect in Every Way.

Why wait any longer? Here’s Jennifer Niesslein.

Episode 37—Angela Palm is a Cartographer? Well, sort of

Angela Palm signs copies of her kick-ass memoir “Riverine”.

By Brendan O’Meara

“I like that [Riverine] is imperfect, because to me it shows I’m trying this style and approach as an artist.” —Angela Palm (@angpalm)

“You still have to start at Word 1, Sentence 1.”Angela Palm

“Getting the music in your head to translate on the page was a very difficult thing for me to figure out.” —Angela Palm

Yeah, podcast!

Let’s keep racking them up, baby. Angela Palm is my guest this week. We talked about her delightful memoir Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere But Here (Graywolf Press). We also dive into her essay “Hierarchy of Needs”, which appears in Issue 62 of Creative Nonfiction.

What else? Be sure to check out Angela’s website for the latest on her work. Also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Google Play Music. The badges are on the right of the page. 

And from another Graywolf Press author, Paul Lisicky

Manuscript Impossible: Taking Control of You and Your Work

Written by Brendan O’Meara

A show I can’t get enough of is Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network. Chef Robert Irvine visits dilapidated restaurants in need of a facelift. He. Gets. Brutal with the owners and staff. He has two days and $10,000 to give them a second chance. It’s Extreme Home Makeover for restaurants.

Many of the restaurants have dingy carpets. Smells hit you in the face. Staff is unfriendly and unknowledgeable. Trash, clutter, and waste fester in kitchens. It’s a look inside the cluttered minds of these restaurant owners.

Robert blitzes in. He’s like Gordon Ramsey and Simon Cowell with Mr. Olympia biceps.

Here’s the show’s flow chart:

1. Establish how futile the restaurant is
2. Charts a course to save the restaurant, though can’t see how it’s possible
3. Atomic bombs the menu
3a: Brings in design team to make the restaurant over on tight budget
4. Work
5. Address underlying issues/Raise the stakes with staff and owners
6. Marketing new food to Chamber of Commerce
7. Re-open “new” restaurant. Tears flow (Yes, I get misty here. So does Robert: the drill sergeant becomes Pooh Bear)
8. Robert coaches the kitchen, iron out kinks on the fly
9. Epilogue: did the restaurant make the changes stick? Most do, some fail and fall back into the same habits that brought out the failure in the first place.

As I watch, I get motivated. Robert’s passion is undeniable for food and restaurants and he finds it insulting when others don’t take their craft seriously. It made me think: Am I doing what I can to uphold the craft of writing?

I too get insulted by people who do say they “would like to write a book some day,” as if all it takes is a little time and nothing else, just something they can squeeze in between lattes and knee surgery.

My manuscripts feel like the dingy restaurants, with complacent sentences hanging there because they can. Just because this sentence is written, doesn’t mean it’s great; just because it’s readable, doesn’t make it acceptable.

Whatever the manuscript and whatever the length, you can put yours through the ringer too: Manuscript Impossible. But you have to get brutal. It’s not enough to murder your darlings, you have to draw and quarter your darlings, put them on pikes outside bridges to deter invaders. Gruesome? Well, do you want to get on the right path or not? Good.

1. You’ve got a manuscript. Great! Also: B.F.D. Big fuckin’ deal.
2. It’s bad. You know this. But what must happen?
3. What scenes (in nonfiction, are there scenes? Do the Yellow Test) must go? Enhance?
4. Start trimming. It’s probably too long. This piece was 646 words. It’s now 601.
5. Evaluate work habits. Trash clutter as clutter leads to procrastination.
6. Allot time for social networking and promotion. Connect with readers and writers in your genre on Facebook and Twitter. Set a kitchen timer for one hour every morning and tend to this garden (visit and comment on related blogs. This feels like a waste of time, but it’s an investment. Bloggers = reviewers. We ain’t getting’ into the New York Times Book Review)
7. Wow. Look at that slim manuscript! It looks pretty good. You never knew it was in you!
8.But it can be slimmer. Every. Word. Show. Let’s not waste anyone’s time.
9. Epilogue: TBD

I’ve used this quote before. I think it helps in all areas of life, not just in writing:

One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.

—Bruce Lee

 

Now let me know what you’re up to in the comments.