A photo of Matt Bell

An Interview with Matt Bell


Matt Bell is the author of numerous books, the two most recent being Appleseed (a New York Times notable book) and Refuse to Be Done, a craft guide on writing, rewriting, and revision. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Esquire, Tin House, Fairy Tale Review, American Short Fiction, Orion, and elsewhere. Originally from Michigan, he now teaches creative writing at Arizona State University. Read more about him on his website.

In this post, we feature an interview with Matt Bell conducted by Bailey Wood, Superstition Review’s nonfiction editor for Issue 30. Please note that the transcript has been edited for clarity.


Bailey Wood: Hi, Matt. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. You are a creative writing professor here at ASU. You have published books including Appleseed, Scrapper, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, and most recently your craft book Refuse to Be Done. What motivated you to write a book on the craft of writing?

Matt Bell: I started working on Refuse to Be Done as a lecture. It was my traveling show for a long time. You know, you’d occasionally get asked to give craft talks at conferences or other universities. So I was giving this talk on revision, and it really came out of my own trying to learn how to revise—especially longer form fiction. Initially, it was this loose group of revision tips that I would talk about when asked to give those talks. And over time, it became a more novel-focused talk and became those three drafts that Refuse to Be Done breaks the process into.

At some point, maybe four or five years ago, I gave the talk at the University of Alabama. A professor there, Heidi Staples, came up to me afterwards, and said, “You know that talk’s a book, right?”

And I was like, “No, I did not. But maybe I’ll write it.”

And so I was lucky to have Heidi Staples’ push to get me to put it into book form.

BW: That’s awesome—I know you mention that in your book as well. What did your writing process look like for Refuse to Be Done, and how was it different from writing a fiction novel?

MB: Maybe the big difference was that I don’t really outline when I’m writing novels in advance, and I think with Refuse to Be Done I had a little better idea of how I wanted to go through it.

People are always asking about technology for writing—or using Word or Scribner, different things like that. And I’ve never written fiction in anything but Word, but I actually wrote Refuse to Be Done in Scribner. That worked really well for me. It saved the outline, and it’s arranged in a different way—it’s the only thing I’ve written in that. It was sort of a different process.

And then, weirdly, the revision process for this book and revision was also the process outlined in the book. So I did a lot of the things that the book said to do with fiction as I was working on the non-fiction version of it. There’s something kind of crazy about doing your tenth draft of a book on how to revise a book in three drafts, right? But it was useful in that way.

So, in some ways pretty similar. Of course, I had first readers who I thought of as play-testers. I had some friends who were revising books who read the book while they were working on it. Seeing what was useful to them and what wasn’t was really great to par down some of what was in it.

BW: So something you’ve mentioned already is that you have this three-draft approach. And within those three draft sections, there’s exercises that the readers can go through depending on what stage of writing they’re in. How did you decide which exercise to include for each chapter?

MB: It’s a little bit of a kitchen sink book: here’s a lot of what I knew to do. I felt, when I got done with it, that I’m going to have to develop some new ideas. A lot of it is what I do and what’s useful to me. I think some things could go in different drafts. The kind of stuff you’re doing in the first draft—you’re still doing some of it in a third draft. But I was really trying to think about what’s most useful to put it together: the three drafts having that focus on generator revision, and then narrator revision, and then polishing revision. Just thinking about what most naturally fits in each place.

And then also thinking about what carries forwards. Like I said, a lot of the first draft stuff, you really do it again in draft two. Presenting that kind of material first obviously means that you already know it when you start thinking about draft two. So a little bit of just thinking through the process.

There’s also a combination from my own teaching of novel writing. I’ve been teaching novel writing workshops at ASU and other places for ten years. You get a sense, especially that first draft work, of what people need in that phase or what kind of advice is most useful. So a combination of my own experience as a writer and what I see in my students and friends, and what kind of thinking is most useful at what stage in the process.

BW: I think something that you mentioned, too, is that there’s parts of each section that you maybe can apply to different drafts or work through that. It provides different exercises as you’re going through the phases, which is really awesome for readers.

In an interview with Hannah Gerson from The Millions, you mention how your novel gives a concrete series of steps to take, not the nebulous “keep making it better until it’s finished.” Keeping that in mind, how did you know that the works you’ve produced and published so far had reached a point where no more revision could be made and were completely finished?

MB: That’s a great question! It’s funny because I feel like the premise of the book is “refuse to be done,” and the question everyone wants to know is, “but, really, when are you done?” It feels appropriate.

For me, the process that’s in Refuse to Be Done is really everything I do before I show it to someone. I think when I get to the end of that process—which can be a couple years for a book—I usually feel pretty good about it. I at least feel like I’ve done everything I know how to do, which is a different way of being done. It’s the point that’s the farthest I can take it on my own. At this point, of course, I’ve written enough books that I’m used to going through my agent, my editor, my outside readers, but I really go into that process feeling like I’ve done everything. There really is a tightening that happens in that third draft phase that if you haven’t gone through the whole process by yourself at this scale, there’s this moment where everything is getting right-sized and you can feel the language is suddenly like “this is sort of what books on the shelf sound like” instead of first draft language. You do feel that completeness come in.

There’s always a place where I’ve over-edited it a little bit, where I’m now starting to make it a little worse or I’m subbing out words for the same word. On any given day, I might make this choice or that choice, but both choices are fine. I get into a place like that, where I’m no longer making productive change. And that’s a really good time for outside readers. I just went through with an outside reader on the book I’m finishing right now, and it was the time I needed someone else to light up other possibilities for me. I had done everything I could see. And she, of course, imm found me more stuff to work on. So, done and then not done, but that’s also part of the process. It’s not really-really done until it’s on the shelf.

BW: As a follow up to that question, is there any sort of intuition towards getting into that third draft, where you feel like “this is pretty close, and I could be done soon”? Does that happen at all?

MB: I think so. I think—especially having read enough of other people’s manuscripts and knowing where they go into the publishing process and things like that—there’s always this point a month from when I’m done with a novel where I could stop. I could probably send it to my agent here, and he would enjoy it, as much as he probably will in a month. But that last month of work is also a place where I’m going to forsake that last round of editing with someone else. That willingness to go a little past the point of acceptability or past the point of good, trying to get to great. A lot of great work gets done in that. It could be done with an agent or an editor, but I would rather take it a little farther myself if I can.

But I always feel that point, where I’m itchy to send it out to somebody—I’m ready to go. I know if I sit with it a little longer, I’ll get the rust out of it. Late in the process for me, I work really long hours. Normally, I write two hours a day or something, but late in the process, I’ll try to write eight, ten, twelve, so I can hold the whole book in my head. It lets me remember more of it. It’s really hard to get back in that state. It costs so much time. There is a tendency when I’m in it to get everything out of it because you never want to do this again. That’s the phase where I’m a writer in a movie: I’m an insane person who can’t talk to anyone, I’m dressing weird, and I haven’t eaten right. You don’t want to have to go back to that place, so it’s best to get what you can out of it while you’re there.

BW: I completely understand that. Something that is frequently mentioned in creative writing courses is an encouragement for students to read and write what they’re passionate about. What kind of books do you look for when you read? Are there any writers you’ve read recently that have inspired your work?

MB: I read really widely; I like things in a lot of different genres. I’m always reading different stuff. I think most of what you read—even if you don’t like it—it’s influential because of the way you don’t like it. So everything helps you hone your case, your interests, your aesthetics. That feels really great.

There are people I go back to all the time that are really important to me. Writers like Denis Johnson, Ursula LeGuin, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthary, Toni Morrison, and Anne Carson. Some of those people are always on my mind, and there’s always nearby. My desk is always full of things that are important to me or inspiring. I think my childhood The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is in my desk. It makes me happy to have it around, thinking about these books you love and care about.

Who I’ve read recently that I really liked… I just read a book called The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. It’s a political fantasy novel that I just thought was speculator. It felt like a model for how to write a certain kind of book that was really thinking about politics and colonialism and utopia and things like that. It was a great story. You kind of felt like “oh, this how you write a really smart book that’s also a great adventure.” I’m always happy to find something like that—the real keys to the kingdom.

Not every book you’re going to take apart as you read it. A lot of books just get read. Every once in a while, you read something where you’re like, “Well, I’m going to keep thinking about this. I’m going to study how this is done.” Which I think it’s one of the pleasures of being a writer.

BW: Absolutely. One final question for you today. How has your experience as a teacher help shape your writing?

MB: I think it’s shaped it a lot. Even in reading widely. I think when I first started teaching, I always taught pretty diverse syllabi and had lots of different kinds of writers on the course reading list. I realized at some point that a lot of my examples, just off the top of my head, would come from what I liked—but which is not always connected to students. I realized that I wanted to read really widely so I had an idea of what students were doing, even if it wasn’t a genre that was my preference.

For instance, I had not read a lot of YA, but we have a lot of students who are writing YA. So I read some, so I know what people are up to. It’s not a drudgery to do that; I just find all this good stuff in genres I had not read much in. And that ends up being really exciting, so that’s a big part of it.

Maybe the other half is that, in having to explain how to do some of the stuff, you of course learn how to do it better yourself. The things that were really easy for me—or that are intuitive for me—were, when I first started teaching, very hard to teach. The two hardest things to teach are the things you’re best at and the things you’re worst at. The good stuff, you’re like, “Well, I don’t really know how I do this, I just do it,” and that’s frustrating for students. And the stuff you’re bad you, you shy away from because you’re not good at it. So teaching has been a reason to deepen my craft and be a better teacher that way. Refuse to Be Done would not have been written if I wasn’t a teacher. I just wouldn’t have the material in that format, and I wouldn’t be able to talk about what I do. I’m just lucky.

As you know, from being in the class that you’re in—both at the undergrad level and at the MFA—every year, a new cohort of smart, interesting, talented people to talk writing with comes through. And that’s a pretty neat gift to have in your life. This constantly renewing source of good writers, so I think that’s a really lucky thing that I get to experience at ASU.

BW: I definitely think that there’s something at play with that, too—you get to work with writers of all experiences. You get to work with the process of different students, too.

Well, that was all my questions for you. Thank you so much for you time.

A photo of Jonathan Franzen.

TomorrowTalks with Jonathon Franzen: Crossroads


Join ASU’s TomorrowTalks with Jonathan Franzen Wednesday, October 5th at 6pm AZ time. TomorrowTalks is a student-engagement initiative meant to put students in conversation with authors who explain how they use their writing to address society’s most pressing issues. It’s led by the Division of Humanities at ASU and hosted by ASU’s Department of English in partnership with Macmillan Publishers.

This event takes place over Zoom and is free, although registration is required. Franzen will be discussing his book Crossroads, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His book is set in December of 1971, and it examines a Midwestern family in the midst of a moral crisis. With careful attention to each of the family members, he interweaves their perspectives into a tale of suspense and complexity.

Thank God for Jonathan Franzen . . . With its dazzling style and tireless attention to the machinations of a single family, Crossroads is distinctly Franzen-esque, but it represents a marked evolution . . . It’s an electrifying examination of the irreducible complexities of an ethical life. With his ever-parsing style and his relentless calculation of the fractals of consciousness, Franzen makes a good claim to being the 21st century’s Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Jonathan Franzen has written six novels. He has won a variety of awards: the National Book Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Award, the Heartland Prize, and others. Visit his website to read more about him.

To learn more about TomorrowTalks and register for the event, go here.

Desert Nights, Rising Stars Virtual Writers Conference

Early registration extended through to February!

Join the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing in their annual Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writing Conference! Here is their message about the event:

“The past year has been difficult, to say the least. As a center, we want to make it as easy and accessible as possible for you to be creative while continuing to stay healthy and safe. And thanks to the generosity of the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, it’s our pleasure to announce that we’re extending the early registration rate for this year’s Desert Nights, Rising Stars Virtual Writers Conference through February.”

” The Desert Nights, Rising Stars Virtual Writers Conference is February 18 – 20, 2021 on Zoom. Advance your craft, meet other writers, and produce new work with your choice of over 60 sessions in fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, memoir, fantasy, romance, science fiction, screenwriting, publishing, and more. Writers of all experience levels and backgrounds are welcome. Advanced workshops and pitch sessions with agents and editors are available, too. This year’s keynotes are Linda Hogan and Beverly Jenkins. Other faculty include Mahogany L. Browne, Matt Bell, Alan Dean Foster, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Cynthia Pelayo, Evan Winter, and Erika T. Wurth. Early registration is only $225. Meet our faculty, view the schedule, and learn more today here.

If the conference still feels like it’s beyond your reach or you just don’t feel like it’s the right time for you, we’ve got additional discounts for senior citizens, students, veterans, ASU affiliates, and anyone experiencing a financial hardship, plus free keynotes, public workshops, single-day passes, and other ways to engage outside of the full registration (not to mention smaller classes and workshops with the Piper Writers Studio). There are always plenty of free talks and readings, too.”

To learn more about the Virgina G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, click here.

Contributor Update, Matt Bell: Conjunctions: 71, A Cabinet of Curiosity

Conjunctions Issue 71 coverToday we are happy to share news about past contributor Matt Bell. Matt’s short story, “Fur, Bark, Feather, Leaf, Faun,” is upcoming in Conjunctions: 71, A Cabinet of Curiosity. About the issue, the description reads:  “Curiosity in all its guises is the wellspring of revelation. It is a prime mover behind our deeds, good or evil, simple or complicated. While the thirty-one writers gathered here individually explore many of the ways in which curiosity drives and defines us, together they propose that the realms of curiosity are, finally, inexhaustible.”

Conjunctions: 71, A Cabinet of Curiosity is available for preorder through the Bard College here. Shipping will begin by the end of November, 2018.

Our interview with Matt can be read in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

Congratulations, Matt!

#ArtLitPhx: Southwest Editor’s Forum

Hayden’s Ferry Review is hosting their first “Southwest Editor’s Forum” on Saturday, February 10, located at the Piper Writer’s House at ASU’s Tempe campus.

Their announcement states: “We will explore process, share resources, network, and even feed you. It’s so easy as editors to sit in our offices and lose sight of our community. We focus on writers and discuss their efforts, but as editors, we have different needs and unique challenges to surmount. At this inaugural event, we would like to convene the editors of our region for an afternoon of discussion, camaraderie, and sharing. We hope you will join us and register for this free event right away.”

Presenters include Matt Bell, a founding editor at The Collagist; Rosemarie Dombrowski the inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix; as well as Sally Ball, the associate director at Four Way Books.

Reserve your free seat here.

#ArtLitPhx: Mesa Community College Presents Matt Bell

A-tree-a-person-Matt-Bell

Matt Bell will be reading from his latest book, A Tree or a Person or a Wall, at the Mesa Community College Art Gallery on Wednesday, November 9 at 7 p.m. A Q&A and a signing will follow the reading. For more information, please visit the Facebook event.

Matt Bell is the author of the novel In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, a Michigan Notable Book, and an Indies Choice Adult Debut Book of the Year Honor Recipient, and the winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award. He is also the author of three previous books, How They Were Found, Cataclysm Baby, and Scrapper. His stories have appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Fantasy, Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, The American Reader, and many other publications. He teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

 

 

#ArtLitPhx: Benjamin Rybeck: The Sadness with special guest Matt Bell: A Tree or a Person or a Wall

The-sadnessA-tree-person-or-a-wallBenjamin Rybeck presents his debut novel, The Sadness, on Wednesday, October 19 at 7 p.m. Arizona State University creative writing instructor Matt Bell joins Rybeck, with his latest work, A Tree or a Person or a Wall. The event takes places at Changing Hands Phoenix.

Benjamin Rybeck is the marketing director at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, TX. He received an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona. His work has appeared in Kirkus Reviews, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, Literary Hub, The Nervous Breakdown, and elsewhere. The Sadness is his first novel. He lives in Houston, TX.

Matt Bell is the author of the novel In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, a Michigan Notable Book, and an Indies Choice Adult Debut Book of the Year Honor Recipient, and the winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award. He is also the author of two previous books, How They Were Found and Cataclysm Baby, and his next novel, Scrapper, was published in September 2015. His stories have appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Fantasy, Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, The American Reader, and many other publications. He teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

For more information, please visit the Changing Hands website.

#ArtLitPhx: The 2016 Northern Arizona Book Festival

northern-arizona-book-festivalThe Northern Arizona Book Festival will be celebrating its 21st year at Flagstaff, Arizona on October 10-16, 2016. This weeklong literary extravaganza will be filled with readings, workshops, and book signings. This year, they will feature over fifty writers, such as Diana Gabaldon, Nicole Walker, William Trowbridge, Miles Waggener, Doug Peacock, Matt Bell, William Pitt Root, and Pamela Uschuk.

The events will take place at Uptown Pubhouse, Firecreek, The Orpheum, and numerous other bars, restaurants, book stores, and locally owned businesses throughout the Flagstaff historic downtown.

For more information please visit the Northern Arizona Book Festival and the Facebook event.

Elizabeth Sheets: The Illusion of Ascending

dad readsI’ve always been a reader. I don’t know if this is my parents’ fault or not. Recently I found a crayon drawing and questionnaire book I made when I was in elementary school. On one of the pages it asks what my parents do during the day while I’m at school. My answers were: My Dad builds Rockets. My Mom sits on the couch all day and reads love stories. I don’t think that was entirely true, I mean, my Dad read books too. In any case, I do remember that prior to puberty, trips to the mall were exciting for two reasons: first, because I could climb up and sit in the conversion vans in the car dealership that was actually in our mall; and second, we got to go to Walden Books. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so we didn’t buy a lot of new books there, but it was a thrill just to be there and look around. I knew that eventually the books on those shelves would find their way to our city library.

As a kid, I was fairly well read. Once I got beyond Dr. Seuss, I enjoyed Roald Dahl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Scott O’Dell, Louisa May Alcott, Franklin Dixon, Carolyn Keene, the Choose Your Own Adventure Series, and of course, Judy Blume. There are a few in that list some might consider literary, but many fall into the category of good old genre fiction. I still have many of them because I saved them for my children. And now I’m saving them for my grandchildren, because I don’t think I was as successful as my parents were at passing down the love of literature.

As I got older, I dove harder into genre writing. Once I could get books from the library that didn’t have the purple dot on them, my literary world was blown wide open. I devoured everything from Jean Auel, Piers Anthony, and Marion Zimmer Bradley to Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice. Some of these authors I still read today. Because they’re good, and because I can get lost in the worlds they bring to my mind’s eye.

Once I started my degree program, my literary world was blown open again. Even with all of the reading in my youth, there was much that I missed. Memoirs? Whatever were those? Well, all of those English Lit classes filled me in, and filled me up to the brim with writing on every social topic I could imagine, and a few more besides.

Writing classes and workshops introduced me to the short story, and the idea that writers who don’t get paid are somehow of more value than those who do. I’m not much for martyrs, but I bought in. In my few years in school, my professors helped nurture in me a love of the short story, and an appreciation for the craft of drawing them out of myself and others. And so now, my private library grows full of chapbooks and short story collections. To my list of favorite authors I’m adding Roxane Gay, Aimee Bender, Stacey Richter, Matt Bell, Dan Chaon, Tara Ison, Margaret Atwood, and so many more.

But for all my education, and my editorship with a literary magazine, and my degree in English and Creative Writing… I still read Anne Rice. In fact, she might just be my very favorite person ever (not that I know her personally, but I do follow her on Facebook, so I feel like that counts… anyway).

I’m reminded of this funny thing that happened recently.

modest houseMy husband and I raised our children in a suburban neighborhood of the sprawling Phoenix Metropolitan Area. We had a modest income, and a modest house. We drove practical cars, and our kids went to public schools. There was a house of worship a half mile in any direction from our house. Our neighbors were diverse. To the east was a family of folks who spoke little English, had obnoxious barking dogs, and always had parties in the front yard instead of the back. To the south were the drug dealers. The husband rode a very noisy Harley and cut his entire lawn holding a Weedwacker in one hand and a beer in the other. His wife had no teeth and only wore a bra on Sundays. (I guess they weren’t very good drug dealers.)

We lived in that house 15 years, and our kids came up just fine.

And just a couple of months ago, we moved. Since our income has doubled, so has our mortgage and the square footage of our new house. Our new block is glorious. The neighbors all cut their grass on Wednesdays, and everyone drives a new car. There are bunnies and quail everywhere, and no one parks in their lawn.

School just started a couple weeks ago, and as I was driving past the elementary school on my way back from my morning Starbucks run, I noted that the crossing guard drives a Jaguar. A Jaguar.

This is it, I thought, we have definitely arrived. All of that hard work, education, ladder climbing, etc., has all paid off. Finally. Now we can live among the educated folk. People like us. Cultured people. People who read. If the people across the street are drug dealers, well they’re damn good ones because their kids drive BMWs.

And then I turned down our street. It was a Thursday. Blue barrel pick up day. About three houses in, out came a neighbor down his drive way, pushing his barrel out to the curb. He was wearing a pair of very snug fitting, bright red boxer briefs. His hairy belly was spilling over the waistband, and his tangled bedhead hair pointed in all directions from his unshaven face. He looked up as I drove past. Smiled.

I about choked on my chai.

But it’s okay. I’m glad I saw him. It’s a great reminder: there’s room on the block for everyone.  He cuts his grass, he parks in the garage. Maybe his wife builds rockets.

Guest Post, David Klose: On Falling In & Out of Love with Writing

I start out wanting to write a Blog Post for Superstition Review. I want to make it funny. Knowledgeable. Relate-able. The reader should laugh and think “I would like to talk with this writer.” All great writing is getting people to think they know you, that they would want to talk with you.

But I have no idea what to write about. I just graduated from college and that is about as boring and overdone a topic as any. I might as well write about golfing, or about the time I played flag football at a local park and discovered I am not the sort of person who should be playing flag football at a local park.

I like to write, but have written nothing of tremendous value. That isn’t fishing for compliments, just speaking objectively. Therefore I can’t offer advice to writers, though I have in the past done this very thing and, to this day, I still feel guilty about it. My writing is not terrible and has made some money in academic contests but I know, what everyone knows, but no one likes to say, that undergrad academic contests aren’t worth anything except the prize money. So I can’t write about being a professional writer, because I am not a professional writer.

I’ve had great experiences through my time as a Blogger/Non-Fiction Editor/Student Editor in Chief at Superstition Review, but others, in ways I cannot top, have written about those very experiences for this very Blog. Others, in ways I have yet to mimic, have taken those experiences and grown because of them. I have been to a writing conference but already have, in a previous post, beaten that horse to death with a very small club. I have been to AWP but spent more time touring the city than touring the Book Fair (shameful, I know, but who could have guessed I was to fall in love with cold beautiful grey Minneapolis?).

Hiking TrailBloggers tell you to write what you know, to relate to your audience through what you know. Good with dogs? Write about dogs. Write about how finishing a short story is similar to teaching a new puppy how to piss outside. It’s all about consistency. Go on a lot of hikes? Write something about the writing process and compare it to hiking a new trail, a harder trail than usual. It’s all about persistence. But my dog still sometimes pees on the living room rug, and the last trail I hiked ended with a whimper, not a bang. I thought maybe I could write about how to make the world’s best macaroni and cheese, but then I remembered, halfway through that ill fated blog post, that the best mac and cheese I ever had was made by a girl named Beth one drunken night six years ago at a friend’s house where we were all drinking wine out of plastic red cups and that recipe, like my connection to Beth, was completely lost after that night.

Telling me to write about what I know has always been a sort of cruel task; because I want to write about what I don’t know, and about that which makes me question my sense of authority. I am reminded of a writing professor who, in a soft rant against ‘trigger warnings’, asked our small workshop circle “Isn’t getting triggered the point?” For me, it goes like this: isn’t admitting you don’t know the point?

Here’s what I don’t know: the value of writing and whether or not I am a writer. I have loved books from a young age and can point to moments in my life that were shaped directly by the works of Salinger (specifically his collection of short stories revolving around the Glass family), to Tolstoy’s War and Peace (one of the first books that genuinely made me want to be a better person) to Dubliners by James Joyce which made me first think about becoming a writer. There are more recent examples, as well. In Matt Bell’s Scrapper there is a scene, where our protagonist finds a stolen boy and the snow is falling overhead, and where I, the reader, was so completely transported into that scene that my heart skipped a beat. But the more I work on Social Media for my job, the more I interact with other readers, with other writers, the more new books and new styles of writing I read, the more the doubt inside me grows. As valuable as stories have been to me, how can we properly value them? There have been blog posts in the past about how writers should be paid, for their stories, their poems, and that magazines shouldn’t expect writers to be content with just getting published. But can we really make that case? I would argue the opposite. That now in this sea of media, where everyone, through so many mediums, has the ability to share their voice, the value in stories is dropping or, at the very least, leveling off in an over saturated market.

This makes me doubt my writing. Do I really just want to be another voice in the market? Is there anything I can say that someone couldn’t say better? I honestly don’t know. That’s why I wanted to write this blog post, because I have no idea. What I see, through Social Media, are countless writers celebrating the fact that they are just writing. And this gets me a little depressed. It isn’t enough that we are just writing. It isn’t enough that we can take photos of our notebooks next to coffee cups and filter the image to look antique and post it. Perhaps this is the result of working in a book store and seeing just how many books get published and how few new writers actually get read. It isn’t enough that you have a story to tell. But now I am giving advice to writers, which is something I already said I wasn’t going to do. So let me stop while I am ahead.

Here’s where the title of my blog comes from: I saw Ira Glass perform at the Mesa Arts Center a few years ago in the show “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host.” It was one of my favorite things I have ever seen and in that performance, Ira Glass quoted a friend who said “when we choose to be with one person for the rest of our lives, we are choosing the person we will spend the rest of our lives falling in and out of love with.”

I think it’s safe to say I’ve fallen out of love with writing. Like any great relationship, falling out of love makes me think of our earliest moments. I remember the first real Creative Writing class I had, where the teacher wrote the words “blue boot” on the whiteboard and asked us, rhetorically, what we were thinking of in that moment. Of course the answer was: a blue boot. Wow, the teacher said quietly, isn’t that amazing? Just by putting two words together, an image was created in our mind. What if, instead of a boot, we did that with a town? Instead a town, a world? Instead of a world, an emotion? What if, through words, we could create the idea of love, of loss, of fear, inside our reader? Wow, all of us students quietly said to ourselves.

This is all to say I still love reading good work. There were two writers I met at Bread Loaf whose writing I loved. One of them had already published a book and I read it in a matter of days. The other one hadn’t published a novel yet, but was certainly almost finished with their first draft. I look up their names every now and then in the usual places. Linkedin. Twitter. Instagram. They aren’t there. They don’t exist on Social Media and this makes me so goddamn happy. Now I can tell myself that, wherever they are, they are focusing on their work. Nothing else. And that one day soon their next book, their next story, their next finished product is going to be put out into the world, and whatever they have created with their words will be stirred within me.