Episode 58—Get 1% Better with Joe Ferraro

Joe Ferraro, Brendan O'Meara
Joe Ferraro is the host of The 1% Better Podcast.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Joe Ferraro (@FerraroOnAir):

“We need to be shipping more than worrying about the details.”

“Nothing upsets me more than when someone says, ‘I’m too busy.'”

“You’ll hear young learners say, ‘How did you get so good at that?’ And the answer almost always is practice and reps.”

“I’m still trying to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“I’m a person who learns an unbelievable amount by talking things out.”

“Who are the people in your damn neighborhood?”

“The art and science of conversation and interviewing is intoxicating.”

Hey, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast (please leave a review!) where I speak with the world’s best writers, freelancers, interviewers, authors, and documentary filmmakers about why and how they go about creating works of nonfiction and how YOU can apply what they do to your work.

Today’s guest is Joe Ferraro (@FerraroOnAir on Twitter), the fourth Joe I’ve had on the podcast (Joe DePaulo, Joe Drape, Joe Donahue, and now Joe Ferraro). Need a Josephine…anyway…

So who’s Joe Ferraro? He’s a teacher and a learner, but above all he’s a leader. He just started a podcast: The 1% Better Podcast. His tagline is Conversations designed to help you get 1% Better. It’s aimed at gradual, continual, rigorous—though not overwhelming—personal improvement.

“If we’re talking about hard work, it’s about squeezing out more of the day,” says Joe. “Nothing upsets me more than when someone says ‘I’m too busy.’”

Joe talks about his allergy for negative people, finding ways to challenge himself, and how after teaching for 20 years, he feels like his best years are still ahead of him. He’s the type of guy that inspires you to take action. He also talks about how he met his good pal Kevin Wilson, who you may recall from Episode 32.

Be sure to reach out to Joe on Twitter and subscribe to his podcast right away. Whether it’s listening to world class leader Ryan Hawk or how to make the best cold brew coffee, the art of thinking and redefining a restaurant, The 1% Better Podcast will open your eyes to where you can add value to you life and those around you.

Episode 56—Sonja Livingston Serves Up ‘Ghostbread’

Sonja Livingston, author of the memoir “Ghostbread,” stopped by the podcast to read from her book and to talk about her work.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Sonja: 

“If I had tried to line together four or five of these [short chapters], it might feel cumulatively too dense or heavy.”

“That’s such a nice thing about writing, isn’t it? It’s exciting for me because I don’t know where the piece is going to go and beyond that I don’t know who it’s going to connect with if it will at all. Sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does, it’s sort of amazing.”

“I don’t really have a plan. I follow the leads of memory and curiosity and go with it.”

“They haven’t tried to kill me, but they haven’t thrown me a party either.”

“The thing that makes an essay work and seem like a miracle is the thing that makes it seem so painful as well.”

Sonja Livingston stopped by The Creative Nonfiction Podcast to talk about her award-winning memoir “Ghostbread.” She was also gracious enough to read from three short chapters. It’s about family and growing up in poverty.

“[My family] hasn’t tried to kill me, but they haven’t thrown me a party either,” Sonja says.

This episode is layered and a bit experimental. I hope it adds a little extra somethin’-somethin’ to the usual interview. If you dig it, let me know on Twitter @BrendanOMeara and I’ll invite others to try something similar.

Sonja talks a lot about her routine and how getting outside helps her write. Also she adds that writing personal essay can feel like a miracle, but can also be very painful. Maybe it’s that in order to write great art, there must be a little bit of blood on the page.

I’d love for you to leave a review of the podcast and to share with folks you think will enjoy it. That’s all I can ask for. Thanks for listening!

People Mentioned

Judith Kitchen
Enda O’Brien
Harriet Scott Chessman
Jerre Mangione
James Joyce
Flanner O’Connor
William Faulkner
Dinty W. Moore

Episode 55—Do Funny Things Always Happen to Nikki Schulak?

Nikki Schulak’s “Dentistry’s Problem Children” appeared in Creative Nonfictions latest issue themed “How We Teach.”

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Nikki Schulak:

“What writer at my age gets to have parents be dead? I don’t have to worry about what they think!”

“I can’t stop. I can’t not write stories.”

I suggest visiting Nikki Schulak’s website and then perusing her extensive archive of essays

In this episode we talk about how stories come to her, how she stays attuned to the world, naked bike rides, and the power of performing for an audience and the validation that ushers.

This is the last episode before my 37th birthday. Wanna give something to me? Leave a review on iTunes. You don’t even have to wrap it. The best part? It’s free and takes less than a minute. Can’t beat that right?

Thanks for listening!

SpareMin Book Show: Tortured Artist? Writer Caroline Comerford Ain’t Buyin’ It

By Brendan O’Meara

So, a good chunk of you know that I host The Creative Nonfiction Podcast (subscribe, review) where I interview the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, like Joe Drape talking about writing an 80,000-word book in six weeks.

But I also have a side-gig where I interview any writer for the app SpareMin. It’s a micropodcast, if you will, and my latest episode is with my friend Caroline Comerford. 

Because these episodes tend to be really short (by design), I want to add the transcript below. For those hungry for Creative Nonfiction Podcast transcripts, yeah, I think I’ll bite the bullet and do those too. But for now, you’ll just have to deal with these!

Thanks for listening! Oh, and download the app. It’s free

BO: I’ve got Caroline Comerford joining me on the line joining me for The Book Show. She’s a writer and teacher based out of Eugene, Oregon. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Caroline, this is really fun.

CC: Well, thank you for giving me the opportunity to think about some of these things.

BO: Yeah, it’s always nice to find out a writer’s origin story and what influenced them, so what are some influential books that sort of turned you on to language and made you want to become a writer?

CC: Oh, I’m going to have think about this one. Influential books from an early age…I was always a big reader, a quiet kid like so many of us. I read a lot when I was really young, sort of standard Secret Garden, Little Princess, Anna Green Gable stuff. And I don’t know that I really had a sense that I wanted to be a writer until I reached adolescence and started writing more regularly for myself.

I think one memory I have between the summer between eighth grade and high school I remember spending a lot of time in our over-heated attic reading random books that I had found on my parents’ bookshelf. My stepmother’s books in particular. I remember reading My Antonia in one or two sittings up there in a really hot summer knowing there were pieces of it that I couldn’t really understand. But also knowing that it made me feel something that I couldn’t have felt any other way. I still carry that memory with me. It’s still the same feeling that I get when I read a book where it’s able to bypass my analytical mind. That was a very important book to me growing up and still is.

BO: Was it the story itself, the way Willa Cather used language, what did that unlock for  you?

CC: I think it has everything to do with language. The story is beautiful, but the story comes through the language. The idea that language, I think it maybe makes sense to say that when I started writing I started out as a poet, and wrote mostly poetry throughout my college years. That language could unlock things in me thematically, emotionally, even when I didn’t fully understand all of the words on the page all of the time. The way that she weaves words together in that book creates a net of emotional experience and longing, nostalgia, that is so moving and it was through that book that I most deeply experienced the transfer of someone else’s longing and memory to my own experience through language.

BO: In sort of training, if you will, as a poet, and you experienced more with essay and prose, some of the stuff that I’ve read from you, how did poetry help inform your prose-style of writing?

CC: That’s a good question, one I’m not sure I have a great answer to. My work as a poet was very much in my formative years and I don’t think that I, I know I didn’t seriously consider being a poet while I was writing poetry. I needed to be writing, the mentors and people I loved who I found in college were poets and were really generous to me and taught me a lot about sound and especially about how to edit, really, and that actually way that I know that poetry still informs my work. I’m always thinking about what I can cut out, and what sticks. Between the time I stopped writing poetry, which was the end of college, the time I started writing fiction maybe four years later, most of the writing I did, none of the writing I did was directed toward an audience. My relationship to writing, I felt like I needed it to make meaning out of my own experience, and that internal motivation to write was why I was attracted to poetry too. It’s a form that allows for a lot of reflection, a lot of looking at the self, that was something I was trying to figure out then. That carries through to my work a little bit now though I try to be a little more outward looking. A good chunk of four or five years between the time I stopped writing poetry and started taking fiction workshops and went to get my MFA in fiction.

BO: When you’re getting ready to process a thought and put it into writing, how do you approach the warmup, or the writer’s calisthenics, as I like to call it, what’s your routine as you try to work through something and put it onto the page? How does that process manifest itself for you?

CC: I have what I think is a terrible habit to have to sit down and, well, the first part of the habit isn’t so bad. I generally, especially at this point, you are catching me at this second fallow point in my writing in my adult life. It hasn’t even been that long. It’s probably been six months. I’m currently eight months pregnant and I’m teaching full time and I have an almost two-year-old at home and so there is just not enough time for a lot of regular writing.

I get one day a week right now to sit down and write. I need an hour or so just to process my life [laughs]. I sit down and write stream of conscious. I’m thinking about this; these should be my priorities right now; these should not be my priorities right now; I have to get all that stuff out of the way before I can begin to think about what I should be working on. Then the terrible habit I was talking about tends to be, I tend to think too hard about what I’m going to write next or what needs to have with a particular piece before I’ve given it a chance to really form. I’ll have a tendency to really try to start the more analytical revision process before I’ve given myself enough time to think down and tell the truth about what’s happening with my characters and to write scenes. 

BO: Yeah.

CC: And to stick with scenes. It’s really hard, especially when I don’t have a lot of space in my life to sink down and stick with what’s going on in the moment with somebody and not let my analytical mind represent some sort of feeling. That’s a challenge for me. I think that’s truly an authentic part of my process. I do need to sit down and think a little bit. I’m always frustrated with how long I spend with that. 

BO: Do you find that, at least in this time of your life, you have that one day to do your writing, do you feel liberated by that or pressured by that, because it would seem like this is your game day and if it doesn’t get done this day it’s not going to get done for another week. Is there a sense of pressure or do you think ‘This is my day and I can just binge it out. Let’s rock.’?

CC: Right now because the time is so little and the time is, I recognize that I need that time for personal processing writing and having quiet moments to myself that is, if I really expect much from myself, that’s frustrating. When my son was born a year ago and I found that my time was much more precious and I found that that time was liberating. It was much easier to be productive and a lot of the anxiety about what I was producing or where it was going or how I was saying something, really disappeared for me because I knew I needed to get or I had a clear goal. That was easier because I was writing for four hours every other day really regularly. Now being away from the page for an entire week doesn’t really work for me. I accepted that until this second child is born and established in the world I will have to have less time. I will also be teaching far less next year so I’m hoping that my time will come back around and have a similar experience where having less time will make me get more done and allows me to cut through more quickly that earlier stages in my life.

BO: One more question Caroline, before I let you get out of here, there’s often this stigma that the writer is this tortured artist, which I tend not to buy. I think writing should be fun in some instances, and if it’s not fun then it’s not going to be fun for the reader. I suspect that that’s maybe true with you. Where in the process of writing do you get your joy in being able to sit down and write short stories or essays or even fragments of novels. Where are you most joyful in the process of generating work?

CC: When I let myself be present in scene and in characters. There is joy in the process, or maybe it’s not joy, there’s certainly pleasure in the process of revising and making plans for what your piece is going to be. Going back and revising and fixing things and perfecting things. I definitely get a contentment from that. The joy comes from getting in a really good first draft and the feeling that comes from actually doing that. The feeling of it on the other end isn’t always so great. The feeling of getting it down is definitely joyful and really important.

BO: It’s important to recognize the accomplishment that is having written that first draft. It takes a lot of energy and focus to get to that point alone. Granted you’re just starting, but you have to take that moment to appreciate how far you’ve come, now you this piece of marble to keep on honing and carving and shaving down. 

CC: I will say about the tortured artists thing. I absolutely agree with you, I think the less tortured my life becomes the better my writing is … without a doubt.

Episode 52—How to Write an 80,000-word Book in 42 Days with NYT Bestselling Author Joe Drape

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Joe Drape:

“We were seeing greatness. We were part of history.”

“I may not write well, but I write fast. I’m OK with that.”

“You have to figure out who you are and what works for you.”

“It’s all driven by reporting. You gotta know your stuff.”

“Sometimes 1,500 words goes to 3,000 or 6,000. Sometimes 1,500 becomes 300 and you shut your computer and go to a movie.”

“You gotta be able to eat rejection morning, noon, and night. All they can say is no.”

“This business is all about listening.”

I’m not sure where to begin if I’m being perfectly honest. Joe Drape (@joedrape on Twitter) is a New York Times sports writer and the New York Times bestselling author of Our Boys and American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise.

He wrote the 80,000-word manuscript in six weeks without a book leave. 

How are you feeling about your productivity?

“When you say, ‘Ok, I’ve got six weeks to write 80,000 words,’ it freaks you out,” says Joe. “Sometimes 1,500 words goes to 3,000 or 6,000. Sometimes 1,500 becomes 300 and you shut your computer and go to a movie.”

I love it, baby.

Joe is the author of these six books:

American Pharoah
Black Maestro
Our Boys
The Race for the Triple Crown
In the Hornets Nest
To the Swift

In this episode he talks about how to write a book under tight deadline pressure, the power of reporting, and the power of listening. 

Thanks for listening! And if you have a moment, please leave a review on iTunes. Nine (and counting) five-star reviews! Thanks so much! 

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?

Dig the show? Give the podcast a nice review. You won’t be alone. Several people have done it, so join them!

Thanks for listening!

Episode 50—Ted Conover’s Deep Dive into Immersion

Author Ted Conover. Photo by Jay Leibold

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Ted Conover:

How could I write a thesis and get out of the library?

What if I’d been a little more cautious? I probably would’ve missed out and I can’t tell you what I’d be doing today. I hate to think about it.

Experience that doubles as research is really cool.

You have to see that team spirit as a tool for learning about people.

When you take notes, you’re writing to yourself. These are notes to the person who’s going to write about this.

If the experience is the raw  material, do I have enough to create a finished product?

For the 50th episode of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, we had to go big and that’s what we did.

Ted Conover (@tedconover on Twitter), author of so many books (Rolling Nowhere, Coyotes, Newjack) including his latest Immersion: A Writer’s Guide to Going Deep, joined me to talk about why he wrote the book and how he has employed those tactics for the past 40 years.

“The research you do is determinative, right?” Conover says. “It defines what you’re going to be able to write in many ways.”

Thanks for listening. Please share, subscribe, and leave a review on iTunes.

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:

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

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

“The story’s got to move on.”

“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.

Please leave a review on iTunes, subscribe to the podcast, and share with a friend.

Thanks for listening!

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!

SpareMin Book Show: Andrew Mueller

By Brendan O’Meara

It’s not The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, but it’s a micropod I do with a pretty slick app called SpareMin. 

Check it.

TRANSCRIPT

BO: I’ve got Andrew Mueller on the line. He’s a writer and teacher based out of Eugene, Oregon. I know Andy because he’s in a writing group I’ve been recently invited to, which has been a lot of fun to share craft, and stories, and feedback. It really helps everyone level up. And Andy recently shared a story that I want to dive into the process for it. So, Andy, how did you come to the story that you shared with us and what was the itch that that story was scratching when you started crafting it.

AM: You want me to talk about the specific story? Or just writing stories in general?

BO: Tell you what, let’s do just writing stories in general then maybe we can scratch the surface of the one you’ve been workshopping.

AM: I would say that the first idea for a story usually has to be something based on something that I know or something that I’ve heard. So either a really interesting person that I met or a a fascinating situation that I heard about or a feeling or a dilemma I know personally. And if it’s a fictional story, for the first draft, and take that a couple steps further, raise the stakes a little bit either by tweaking the characters, tweaking the setting, tweaking the situation a little bit and ratchet up the tension a little bit. And so, for instance, for this story, the original situation I had where this priest or pastor who’s confronted with this guy sending thinly veiled love poems to the entire church staff, that is something that I heard had happened back home in Chicago. I took that and I ran with it.

BO: You’ve got your antennae tuned to these things going on around you that you look to mold into stories. How do you go about documenting that? Do you carry a notebook with you? Or do you put a pin in it in your head and you run home and scribble out something so you don’t forget it. How do you approach that?

AM: Yeah, I’ve tried carrying around a notebook and writing down things regularly, that usually doesn’t work for me. I think the practice I’ve gotten into of writing, even if it’s just 30 minutes each day, that comes out. So if I’m, if something happens that day, something I’ve been thinking about, I have to have that 30 minutes of writing of ideas. It probably does end up being like a daily journal of interesting things that happened that day just because I’m forced to sit down and write it regularly.

BO: And what would you say your daily routine around your creative work is? How do you warm up that engine and ensure that you’re generating some degree or pages or words, however you measure success? How do you approach that each day?

AM: I have to usually plan it out. So I get my planner our and plan from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Usually later than that. I usually do it in the evening. Unless I plan those hours our, writing it down makes it set in stone for me, like it’s out of my hands and I can’t choose whether or not I want to do it because it’s written in the planner. As weird as that sounds.

BO: That’s really brilliant. I have my most productive days when I take the approach of the Ben Franklin daily planner. 

AM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

BO: How he just kind he lays it out hour by hour. I think of it like a budget. Money, you want to assign every dollar bill a job in your budget whatever it is. I think of time that same way. I’m going to assign these hours to a certain job whatever that’s going to be and I find that even if it’s just 30 minutes. If you say that 30 minutes is writing time, or reading time, you can get surprisingly big chunk of volume done in that amount of time if you just do it with focus, like you said, put it in stone. It holds you accountable.

AM: Exactly, I think, too, it’s important to block out that time, especially the first part, getting into it can be so difficult. You take 15 or 20 minutes of writing little bits and stopping and struggling and wanting to quit. If you just sit there for long enough with the page in front of you, all of a sudden you’ll find yourself in the middle of writing something that’s interesting and you’re really into it. I think setting aside that time and actually writing it down and making yourself accountable is so important for me. That’s the trick that works.

BO: A lot of people complain that if they want to write, they don’t have enough time, and usually that means they haven’t prioritized enough time to do it. It doesn’t take much. You can still call yourself a writer if you’re doing 10 or 20 minutes every other day. But as long as you make it a point and …. since you teach at the U of O, right? 

AM: Right, right.

BO: You’ve got a lot of responsibility there, so how do you make that time to make sure you’re doing stuff that’s creatively fulfilling for you?

AM: It’s actually interesting. Teaching is one of those things, I don’t know if most other jobs are like this. I’ve only had teach jobs. Teaching is one of those things that will take as much time as you allow it. Even planning out time for that and saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to spend an hour on this lesson plan and no more.’ If it takes longer than that then I’m just going to have to have an incomplete lesson for the day. I have to get to my writing. I think especially for teachers and for people who are teaching it can seem like the writing is not as important and fall by the wayside because you have 60 students that are going to be sitting in a classroom waiting for you to teach them something the next day which is a more anxiety producing prospect than not having your pages for the day. It comes back to that planning and setting limits. I’m going to grade for two hours and however much grading gets done that’s it. If I told them it’d probably be done by this weekend, they’re not gonna get done because I have to keep my sanity and I have to live the rest of my life. Because if you don’t do that teaching will take all of your time.

BO: And what would you say, and this will be the last question before I let you get outta here for this Round 1, because I think it’d be fun to maybe once a month have you on and let’s check in and see how things are going.

AM: That’d be terrific. 

BO: Have recurring guests. This could be cool. As a writer, what’s your proudest moment as a writer to date?

AM: Ooo, proudest moment as a writer to date…huh..I would say…

BO: It could be a published thing. It could be a pat on the back from someone you truly admire who said, ‘Yeah, you’re in the club kid.’ It could be anything that your artistic delusions that we all have aren’t totally lunatic. Something validating, something that fed you in a good way.

AM: Okay, I don’t know if this directly related to my creative work, but when I was in undergrad, I was an English major and in my school they gave out a couple of awards at the end of the year, the top two graduating English majors as decided by the faculty. I won one of those awards at the end of the  year and that was incredibly validating not only because I knew it was stiff competition and related to my reading and my writing ability. But that the faculty had chosen it. The professors I had worked with had looked at all those names and chosen me out of all of them. I’d say that was in general validating for my language skills. That’s still something I think about today and feel really good about..

BO: Fantastic, well, Andy Mueller is a writer and teacher in Eugene, OR, and thank you so much for coming on the Book Show, Andy. This is what I hope to be the first of many conversations we have through the app here. Thank you for your time.

AM: It was good to be here.

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.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple podcast app and on Google Play Music. Leave a rating if you’re feeling extra kind. Those help.

Thanks for listening!