When I finished the first draft of my book, I was told by many, "The hard part is over!" I believed this because writing the book was rather hard indeed! Devious jackals, all of them! The hardest part of writing a book is reading the book afterwards.Read More
I feel almost quaint putting this update on a blog at this point. Against all odds, dispatches of this sort have become popular for TinyLetters or in tiny increments on Twitter. But I would likely obsess over the statistics and open rates and the number of subscribers and so I write a blog here. Since last I wrote here, I finished the copy edits on my first book. Then I sold my second book. Now I have to write it by December 1. I taught a SkillShare class on the creative art of pitching stories. You can take it, if you want to. I am teaching a class in person with real live students later this year. I've been writing more on religion and culture instead of about love and myself. I intend to continue. You've been warned.
I have an unintentional custom of binging on the works of an especially devout Christian writer for about a month every year. I consume their work ravenously, cry often, and generally conclude that my destiny is now and always has been to be a servant to the Body of Christ before cowering at the prospect of encountering grace again. Most recently this was Leo Tolstoy whose exceedingly long fictions are deceptive cover for the short and simple truths contained therein. I'm a born cheater who lives for movie spoilers and knowing my birthday presents in advance so I often read quote aggregations from authors I'm reading and let me tell you, Tolstoy's were a treat.
Though his thoughts on God and on love were most compelling, I was drawn to the ones about stories and art. I usually roll my eyes sufficiently hard to sustain energy when I read the precious, self congratulatory statements by writers about writing but these were an exception."To say that a work of art is good, but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can't eat it," he said, justifying my decision to write my first book with a tone and language that many will understand.
One quote that I can't find the source for but appears frequently in aggregations of his is, "Happiness is an allegory. Unhappiness is a story." It resonated immediately because I have been happy lately but have difficulty locating a single source or event of this happiness. My relationship brings me a peace I'd forgotten and the sale of the second book brings me a sense of security that I have something to do for the rest of the year. I am proud of my recent publications even when they haven't traveled far on social media. Happiness, like depression, is found in the particles in the air surrounding you rather than in physical objects or events. Depression comes as a heavy particle, burdensome in its weight. Happiness is one that lightens you, a mild but noble defiance of gravity in your step.
But unhappiness is different from both, it is not a passive mood but an active disposition. From this active disposition, I could mine more easily for conflicts to write about. It has been the absence of this disposition that has seen the well of stories that often turn into my columns dry up. But instead of running out of things to write about, I've looked instead to things I am moved by or even that make me happy or make the more idle muscles of my brain work. Many of my stories used to go:
Negative Experience --> Explanation of Its Social or Personal Origin--> Alternative Approach to Looking at That Experience.
These days, they go more along the lines of:
Compelling But Value-Neutral Experience --> Exposition of Experience --> Acceptance or Championing Of Experience Source
Or something like that. Without further ado, I've linked and excerpted them below if you're into that sort of thing.
“ 'Clique-y' is the pejorative used to describe young women in a friend group that is perceived to be exclusionary. But this dismissal dehumanizes them and disregards their personal reasons for maintaining a tight-knit circle of friends. The suspicion aimed at cliques targets female intimacy, particularly when it shared between women with social capital. My friend and fellow writer Rachel Syme once noted, 'Two powerful men being friends is an inevitability. Two powerful women being friends is a conspiracy.'”
"Books have influenced my life immeasurably. They have expanded the breadth of my knowledge and unlocked possibilities in my moral imagination. Literature has taught me new ways to touch and taste the world. It has offered artful instruction in the countless ways to fight and to love, how to accept the world’s gifts and how to resist its dangers. I have learned my native tongue anew hundreds of times over and become friendly, if not entirely familiar, with dozens more. Most of the books that mattered to me are absent from my bookcase, but their fingerprints cover every inch of my heart and skin."
"Brands with a fully realized response to why they are even here are the ones thriving in today’s growing ecommerce space, regardless of naysayers dismissing all brand creativity as inherently compromised. The most compelling part of any of these brand stories is not their high-minded mission statements but the fact that they find their purposes in the products themselves...These brands know that their clothing is not doubling as life rafts for polar bears or feeding a low income child when recycled at select locations. Their purpose is to clothe and otherwise adorn their customers to make them feel a certain way and achieve a certain look, and that is more than enough reason to exist."
"I experience most of my memories in my gut rather than in my head, and the corporeality of my memories gives meaning to the clothing that covers the part of my body where the memories live. Both my head and heart are tied up in these items. Coats are stained with invisible tears of the dates that devolved into the shouting matches that catalyzed the break ups. Blazers worn to job interviews carry a thin residue of professional luck. A white tulle summer dress worn to The Party That Changed Everything hangs like a warning and a survival trophy in my closet."
"For the first few weeks of attempting fasting cardio, bass lines and endorphins made it possible to arrive at the very edge of Coney Island and return triumphantly to my home on the subway to eat bananas and almond-butter toast without ever feeling hungry. But deprivation has a way of accumulating in secret and coming to collect its debts unexpectedly."
There once lived a peasant girl who longed to be glamorous.
But most, she just scampered about her woodland home, unaware of the terrible world beyond.
She tried to find the latest fashions but the wicked villagers kept her from her glamorous dreams of couture elegance.
Little did the townspeople know, there was a cohort of the most elite members of the glamour brigade in desperate need of a look that might inspire them.
There were some that approached the great emperors of glamour with great courage and stunning looks.
They were quickly rebuffed, not because they lacked beauty but because they lacked courage.
There was also a contingent among the glamorous that did not understand the intellect required to be the great beauty for the brigade.
The Great Empress tried to make them understand the gravity of the undertaking.
Alas, the spoilt fashion babies would accept none of her truths, defiant until the very end.
The seasoned veteran, Her Royal Cheekbones of Glamour, would try to tell them what's what.
But the little beasts attempted to excuse their sloth as if it were something cute.
But cute does not cut it in the world of glamour and the maidens incited ire in their mentors.
But one day, Sultan Sunglasses spotted a woman out of the corner of his eye whom he thought might undue the glamour famine.
She was taken aback by this creature, the likes of which she had never seen.
But he put her mind at ease by telling her his theories of glamour.
And he gave her some practical advice as well.
Suddenly, everyone who had once derided her had an opinion on what she ought to do with her life, her career, and her glamour, offering her suggestions on where to take her career that meant little to her.
Some of it was kind, but basically vacant.
Some, even more so.
The young maiden grew angry that she had trust the German vampire in shades, growing irate.
He conceded as much when it came to glamour.
She realized this was largely a world of frauds and made a swift decision to return her to her golden locks.
The Great Empress was not impressed with this fiasco.
Her Royal Cheekbones of Glamour was even less forgiving.
And so she did what anyone might do in her situation: conjured the powers of fashion Hell.
The peasant girl quickly ascended to where she ought to be: the heavens above where she could embrace peasants like herself.
It was a day for great lessons among the cohort for who stood a chance and who did not.
And the Angel of Glamour Truth sent out a decree that very day, warning other peasants and even her own colleagues of what comes to pass for those who tread in their waters.
2015 was one wild beast of a year for my career and I could not be more grateful to have spent it writing essays and articles that I'm proud of, a book that I care about, and meeting a lot of talented and kind people who work in the same industry. It was also the year in which I went from being a writer sending a lot of pitches and asks for small favors to a writer who gets asked for a lot of advice and help from strangers, acquaintances, and friends. So pitches and favors are different animals and should be approached differently. A pitch goes to a professional editor whose job it is to read it. You want to be courteous to them and not waste their time or yours but in some sense, they're expecting it. Asking for favors is different because it typically requires that people go out of their way to help you, to labor on your behalf, and to not be compensated for it. That means you should be even more gracious when you ask for them and even more grateful when you're given them. So without further ado, here are some favors I asked and why I think they worked:
Favor 1: Advice on Writing About My Past
Recipient: Charlotte Shane, freelance writer and notorious hot mean bitch, no prior engagement or introduction
What I Wanted: I had not yet "come out" as a sex worker and I wondered if it would hurt or hinder my career and had Charlotte recommended to me by journalist Melissa Gira Grant who knows Charlotte.
Results: Charlotte and I emailed quite a bit about the ups and downs about writing about sex work online, resulting in me eventually choosing to out some of my past in the sex industry which has been really rewarding because I was able to write about labor more broadly in a way that was important to me. We also became very good friends who walk into parties looking like The Two Meanest Girls at Sweet Valley High.
Why It Worked: I had a pre-existing referral from a friend, we had something fairly unique in common, it was complimentary but not gushing, and we had a shared experienced in media that she was willing to help me navigate.
What I Didn't Do: I didn't ask direct, invasive questions about her decisions and left it open-ended to give her space to share what she wanted to. I didn't do a bunch of the weird shit that people do when they write to sex workers either like pretend I had any idea what her life was like or ask about how to get even better at it.
Favor 2: General information on writing for TV
Recipient: Cord Jefferson, TV writer and former Gawker staff writer and freelancer, no prior engagement
What I Wanted: To get a basic idea of how transitioning to TV writing from digital media would go, what I should know, what I should write, who I should be trying to get to know.
Results: Cord responded that he'd be happy to answer my questions and so we met for drinks and he told me about his experience in TV writing and listened to me talk about my show concept and gave constructive feedback. I used that feedback and am now in the process of talking to producers and other TV executives about buying the show.
Why It Worked: The most important thing I did was I asked if I could ask questions before I asked them so he absolutely had an out that didn't require him to feel impolite. I can't stress this enough. I found Cord because there was an essay of his called "On Kindness" making the rounds and in looking for more of his writing, I came across the fact that he had gone to LA to write for TV after his digital media career. I made clear that I wasn't clueless about his present career by mentioning it to show I had done my research.
What I Didn't Do: Ask 20 questions from the get-go that would just be disrespectful of anyone's time, I didn't ask for his agent's contact info or any other favors I hadn't earned. I pitched it as an informational meeting and I kept it an informational meeting.
Favor 3: Inside knowledge of hiring at The Racket, a then promising website under the First Look Media umbrella
Recipient: Michael Pielocik, writer and comedian had been hired there, we had no previous contact but a mutual friend told him I would be writing to him about the roles
What I Wanted: An interview at The Racket (to know my chances of getting one)
Results: Michael told me what kind of clips to put together for an application and an email address I could send them. The website never launched but Michael and I remained in touch and it was good practice for asking for things when I don't feel entirely comfortable doing so.
Why It Worked: Based on his humorous web presence, I didn't take a formal route in asking for this information and because he knew I was coming through a friend, I was able to state my intentions more clearly. That I clearly read up on him showed that I respected his position enough to be worth engaging with.
What I Didn't Do: Ask him to read my resume directly, ask for a direct email for where to apply without first establishing a rapport with him and demonstrating that I might be a good fit, or email him without first looking at his website, background, and interests.
Favor 4: Pre-blurb for my book proposal
Recipient: Leslie Jamison, author and columnist, we were friends in graduate school at Yale in 2011 and 2012 but our relationship had gone mostly to email after leaving grad school
What I Wanted: When writing a book proposal, it is often suggested that you get other writers who are familiar with your work to write a pre-blurb that gives you credibility and demonstrates that established authors vouch for you and have the potential to blurb your book or review it when it actually comes out.
Results: Leslie wrote an exceptionally thoughtful and specific pre-blurb about my work that I put in my proposal and that I have every confidence was one of the reasons that it sold well to a major publisher.
Why It Worked: The primary reason it worked was that Leslie is a generous spirit and we already knew each other, I don't deny that this did some of the heavy-lifting. But I was also earnest and noted my respect for her time at a time when her career was absolutely on fire and I appreciated her work without being over-the-top in my praise of it. I was also every bit as awkward as I was as a graduate student in real life because while I didn't want feign more familiarity than we actually had, it would have been weird if I showed up really formally in her inbox.
What I Didn't Do: I didn't pretend that there hadn't been a seismic shift in her life in the time between knowing her in graduate school and her becoming a best-selling author but also tried not to dwell on it. I also didn't overload her with information in the body of the email but put the book proposal material below the signature for her to peruse if she wanted to.
These are just four of several favors I've asked over the past few years. I have very similar ones that resulted in no responses but that at least made the effort to respect people's time and show that I wasn't just firing nonsense into the ether. The thing is, most people want to be helpful. Sometimes they are too busy to do favors or they can't actually give you what you need but when you contact people with respectful, appropriate asks and opportunities for them to decline, you'd be surprised by how much you can get out of them.
Also, as Charlotte noted when I asked if I could write about our first email exchange in this post, people might very well be seeking a favor from you at some other point: