Author Photo: Seth Fried © Sheilah Grogan
Ten Breaths of Inspiration for the Writing Life
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CORINNA BARSAN
Seth Fried’s short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including The Kenyon Review, McSweeney’s, The Missouri Review, One Story, and Tin House. He has also been anthologized in The Better of McSweeney’s, Volume 2 and The Pushcart Prize XXXV: The Best of the Small Presses. His debut short story collection, The Great Frustration, was published in May 2011 by Soft Skull Press.
Author blog: www.sethfried.blogspot.com
The Magazine of Yoga On The Lit Mat Interview
Who or what was your greatest influence in picking up the pen?
I made the decision to become a writer when I was about fifteen, and have never really gone back and evaluated that decision. I guess I’m just lucky that my fifteen-year-old self was passionate about books and not cage fighting.
In what ways do you make room for the creative process in your
There is a great Italo Calvino quote that sort of answers this question for me. It’s from his book Mr. Palomar: “He is lucky in [this] respect: he can say he is working in places and attitudes that would suggest complete repose; or, rather, he suffers this handicap, he feels obliged never to stop working, even when lying under the trees on an August morning […]”
Writers are fortunate in that all we really need to work on our art is a scrap of paper and a writing utensil. That’s pretty awesome, especially when you consider all the materials and resources and collaboration necessary for filmmakers, musicians, and visual artists to do their art. However, as the above quote suggests, it’s also sort of a burden in the sense that there’s this tendency for writers to feel like we’re never really off the hook, like there’s always something we could be doing that we’re not.
So whenever I have a spare moment I’m making notes, re-writing lines in my head, deciding which paragraphs need to be cut. I’m really lucky in that my creative process gets to be basically my whole day. The only problem is that it can be a little difficult to turn off.
Which one word, image, sound, feeling, or memory defines the act of writing for you?
Urgency. I can’t write a story unless it’s exploring an idea/anxiety/hope that feels urgent to me.
Where do you find inspiration when the well runs dry?
I like to think of my brain as a compost bin. All that stuff that you want to be rid of (embarrassing memories, fears, disappointments, feelings of inadequacy) can end up being incredibly useful if you leave it alone for long enough.
If I’m having trouble feeling inspired, I’ll just look through my past and find all those instances when I acted like an idiot or when I was humiliated or when I caved to a certain anxiety, and that emotional garbage ends up being a really rich source of inspiration. I can use all that bad stuff to create something that feels joyful and cathartic.
Is there a tidbit of writing advice that has stayed with you over the years?
I once had the privilege of hearing Ron Carlson give a lecture, and he said that you don’t have to be talented to be a writer. He said you just have to be hardworking; talent can be pissed away, but persistence can’t be. I remember being really encouraged by that.
What is something you know now about writing that you didn’t know when you were just starting out?
The most important thing I’ve learned is that failure is an essential part of the creative process. After you’ve finished something, you’re always going to feel like you didn’t completely express yourself. And that’s a good thing.
After all, if you created a work of art that was perfect, what reason would you have to create another? Failure is built into the creative process to make sure that you keep creating. I think lots of younger artists end up turning their backs on their work because they misinterpret this sense of failure. They want their work to be perfect, despite the fact that a perfect piece of art is a contradiction in terms.
Art is about human expression and humans are almost by definition not perfect.
Whether you do yoga or another form of physical or spiritual practice, how does it affect your work?
I love to walk. A lot of my stories get worked out in my head during really long, aimless walks.
What is your most favorite guilty pleasure?
I have a ridiculously deep affection for the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. For those not familiar, it was a show in which two puppet robots and a guy in a red jumpsuit would watch terrible movies and riff on them.
In particular, I prefer the Joel Hodgson episodes, which ran from 1988 to 1993. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with liking the show. But, as an adult, it’s a natural impulse to try to limit the amount of time you spend laughing at puppets.
If you had to pick one book to recommend as a must-read,
which would it be?
It’s difficult to give a universal recommendation, because I’m always going to different books for different reasons. However, if I had to pick just one book: Letters to a Young Poet.
This book is the sort of thing you’d get someone as a high school graduation present, so I guess I should be more embarrassed about recommending it than I am. But the world-view presented in the book is just completely wonderful.
Reading it makes you feel like you could lift a car.
What is on your nightstand now?
I’m doing lots of reading about urban planning for a writing project I’m working on. Right now I’m reading a pretty interesting book called Aerotroplis that speculates on how air travel might affect the way cities are built in the future. Spoiler alert: Airports will be easier to get to.
The pause that refreshes! You can find Corinna Barsan’s musings and discoveries on her blog at Shiny White Page.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.