What am I reading right now? What have I read recently?

Last year I read Moby Dick, which is the best book of all time because it has a very simple plot, but it is also insane and funny and perfectly bloated. Bonus: I learned a lot about spermaceti. However, it also ruined me and I had to watch all of Gilmore Girls before I could even look at another book.

Recently finished: The Undertaking, Audrey Magee. This is a story about members of the Nazi party who want a happy ending, but instead get torture, sexual assault, frostbite, and PTSD. It is horrifying, humorless, and proof that prose need not reach Nabokovian levels of complexity to deliver some heavy, disturbing emotional shit.

Currently reading:

  • The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. Did someone say this is a difficult novel? I feel like I read that somewhere. The Goldfinch is a page-turner wrapped in a gigantic burrito of literariness and erudition. Sometimes I wish that Donna Tartt had cross-checked for redundancies, because they annoy me and obviously she should have anticipated that. GRRM, she is not.
  • A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride. This is a difficult novel.
  • Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon. This is a difficult novel about American excess and jingoism, set in antiquity.
  • Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott. Lamott’s style is way too hokey and babyish, and I envy the ease with which she was able to acquire an agent early in her career. But this book was given to me as a gift, and it has good tips in it, and there is something reassuring about its hokey, babyishness. It helps with writer’s block.

Oh my god y’all. Writer’s block. It exists. I used to think it didn’t, but that was only because I was an asshole who hadn’t been writing for very long.

These 101 Jobs a Writer Can Have Will Blow Your Mind

Last week my friend sent me this article about some guy who was glad he’d left teaching. Outrage ensued. My opinion: I am so glad I left that world because it is ridiculous! Well, the whole world is ridiculous. So what. Well, so I got so burned out just taking workshops that it’s hard to conceive of actually having to lead one, and I clap my hands at all of the hardworking writers who are able to balance teaching with writing their own stuff. However, when I was enrolled in such a program there was definitely the expectation/hope that it would lead to a teaching position somewhere and very little discussion of alternate methods of raising enough capital to support ones art. Which is a shame because we all know what the academic job market is like.

Also, as we all know, the whole writer-becomes-wrinting-prof thing is a product of Western capitalism and a bad writing market. Go read some articles about that kind of thing at the LRB or Paris Review, I’m too lazy to say anything else on that topic because historically, as we all know, writers have held all kinds of jobs and non-jobs. Faulkner worked at a power station. Chaucer was a comptroller. He might have raped somebody, though.

The worst job I’ve had while writing was photographic assistant. I worked weekends and late afternoons on weekdays, so there should have been plenty of time to write. But it was emotionally draining. My schedule was erratic, the hours were long, the darkroom was creepy, and my boss was eccentric. It was physically taxing as well. In short, I did not get much writing done then because I was always recovering, exhausted, freaked out.

The best writer jobs keep it steady emotionally and will neither burn you out nor bore you, nor tax you so much physically that you find it difficult to stay upright in a chair. At my current position (“shop assistant”) I’m supervising volunteers and drinking a lot of fair trade coffee. Sometimes I have to fix the computer. Sometimes I make displays. It is pretty sweet and relaxing and provides an adequate level of social engagement. When I leave my hair smells like Nag Champa, the hours are regular and I do not have to bring it home with me. It is a perfectly adequate writer job, but this is mainly because I work for a charitable organization, which adds a layer of meaningfulness to what would otherwise be mere drudgery.

So what are some other jobs a writer can have?

  1.  Shellfish processor
  2. Heir
  3. Hair stylist
  4. Bartender
  5. Customs agent
  6. Librarian
  7. Academic librarian
  8. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  9. Animal Caretaker
  10. Bourbon God or Goddess
  11. Pharmacist
  12. Head lice removal technician
  13. Children’s party helper
  14. Typographer
  15. Actuary
  16. Clinical cytogeneticist
  17. Naval architect
  18. Personal trainer
  19. Princess
  20. Administrative assistant
  21. Part-time window cleaner
  22. Roaming door fundraiser
  23. Girl in a canteen 
  24. Sports minded person 
  25. Soil scientist
  26. Radiation protection practitioner

Blarg I give up.  You don’t have to be a teacher if you don’t want to. But maybe I am just saying that to justify my own poor life decisions.

20 cost effective methods by which to salve your loneliness


Keep some inspirational stuff taped to your computer for bad days.

I read this thing the other day about how a writer’s lifestyle is a miserable thing, and before that, I was trying to think about how to write a post about loneliness. You see, this winter has been long and grim and I’ve been missing home. Everyone says it takes about a year to settle into a new location, but when you work primarily from home, it can be little harder to make friends, and opportunities to socialize seldom fall into your lap. You have to take initiative. Which sucks. But the alternative is being inside all the time, alone with your thoughts, which is especially terrible when winter feels as endless as this one does.

The only good thing about this situation is that, if you are writing fiction, at least your thoughts of fiction are not as bad as the thoughts you have late at night, when you’re lying in your bed, or when you are getting dressed in the morning and confront in the mirror your increasingly aged and ugly face. And the kitchen is full of dirty dishes and your partner is nowhere to be found! They’re thinking about pretty girls and former lovers in a space that is not entirely filled with the hair of animals and the walls are not splattered with coffee and the air doesn’t form weird vortices of stink at the top of the stairs and outside the bathroom and near the back door.

No. Get out of the house, go make some friends. Go out and talk to new people. Appropriate their life stories, alienate these new friends you’ve made, and enrich yourselves, my fellow writers. I am going to tell you how.

20 Inexpensive Ways to Feel Like Less of a Loser Instantly 

1. Go to your local gym. You don’t have to spend a fortune, just pick the cheapest nastiest one you can find. It should have visible mold on the walls and the free weights should be rusty. 2. Cafes and coffee shops have people in them. It is easier to pay $2 to be around strangers for an hour than it is to make friends. 3. Assuming you have friends who would accept an invitation from you, have them around for some video games and TV watching and snacks. 4. Volunteering. 5. Charity shops. 6. Pets, assuming they do not often require costly medical interventions. 7. Meetup groups. 8. Stroll around town. 9. Go to a hospital canteen. 10. “Hand relief.” 11. Drink alone while watching aspirational programming. 12. Take a bath when you are supposed to be writing. 13. Send a lot of text messages to people you used to know. Don’t sound needy.. 14. Your local library has programs and people in it. Sometime coffee mornings with elders. 15. Make yourself hideous and call your loneliness solitude. 16. Listen to all Tori Amos. 17. Submit some things to journals and agents. GET YOUR CAREER BACK ON TRACK.  18. Drink a glass of water. 19. Talk to a lot of waiters, baristas, and shop assistants, and confuse the helpfulness required of them by their employers with an actual bid for friendship.  But as a writer/shop assistant, I can tell you, my bids are genuine. 20. Go back to bed.




Charity Shops: A Writer’s Best Friend

The worst thing about being a writer is obviously the fact that you will never have enough money, but that’s okay because the same is true of most pursuits; such is the nature of humankind. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about buying yourself little luxuries — a punnet of raspberries, for example — because of something to do with creativity. Special Agent Dale Cooper likewise instructs, “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.”

I would like to give myself a present every day and a luxurious present at that, but my discretionary budget is £200 for the month, and that has to cover train fares, my gym membership, a haircut, all kinds of social obligations, an anniversary present for my husband, and things like socks and underwear and shampoo. All of my warm socks have holes in them! So, no, Dale Cooper, I can’t buy myself a cup of coffee every day because even the cheapest coffee — filter at Pret for 99p — is £28 for the month. THERE IS NO ROOM FOR COFFEE IN THE BUDGET. That is why I got a job at a place with free hot drinks.

Now enter charity shops, which meet a multitude of writerly needs. You get to clothe yourself, preferably in garments you would not under ordinary circumstances be able to afford. You get to give something back to the community, which under ordinary circumstances you would not be doing because you have sequestered yourself — selfishly — up in some room, wasting resources while making art that no one cares about. You get to paw through other people’s shit in search of inspiration and ideas, which under ordinary circumstances would get you arrested. And you get to fight creative burnout through daydreaming, if you are not first completely overwhelmed by all of the stuff. How not to be overwhelmed? Please read the following.

Ten Top Tips for Charity Shopping!

1. Labels first. Do not buy anything that came from Target, Walmart, Primark, Asda and the like. H&M is at your discretion. The reason? That clothing is shit and if you must have it, you might as well buy it new. I recently found a Primark sweater selling for £4 used at a charity shop, but new at Primark it cost £5. You are not getting a deal on those clothes and they are not going to hold up in the wash. I would, however, make an exception for anything truly odd or tacky. I got a purple t-shirt with Christmas puddings on it for £2. That seemed reasonable.

2. Textiles second. When shopping for second-hand clothes, natural fibers are the best fibers for comfort and durability. Wool, linen, and silk are expensive to buy new, but when bought second-hand, bargains can be had!


Silk blouse from East? £4.99!

3. Do not go in with a list. If you are charity shopping to save money, buy what’s good and cheap when it’s available in anticipation of some future need. If you are looking for something in particular, you will probably settle for something awful that you will never actually wear. Example: last year I was cold, so I thought I would go find a nice thick midi-skirt, but stock was thin and I bought a horrible corduroy thing that looks bad with my boots and makes me feel frumpy. I would have been better off spending slightly more money on something else entirely.

4. Be boring. Go in with a set of parameters. It’s easier to sort the wheat from the chaff if you only ever wear neutral colors or velvet. Plus, though it is exceedingly unlikely that you will ever become famous, wouldn’t it be nice to have an established look à la  GRRM or Donna Tartt?


Black velvet if you please. Louche + neutral + slightly hideous = perfect.

5. Keep an eye out for the sumptuous, the ridiculous, and the bizarre. You can wear it yourself or you can put a character in it. Half of charity shopping is shopping for inspiration, bishes!


It was a good day for velvet.

6. Windows, mannequins, and in-store displays. This is where they put the good stuff.

7. Get friendly with the staff and find out when they restock, or if you are not a friendly person, go often and notice when restocking has occurred. I am not friendly, but I’ve deduced that Monday afternoons are the best time to go charity shopping in my area. But sometimes I go on a Thursday or Friday because by that point I am fed up with this world.

8. Combine charity shopping with a walk if at all possible. If half of charity shopping is shopping for inspiration, then don’t forget to include people-watching and eavesdropping.

9. And don’t forget housewares!


Populate your fiction with curious objects.

10. It is clearly preferable for all sorts of reasons to go to actual shops and paw through racks and piles of things yourself. However, if you live in the UK and if this is not possible, Oxfam has an online shop as well. It’s pricier than Sue Ryder, The British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Cats Protection, etc., but it is still sew good. Unbelievably good. It is actually the best. And they have a fairly liberal returns policy.

Impediments to charity shopping might include a university nearby. I used to live in a town where there were only two charity shops and both were picked to pieces by students. I almost never found anything good to wear there, but I did acquire some folk art!


One of my favorite pieces. By Clifford? 1981.

So visit your local charity shops, writers! Even if they’re dirty or weird or dark, you can always find something, even if that something boils down to walking away from your work for an hour or two, so you can return to it with clearer thoughts.

How to Write a Lot of Words: Ten Practical Habits for Writing Sustainably

I think it’s pretty obvious that the worst part about writing is writing. Otherwise, why would everyone always be asking me: Mrs. Meehan, how do you keep yourself motivated?

Well, I’ll tell you: I spend the bulk of  my “writing” time staring into space, thinking about failure, death, and disappointment, and shopping for things I can’t afford on the internet. When I’m working on a first draft it sometimes feels like I am trying to extract my own teeth with sewing needles, except my teeth and stuck somewhere in my brain and the needles are really dull.

Thus, the establishment of good writing habits is crucial, particularly for those moments when everything is awful. Good habits are something you can cling to when your inbox is full of rejections and you are sunk deep in bitterness and self-loathing. And there is no better time than the end of January to establish those good habits because by now we should all be over the holidays and disappointed with ourselves for not having accomplished more this month.

The internet does not want for lists of writer’s habits: drinking habits, sleeping habits, odd habits, eccentric habits, super sad habits,  etc. However, these are at best entertainment and at worst a means to procrastinate while dreaming of a more productive life than the one you currently have. I have therefore assembled for you a list of useful – albeit somewhat paradoxical – habits for those times when you need to read a list of such things.

  1. Make the internet unavailable during working hours. Zadie Smith evidently uses Freedom. I like Freedom, but I almost never remember to turn it on.
  2. The best way to marry frugality to productivity is to get rid of the internet in your home altogether. I would do this if I still lived in the States and did not need to call abroad very often.
  3. However, the internet is not your enemy. If you are really stuck, read some things on the internet. I get a lot of ideas from The Bradenton Herald and random pop science shit. If you read enough things on the internet, you may enter a crazy fugue state that will enable all manner of creative breakthroughs, which you will consequently forget. Actually Habit #3 is just MAKE TIME FOR READING and try to keep a dim awareness of new titles. If you don’t, you will never know that someone else has already written your current project.
  4. Establish a system of quotas. I’ve found the pomodoro method worse than useless because it makes the passage of time salient, and time is depressing. Plus when you get into “the groove,” inevitably the timer will sound, interrupting your awesome flow. Personally, when drafting I set a daily word limit, and when revising, I set a page limit. If I hit my targets, I reward myself by not having to feel ashamed.
  5. Use newfangled technology to track your progress and enforce quotas. There are like a million productivity apps and I’m not going to bother linking to any of them. Beeminder, SelfControl, 30/30. You know how to find these things. When you get burned out on one, you can always switch to another.
  6. But don’t waste your money on productivity apps. You can make your own dang Beeminder with a piece of paper and an empty jar of mayonnaise into which you will deposit $1 every time you go off track. When the jar is full, make some charitable contributions; you can write those off. You don’t need Freedom either! Unplug your router and throw your phone into the toilet. This is really hard to do, but I believe in you. Update: See comment thread below for more information about Beeminder, which I have treated somewhat unfairly in this post. 
  7. Comfort at your workstation is very important. Make yourself comfortable! Do whatever it takes. Sitting at a desk is awful, looking at a screen is awful. Take a break. Write on paper. Stand up. Go to the library or the coffee shop if you can afford it. Ambient noise can be helpful. I like a change of scenery when I get stuck on something.
  8. Mornings seem to be the best time to write a lot? I hate that, but you know, ego depletion is a thing. If it is after 3 pm, go eat something sweet and fatty.
  9. Flâneur. Go for a walk.  Sitting down all the time is bad for you, and walking helps you think. If the weather is not too bad, try to go for a walk.
  10. And most importantly, do not work on your writing every single day, unless you really must. Take one or two days off because you are a human being. You might fail to meet the expectations you have set for yourself, and in that case you will want to have cultivated some other aspects of your life. Do not neglect your relationships. Do not neglect your health. Do not neglect your other interests.

My semi-functional workspace

As for my own weird habits, I never wear makeup when I’m writing. I try to be as unkempt as possible. I think this is one part superstition, two parts laziness, three parts stereotype threat. How can a woman be a serious writer if she doesn’t look like a mess? I look properly nasty. And for those really bleak moments,  there is an acronym that I invoke: WBAEF. Writing Before Anything Else, Fool.

How to be a Writer Even When You Suck

When I was in undergrad everyone liked to talk about how lame it was to put on the mantle of “writer” and how all those young people who affected writerly tics were posers, flimflammers, and nincompoops. They corralled their mediocrity behind unwashed hair and moth-eaten sweaters. They shaded it from scrutiny by putting on contempt and elitism, and by the hosting of pseudo-literary salons. They read water-stained paperbacks, pencilled quaint graffiti on the walls of lavatories and elevators, and they wrote stories problematic and profane. But we had their number. We were not of their ilk. We were alone up in our rooms writing and dreaming and hurting and wanting! That was how we knew that we were real.

But, rather unfortunately, now that I am older and have been to the school of too many rejections, weird part-time jobs, quitting your day job, taking too long to finish anything, and bringing down the censure and concern of your spouse, I can see with unmitigated clarity that those careless, dirty, pretentious young people were right: writing is a lifestyle choice after all. You cannot go so many days — failing to brush your teeth before noon, wishing you had a profession while deriding those who do, smelling your armpits while slouched over a computer on which nothing is written, devising increasingly pathetic methods by which to get one over on global capitalism while window-shopping at John Lewis until after some windfall you give in and spend too much money on a memory foam mattress topper because of backaches from bad posture and a desire for unearned luxury — before acknowledging, finally, that it is so. To be a writer is multivalent. But to purposely eschew actual full-time paid employment because you are unhinged and believe for some reason that you are an artist and you can’t pin that shit down — this is precise. This is my area of expertise.

So to generate more internet content and thereby make myself party to the end of all goodness in the world, I will be shifting the focus of this ridiculous blog to: how to be a writer even when you are failing at being a writer. Tips and tricks for monetarily deficient, creatively stunted, burned-out creative types and writers like me. Welcome to 2015. January has been kind of shitty, hasn’t it?

The people demand the novel.

I have received one incredibly cryptic request for the novel. Here is a little bit of what I was working on in November, unedited and contextless:


The property was searched and searched again. The police never found the monster who chewed on Shelby. I don’t believe they knew what they were looking for. In time, the case was dropped. I don’t believe they would have dropped it if she had died of her injuries rather than the cold. Why was she naked? Where was her dress? Her hair was wet when we found her. They thought it was the dew rising up from the field, and the mist in the air, but there was silt from the river on her legs. She’d been swimming naked in the middle of the night. I knew. I watched her from the river bank. And she wasn’t alone. There were other women with her, all swimming or swinging from the branches of the trees, or lying on the bare mud of the steep riverbank, sprawled over trees’ roots. Dancing as if they were all mad. Pale women, as blue and faint as starlight, with long hair and black empty sockets instead of eyes. They led Shelby by the hand to that locust tree and they mounted it together, until they were all stood up in the branches howling at the sky. She tied the rope around her ankles so if she lost her balance, she wouldn’t die. But there was waiting for her at the bottom of the tree, the serpent woman who haunted the old cemetery in the pines. She unhinged her jaw as serpents do. She was in the bible, you know.

This is what I told the police when Monty said I wasn’t in bed that night and had gone out for a cigarette. He fell asleep. He wouldn’t have known if I’d come back five minutes later in any case. They said I followed Shelby. Mud was on my shoes. Well, that’s all true. So I did. I saw the black man leave her at the drive. I watched outside the window, saw her walk away and cross the wedge of light cast by the floodlights and disappear down the road. It’s easy to guess where she would have gone — always down to see the Mexicans. They were having a potluck party at the trailer park. I used to like to go to a potluck party, but I didn’t anymore. When she spoke to them, I couldn’t understand what they were saying ever. But they laughed too much.

I saw her take the rope from the barn, and I followed her to the river. I took her dress back to the house and laundered it myself later on. But first, who were these women rising up from the fields? I’d never seen them before, but it seemed like she had because she was kissing them on both cheeks like they were Italians. Foreign muck. Anyone could tell they weren’t from the town or the county. They seduced her. I watched them. And when she lost her balance, I was waiting at the bottom of the tree for her. To save her. But the serpent woman got there first. She was dirty and she smelled like fish. She actually asked Shelby if it was okay what she did. The poor girl was just crying. Well, she shouldn’t have taken my pills.

(I can see the blood and the stillness of her. They said, do you have any idea what happened to your girl? I said, that’s no girl.)

This was of course not what the police wished to hear, and I was made party to my poor girl’s death. If I hadn’t done anything to stop it, I must have done something wrong. The law doesn’t say anything about that. They couldn’t handle me anymore, so they packed me off to Broughton, but you know what? I couldn’t handle them anymore, or their darkness. You have no idea what these people are capable of, but you can sense it while they’re skulking around the house, the fierce and perverted daydreams they must be having and that’s why they don’t talk to you.  They have no self-control whatsoever.

Broughton was wonderful because that was the place I found my art. They gave me paint and bits of scrap, and for once in my life I was able to create something beautiful. I began by painting little dresses. They liked those and hung them in the hall. It wasn’t a nice place, but because I was money and blue blood, I got my way always. I painted the scenes of my life and I painted all of the people who came before me and all of those who would come after. Future people are real people; we must never forget this fact.