“I’m not frightened of what is inside me…. I’m frightened that I won’t be able to get it out in a way that will affect people.”
YUVI ZALKOW’S debut novel (A BRILLIANT NOVEL IN THE WORKS) is now available online and in stores, and was a Rumpus Book Club pick for July 2012. He received his MFA from Antioch University and his stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Narrative Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, Carve Magazine, and others. He is the creator of the “I’m a Failed Writer” online video series [awesome] and has been rejected more than 600 times by reputable and disreputable journals. Visit his website [and subscribe] at http://yuvizalkow.com.
Meredith: When you find it hard to pay attention to your writing, like when it’s really bugging you or annoying you or evading you or being mean to you, how does it win you over again?
YUVI: It’s funny, I don’t think about IT winning ME over. For me, it’s more like I have to trick IT into letting me in. What I mean is that I try all sorts of games to get back into the zone. Often times, I’ll try to convince myself into thinking that what I’m about to write is just throw away material. Once I’m convinced that what I’m doing is pointless and no one is going to care, then it’s possible for decent material to bubble up to the surface. Or else, I’ll make up a writing assignment that is only loosely related to what I’m writing. Perhaps it will involve the same character but in a totally different situation, or something like that. These little games can bring me back into the right zone to focus on my main writing project… Usually.
Meredith: What do you do when you sit down to write and nothing happens? Is it really nothing?
YUVI: This happens more often than I’d like to admit. Maybe it is a touch better than nothing, but it just doesn’t seem to be what I expected or what I wanted from that writing session. Sometimes, I’ll write the scene I intended to write but it is just flat or boring or clichéd. I’m not driven by word count like some people I know are, so even if I do write 1000 words, if they suck, I’m disappointed. However, I’ll typically just give it a few days before I revisit what I wrote. When I revisit the writing, usually I can pluck something useful out of it. Or even just discover a core issue with my storyline or my character or something like that. I try not to let myself get too disheartened; I try to think about what I learned from the experience that can help me moving forward.
I don’t mean to suggest that I’m always constructive about these difficult moments. Some weeks, I just mope and feel sorry for myself. 🙂
Meredith: Are you a receive-oriented creator, or a hunter/gatherer type?
YUVI: I think I’m a gatherer. It’s not that I do a lot of active research, but I’m constantly taking notes (either on paper or in my head) about the things I notice in the world. Often times these are interactions between strangers that I’m creepily listening in on. Riding on the train or on the bus is my main form of research. I collect these moments and then build stories around the moments that I can’t let go of.
Meredith: Writing—or the dream of calling oneself an author or writer—seems, for many, to have this highly addictive, seductiveness about it. Like: I’d really be someone if I could write. Or be a writer, author, etc. But it’s not writing that imbues itself with these characteristics, it’s the person. Why, do you think, it’s such a seductive slope?
YUVI: It definitely seems like we give the notion of a writer some kind of fabulous heroic quality. It’s easy to romanticize. But it’s misleading, I think, because so much of writing is just tedious grunt work. You watch a few movies about writers and suddenly you think that it’s this fabulous amazing thing where you write a brilliant novel in a weekend. But at least for me, most of the time writing is spent lost and scared and achy and disheartened. Months and months of that stuff and then there will be a week of elatedness. And then back to the grunt work. 🙂
Meredith: Are you ever frightened of your own ideas, or what’s inside you? Does it help to know it – or not really, when it comes to getting the words on the page?
YUVI: I’m not frightened of what is inside me. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with all of the yucky mess inside of me. I’m frightened that I won’t be able to get it out in a way that will affect people. For me, all the angst comes from the fear that I cannot deliver on the promise of a powerful story. Thinking about this fear too much doesn’t serve me. I acknowledge it, and then try to ignore it.
Thanks so much for speaking with me, Meredith. I love what you do on your website.
[Thank YOU, Yuvi!] … When I asked Yuvi for something about himself, something he doesn’t typically get to squeeze into conversations he wrote: “One thing about me, is that I like to take a shot of bourbon before embarking on a difficult scene or recording one of my videos. This is true at least when I’m writing in the evening. Just one shot (or less really). Just enough to feel a burn down my throat but not enough for it to cloud my thinking. It’s like I get horrible stage fright when trying to write something. At first, acknowledging this bourbon-based crutch scared me. But I’ve grown comfortable with this ritual… as long as one shot doesn’t grow into something more serious!”