Try 101

Practice — Process — Projects

Month: June, 2013

Forget About Being Embarrassed

by tjbeitelman

“The main thing I learned is that the more I can forget about being embarrassed when I make something, the more it is going to mean something to somebody else. I can’t anticipate what it’s going to be or how it’s going to be perceived, so the quicker I let go of something  I make, the better.”

–Jeff Tweedy, from Wilco: Learning How to Die by Greg Kot

Thirty Things I Love Right Now

by mark neely

1. Summer!

2. A job that gives me some extra time to read during summer.

3. Which reminds me of being a kid, going to the Champaign public library every week and checking out a load of books on my laminated green library card.

4. Mario Puzo said, “my mother regarded my library card with the same horror that present-day mothers look at their son’s heroin needles.”

5. I usually read a “big book” in the summer—Middlemarch, War and Peace, Infinite Jest, etc.

6. This summer I have a lot of shorter books I want to read, so I’m skipping the big book pledge.

7. Reading nonfiction and doing some work on a nonfiction project.

8. David Foster Wallace’s essays (the McCain essay and the Lobster essay and even the American Usage essay, though lord that’s a lot of words about dictionaries).

9. Anything he writes about tennis.

10. Wallace on tennis reminds me to write about the things I love.

11. Serena Williams, who won her second French Open, and 16th Grand Slam, leaving her just two titles away from tying Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

12. Wallace never wrote his Serena Williams essay. But I imagine it sometimes.

13. Virginia Woolf’s essays, particularly “Street Haunting,” which I read for the first time a few days ago.

14. Reading something this amazing for the first time.

15. “No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil. But there are circumstances in which it can become supremely desirable to possess one…”

16. Disc golf.

17. A long putt catching in the chains.

18. This 30 Things is theoretically nonfiction.

19. The Replacements reunion!

20. The sneaking suspicion this won’t actually happen.

21. Then I could still say I saw the last ‘Mats show, on the Fourth of July in Grant Park in 1991.

22. Croutons. Get a loaf of bread and some tasty olive oil and make them yourself. You’ll thank me.

23. The Spurs—a small market squad built on teamwork, lack of drama, a core of veterans mentoring the young and talented.

24. The Heat—a large market team, a ruthless hit-squad built from poaching talent from around the league. More drama than the Broadway Les Miserables.

25. Cue narrative.

26. The attack essay. To be honest I haven’t read this yet—I’m saving it for an upcoming airplane trip. I’m sure it will piss me off, but it’s good to get pissed off about art sometimes. Somewhat surprised to see any long-form writing about poetry in a mainstream magazine.

27. Using three exclamation points in this post, the number someone said a writer should use in his or her lifetime.

28. Writing rules!

29. Breaking writing rules, as in the adverbs of Frank O’Hara.

30. I’m doing an experiment where I stay entirely offline for the month of July. I’ll tell you about it when I get back.

“Do You Write Everyday?”

by tjbeitelman

I went to the dentist today. The dentist’s office is almost always rife with small talk, and there’s a good chance somebody is gonna ask you what you do for a living. (There’s a good chance said person will have her hands in your mouth when she asks, but that’s another post altogether.)

I teach writing for a living. When I tell people that (as I told the new hygienist today at the dentist’s office), they often ask if I write too. (A little bit of a weird question, but it’s true that not all writing teachers write, so it’s not a completely unfair weird question.) When I say yes, they sometimes ask if I’ve been published. When I answer that question, it usually stops there — a far cry from the response that comes from other writers, who, of course, want to know where I’ve been published and if I’ve published a book (oh, and PS, who published that).

The real world doesn’t care about all that: getting published is getting published, and anyway, small talk is supposed to stay small. So the questions usually stop there.

But sometimes somebody asks one more question (as the new hygienist did today):

  • Do you write everyday?

I used to think there was a right answer to that question (three guesses as to what it is; hint: it starts with a Y). I don’t think so anymore. Now I’m more interested in whether I’m invested in a particular creative project. That investment can — and often does — take the form of tapping at the keys of my trusty laptop, but very few of my projects are fully sustained by that activity. They always require reading, watching, thinking, listening. Sometimes traveling. Other forms of seeking and experience.

A word count is just words on a page. For those words to mean something to me — much less anyone else — they have to be filtered (and usually refiltered) through those other forms of creative investment.

Therefore: sometimes, to write well, I actually have to stop writing.

In other words: sometimes to live well, I have to stop writing. (This is especially true when I’m feeling particularly inspired, particularly invested in the writing part of a writing project, when the words are coming fast and furious and, right or [too often] wrong, I feel like every one of them is a keeper.)

All of that represents a balancing act that I do perform each day. (Some days I’m better at it than others.)

If that’s what folks are asking when they ask me if I write everyday, then the answer is a proud and emphatic, “Absolutely!” At this point, for better or worse, I don’t know how else to live my life.

If they’re asking whether I’ve got something to show for it everyday, the answer is this: “Oh, good lord, no. I don’t.”

These days, I’m just as proud and emphatic about that answer, too.