Guest Post, Vytautas Malesh: Write Right Now – Write Better Later

ReadingOnce in a while, younger writers want to know what I have to say. Not always. Young writers really want to know what J.K. Rowling has to say, or Stephenie Meyer, or Ernest Hemingway. But sometimes, when they aren’t available (for whatever reason), they ask me how to get published. Conspicuously they do not ask me much about writing, or what it means to be a writer, but they have plenty of questions about royalties, riches, and fame.

What they’re really asking me, of course, is how to “make it as a writer,” which means that they are really, REALLY, asking me how to get paid exorbitant sums of money for writing “this one story [they] have an idea for.” This is such a common thought among young writers (especially teens through mid-twenties) that I don’t feel it needs much more explanation since, after all, we’ve probably all had such thoughts ourselves.

But I am not a young writer. I am 37 years old. Just about every part of my body makes a sound when I move: pops, cracks, a sort of bubbly grinding sound, and sometimes a noise so strange that I am positive it is the song cancer sings while it is growing. It’s just what happens. I’ve become very concerned with a nagging pain in my right shoulder, and when I read a nutrition information label, the first thing I look for is fiber.

I am also, on this occasion, thinking about a friend from my past — let’s call him Joe because what the hell, why not? Joe fancied himself a film maker. He shot wedding videos professionally, and he had an idea buzzing around telling him to make a short film about a lawyer. He thought we could work together on it. I was 26, he was 27.

I asked Joe why he wanted to write about a lawyer. He said that he wanted to write about people who were wealthy, successful, slick, and attractive. He wanted to write about people who weren’t us.

Let me be clear: that’s fine. Learning about other people is a big part of writing. That’s exciting! That’s the craft. If we only write about, say, middle-aged alcoholics with torn rotator cuffs and occasional bouts of irregularity, we’ll find our oeuvre painfully limited and woefully under-read.

But my follow-up question for Joe revealed a critical moment for any young writer: I asked Joe what he knew about lawyers.

Joe explained a number of tropes and prejudices with which I was already familiar from watching television: lawyers drove expensive cars and lived in nice houses. Lawyers had sexy girlfriends and paid for those girlfriends’ plastic surgery with elite, no-interest credit cards. Lawyers were also evidently all male, though that may be beside the point. Lawyers have problems that are somehow more interesting than our problems as evidenced by Joe’s plot:

“A lawyer has like a problem with his girlfriend and, like, his world is falling apart. Or something like that.”

I’ve heard worse. I’ve written worse. Hell, when I was 20 I started a science fiction novel about a young space man going off to fight a space war which left him with some sort of space PTSD. It was all nonsense because I didn’t know the first thing about space, war, or PTSD, let alone any combination of the three.

But Joe’s problem, and mine, is a fundamental and critical issue in determining whether an aspiring young writer will become an accomplished old one: is she ready to accept the ultimate humility of the observer? Is she ready to learn the lessons of the world? Is she ready to surrender the self and to remain open and receptive to the world coming to presence?

When we’re young, we’re all Go! Thrust! Jump! Run! Punch! And it’s wonderful! And then after a few years we’re a little more Sit. Stop. Rest. Listen. Wait. That’s wonderful too! For a writer, the two together give us those moments of passion and their recollection in tranquility. Wordsworth figured that out centuries ago and wrote it down, but it’s a lesson we all learn and re-learn ourselves nevertheless.

This doesn’t mean anything bad for the young writer – far from it! There certainly are breakout celebrity authors and exciting young voices, and they are to be cherished. But most of us won’t be them. Most of us will spend our 24th birthday crying on the floor of our kitchens, drunk, borderline suicidal, because we haven’t “broken out” yet, and if not our 24th, then maybe 25th, 30th, 60th…I could go on.

But we write because it is what we do, right alongside suffering, listening, living, and occasionally dusting off an old cliche about writing. The more we write as young writers, even if nobody wants to read it (and they don’t), let alone publish it (and they won’t), the more ready we are when our time comes. We’ll have gained experience and context. We will have found our voice. Best of all, we will have spent our time writing!

I thought of Joe last year when I had my own dealings with a lawyer

Stan was short and paunchy, his suits looked cheap and his waistcoat (always buttoned all the way down to the bottom) strained to contain the years that had elapsed since the last time he’d bought new clothes. He spoke quickly and told terrible jokes that I’d already heard, and he knew I was only laughing to be polite, but when a man is telling you a joke to make you feel better about your dad going to prison, you laugh, and you acknowledge that he has done you that courtesy. He squeezes your shoulder and, having told you what you want to hear, tells you what you need to hear, and it’s ugly, but he’s learned his trade and how to ply it, not to wring a few more dollars from a desperate client, but to be a better person in the world, to decide, consciously, that he will grant you an unbilled half-hour so that you can grit your teeth, wring your hands, and stare at the wall for a speechless half hour. That unbilled hour may mean the difference between a new suit and wearing the old one for another month. It may mean that he drives a Ford Focus instead of a BMW, and it may mean he stays married to his wife of 27 years instead of running around with a new silicone mistress, but life is not like the movies, where enormous problems are solved in 90 minutes. Life is life. It unfolds over years.

And there’s a story there in all of this. It’s not the one Joe wanted to tell, it’s not sexy or stylish, but it’s honest, and it’s real. I’ll probably be ready to write it when I’m a little bit older.

Meet the Review Crew: Evan Lopez

Evan Lopez is currently a sophomore at Arizona State University pursuing a degree in English Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction. As a content coordinator at Superstition Review he is responsible for overseeing submissions in fiction and art, as well as copy editing, proofing past issues, inputting new content, and more. He’s hoping to use the experience he gains at the magazine to help him as he pursues a career in publishing.

Born and raised in Southern California, he hopes to attend graduate school abroad or on the east coast where he will be able to experience new people and places while furthering his education. In his free time, he enjoys dabbling in songwriting and music production. He has always admired all genres of music and the way that musicians use language in beautifully unexpected ways. He hopes to be able to incorporate his love of music into his future studies and career.

Growing up, he had always wanted to be a writer and was inspired by the work of Ayn Rand, J.K. Rowling, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Richard Adams, and Kurt Vonnegut. Eventually, he hopes to publish his work and inspire and connect with readers in the same way that he was inspired by his favorite authors.

Meet the Interns: Andrew Larsen, Poetry Editor

andrewlarsen_0Andrew Larsen is a Junior at Arizona State University majoring in US History and English with a concentration in Creative Writing: Poetry.

Superstition Review: What do you do for SR?

Andrew Larsen: I am involved in nearly every aspect of the publication process for the Poetry section of Superstition Review. I solicit authors, read submissions, and select pieces for publication. I also am involved with interviewing poets for Superstition Review.

SR: How did you hear about or get involved with Superstition Review?

AL: I heard about this opportunity through several professors at Arizona State University.

SR: What is your favorite section of SR? Why?

AL: My favorite section of SR is probably the poetry and art section because, obviously, I find these art forms compelling.

SR: Who is your dream contributor to the journal? Talk about him/her.

AL: My dream contributor to the journal is J.D. Salinger. His candor and relevance in his short stories gave him acclaim and notoriety. For an incredible 20th century author to submit to the literary journal that I worked on would be quite an honor.

SR: What job, other than your own, would you like to try out in the journal?

AL: I’d like to try out the nonfiction section because it would be a completely new experience for me to work with nonfiction submissions.

SR: What are you most excited for in the upcoming issue?

AL: I’m excited to read the submissions of the authors.

SR: What are you currently reading?

AL: I am currently reading Henry Kissinger’s detailed history of modern international diplomacy titled Diplomacy.

SR: What are some of your favorite websites to waste time on or distract you from homework?

AL: I revert back to Daytrotter to read music reviews when I am stuck doing homework.

SR: What would be your dream class to take at ASU? What would the title be and what would it cover?

AL: I would love to take a UD course on the influences of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. ENG 415: Harry Potter, a Mythology would discuss the relationship between the series and the iconography, symbolism, and literary motifs that Rowling uses to create her narrative. This all sounds less nerdy in my head.

SR: What are your feelings on digital medium?

AL: I am a contemporary Luddite. In my opinion, this notion of systematic “interconnectedness” with concepts like the internet and computer chip leave us further displaced from ourselves and each other.

Making it Big — Big Screen?

It seems like everything gets made into a movie these days. This is a visual, media-fueled era we are living in.

The current collegiate generation, for example, has grown up with J.K Rowling’s hit Harry Potter series in both book and movie form. Not to mention all supplementary video games and fan-made materials.

Before us, George Lucas’ Star Wars took the screen–did you know the film was originally intended to help promote sales of Lucas’ book of the same name? Instead, the film madly outshone the books and made a great impact in how we view movies today.

Today’s tweens are anticipating Arizona’s own homegrown Stephanie Meyer’s hit novel series Twilight to be released in movie form. Love it or hate it, Meyers has made an impact on American youth culture.

Clearly, an excellent way for an author to gain a following and visibility is through the film industry. Among the headliners in today’s contemporary literature circles is Chuck Palahniuk–author of Fight Club, a book and a cinematic cult success. Accordingly, another one of his novels, Choke, has also been made into a film.

Among writing manuals and guides, the hardest step for many writers is the first–actually sitting down and writing or typing out your ideas. Having the determination to sit it through and devote the necessary time and focus into getting those ideas down onto paper or a file. This step is the most important step that the aforementioned authors took into making it big time. As a strategy for finding this focus, Chuck Palahniuk suggests an “egg timer” trick.

“Two years ago, when I wrote the first of these essays it was about my “egg timer method” of writing. You never saw that essay, but here’s the method: When you don’t want to write, set an egg timer for one hour (or half hour) and sit down to write until the timer rings. If you still hate writing, you’re free in an hour. But usually, by the time that alarm rings, you’ll be so involved in your work, enjoying it so much, you’ll keep going. Instead of an egg timer, you can put a load of clothes in the washer or dryer and use them to time your work. Alternating the thoughtful task of writing with the mindless work of laundry or dish washing will give you the breaks you need for new ideas and insights to occur. If you don’t know what comes next in the story…clean your toilet. Change the bed sheets. For Christ sakes, dust the computer. A better idea will come.”

This tip, and more, are featured on Palahniuk’s website. Keep a look out for more writing tips and updates on our next news blog.