Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A 1/2 Dozen for John McNally

A 1/2 Dozen

with novelist and short-story writer

John McNally

who'd sell carpet
if he didn't write

who proposes you stop reading blogs
about writing

and blow off AWP
for a couple years

and who prefers not
to have a shrunken brain.


Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

I'm miserable to be around when I'm not writing. If I hated to write, I wouldn't be a writer. I'd sell carpet or work in a carnival or be a professional wrestler instead of writing about carpet salesmen, carnies, and wrestlers.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

Writing Tip #1: Memorize a vaudeville routine, like "Who's on First?" Memorize it, and then recite it to your dog, your goldfish, your bathroom mirror. It'll teach you more about timing, dialogue, and rhythm than any literary figure ever will.

Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.

Remember what it was like when you were a kid coming up with stories -- writing them, thinking about them, telling them? That's what you need to get back to. Cancel your subscription to Poets & Writers. Skip going to AWP for a few years. Don't keep track of who's getting published, who's winning awards. Quit reading blogs about writing. Get back to that place where you wrote because you enjoyed it, because it was a part of your daily imaginative life, not because there was the hope of having a magazine publication, an agent, or a book contract attached to it. All of that crap gets in the way of the good work.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I was a fat child. It taught me to be angry at the world, to flip off adults who called me names as I biked past their houses. But I was a funny kid, too, a funny kid who played with his Hot Wheels and who loved Evel Knievel as much as he loved Charlie Chaplin, so now I'm an adult who writes satire. Go figure.

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

Fortunately, yes, but it took years for me to figure out. I write in the mornings when I first wake up, and I try to hit a specific goal page-wise. Some days I hit it. Some days I don't. I've quit berating myself if I don't. On average I'll write for a few hours. Longer if it's going well. Less if it's not. Writing comes first, but I have another life, and to that life I give the rest of my day. When I'm done with my day's work, I'm done. That's it. I used to be obsessive about it, but then I realized I was just being self-destructive. I still want to take pleasure in the process. If it consumes me, what's the point?

What's your worst writerly habit?

My worst writerly habit is that I buy books I don't read, books I'll never get around to reading, books I know I'll probably never read even as I'm buying them. But there are worse writerly habits, like drinking so much your brain shrinks (e.g., Truman Capote). I guess when it comes down to it, I'd rather have a lot of books and a mound of debt than a shrunken brain.