Asked by Anonymous
If this is your way of hitting on me
* yes I’m into it
* yes I will wear the eye patch
A solemn promise between internet friends, written and recorded by Kevin Fanning.
I'm a contributing writer for The Morning News and the Beverage Expert in Residence at Maura Magazine and you can follow me on twitter @kfan.
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One of the first stories I ever wrote was for an American Lit class my junior year of high school. I can’t remember the book we read, but it was by a woman? took place in the south? After we finished the book everyone had to write a paper. I don’t remember there being specific instructions—the teacher probably intentionally left it open-ended.
I was terrible in this class. I was not good at writing in high school, and I was not good at remembering what the symbolism of Moby Dick was when the teacher called on me and waited for me to answer, and I was definitely not good at writing essays about falling actions or why the denouement added something important to the story.
So I didn’t know what to write. I had enjoyed the book, liked the protagonist, but couldn’t even begin to tell you what was motivating the antagonist and why the knife is the same color as her door or whatever. And then I thought: maybe I could just write more of the story. Like, what happens after the last chapter. What are the characters doing 6 months after the end of the book.
(This was the early 90s. It makes sense and all seems so obvious now but I didn’t have the vocabulary for fanfic then. The idea of doing something with someone else’s characters wasn’t handed to me, it was just the only thing that made sense to me at the time, based on my options.)
I decided to write a story for my essay. Like, actual fiction. But was that dumb? I told my plan to some of my friends (who got better grades and were actually good at school). A friend of mine from that class, easily one of the smartest people in our grade, looked straight at me and said: “I would not do that.”
But I had no Plan B. So the night before it was due (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) I sat down to write this story and had no idea what to even write. Like where do you even start. It was totally overwhelming. With no plan or ideas and my panic rising with every passing second along with the sense that I had better start writing SOMETHING, I started writing a list of the questions I was stressed about:
I filled a page with questions like this and then two things happened:
So I wrote the answers as best as I could and then I wrote the story.
A great ending to this anecdote would be the teacher being blown away and me getting an awesome grade (And I do have a story like that! But this isn’t it.). I probably got a B for the paper. I remember the teacher being more interested in my process than the end result. I showed her the list of questions I’d asked myself and she held it up to the class and said “This was a good idea”.
(Sounds like a great teacher, right? She was hateful, one of my least favorite teachers ever. You can’t choose your moments.)
Writing this out now I realize how similar this is to a method Lynda Barry teaches. Start with a single word. That word conjures an image. Ask yourself questions about that image:
and then after you answer those questions just start writing.
You don’t have to know what you’re doing before you start moving your pencil or your cursor. When you don’t know where to start, just start anywhere. Directly addressing what you don’t know makes it safe for you to not know it.
I mention this now because I unlocked this secret about writing my first time out of the gate, and then promptly forgot about it for 20 years. I would like to not forget it again. (I will.)
When you were just starting out as a writer, before you had a family and a career to keep you going, what would you do when depression hit and you couldn't find the energy to write? Would you just force yourself to write anyway, or was there something else you would do?
Asked by beardmanly
i dunno. i’d feel depressed and write, or i’d feel depressed and not write. i don’t force it well regardless of my mood — forcing me to do anything is a surefire way for that thing to be done in a spectacularly half-assed and resentful manner.
mostly i’d just… I have to grind it out. happy, sad, sleepy, horny, mad, lazy, in love, enraged, at home, abroad, wherever, whenever. you don’t have to PUBLISH it. you don’t have to think it’s GOOD. even when i have nothing to say i’ll write ‘i have nothing to say’ a hundred times in a notebook or whatever.
sometimes the writing is easier when i’m depressed. i can work through stuff, think through stuff. or just wallow, honestly. sometimes the writing can show you the way out.
or sometimes i’m so into some other goddamn thing that the last thing i want to do is sit and write and it’s just as much a slog. it’s not a… i don’t understand the feeling of, the way people speak of writing as though it were, like, some kind of djinn to be summoned or like it’s the loch ness monster or seeing a shooting star. it’s a physical act. it is a thing you do with your muscles and your body and your willpower. watch, i’ll show you: get a piece of paper. get a pencil. put the pencil on the paper and write the word “something”
there. you did it. you wrote. you wrote ‘something.’ now put a word after something. Something what? Something… happened? creaked? died? flew? exploded? snapped? Tell me. With your hand, with the hand holding the pencil or pen or marker or crayon, it doesn’t matter, push your fingers and hand up and back and across and back until there is another word after “something”.
There. Now you’re writing a story.
Super Bowl XLVII, happening this weekend, seems the most likely time for a concentrated attack from the unholy spirit legion, coinciding as it does with the last quarter of the snow moon. Let’s be glad and give thanks, as we watch the halftime show, our emotions uniting to fend off whatever dark magicks Astaroth sends our way, that we have a high priestess like Beyoncé to protect us and keep us safe, as she has so many times before.
I went looking for what I might have missed at TMN yesterday. And in that Internet rabbit hole way, I got to read this again…this time, safe in the knowledge that Kevin’s prophecy came true. AND, we are also now under the full protection of Beyonce’s December avatar!
It’s a wonderful world, people. Don’t forget that for a second.
For December 31, 2013, I wrote a little book for you. It is only 11 pages of prose and called “THE SOCIETY FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF UNWRITTEN LITERATURE.” It includes 1) How to write poetry 2) How I became a poet and 3) A fable about the book of appearing ink. I hope at least one of its three parts might be of some use to you.
or if the Google Docs link doesn’t work for you, this one might.
I decided I wouldn’t read any books by white males in 2014.
Before you start showering me with rose petals, don’t get excited, it’s kind of a low bar.
According to Goodreads I read 30 books total in 2013, 1/3 of which were graphic novels. In terms of like fiction, short stories, non-fiction, I read 5 books by white males.
So I feel like, yeah, I can do that. I can read fewer than 5 books by white males in 2014.
Anyway I just requested this book from inter-library loan
2014 let’s pop this shit