In attempting to practice what I preach with my own “practice and suck less” challenge, I bottomed out so bad last week that I had to do that most embarrassing of things that writers occasionally have to do: I reached out for help from a writing book. (Unfortunately, my own books don’t really work on me.)
The book I reached for was new to me: Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life. I felt comforted after only a few pages. (How much more pleasant it is to read about how to write than to write!)
As I kept reading, a thought popped in my head: Every writing book is good.
Every writing book is good if it gets you to write! It doesn’t even need to be that good. In fact, it could be bad! You could be reading it and think, “Shoot, I could do better than this” or “I’d rather write than read any more of this crap.” Either way, the writing book has done its job if you put it down and head off to write.
“After I finish a book, I forget how to write,” says Patricia Lockwood. She followed up: “And then I always forget I’m going to forget how to write and plunge into the depths of despair … so beautiful.”
Here is how my friend Maureen McHugh put it:
Every time I think I’ve figured out how to write, I discover that actually, I’ve just figured out how to write the thing I just wrote, and I have no clue how to write the next scene, the next story, or the next book.
I think all the time about this paragraph I clipped from comedy writer Tom Koch’s obituary:
Can I do it again? Probably. I mean, I have before?
I like what Meaghan O’Connell wrote this week about revision:
Imagine taking the very sharpest thought you had each day for two years and then adding it to a pile. If someone walked by and looked at your pile of best thoughts, they’d think you were a genius.
I think of all my books as fancy zines.
A zine (/zi?n/ZEEN; short for magazine or fanzine) is most commonly a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier. Usually zines are the product of a person, or of a very small group.
When I’m working on a book, sure, I flip through my bookshelves, looking for stuff to steal, but what I really love to do is head over to my zine drawer (see above) and flip through zines.
Even though my books are printed in mass quantities overseas and are shipped all over the world, I want my books to feel handmade, like they’ve just come off the photocopier.
Back in December, I wondered in my diary if I should just go ahead and do a real zine, and work my way up to a book:
Maybe next time. Or maybe the country will collapse and this tweet will come true:
There’s something really special about zines. “Zines Had It Right All Along.” “The Internet Didn’t Kill Zines.” Even though “The Blissfully Slow World of Newsletters” can feel close to the spirit of zine culture, nothing digital seems to fully replace them. “A blog is not a zine.”
Whenever I do a workshop with students, zines are the perfect thing to make together: We make a bunch of blackout poems, each choose our favorites, and then we sequence them, everybody getting their own page. Then we run them on the photocopier, fold ’em, staple ’em, and everybody gets to take one home:
If you want to learn more about zines, check out this book and hit up your public library — several libraries actually have zine collections now! The new Austin Public Library has a whole section next to the comics: