Use the web, make the most of it—the opportunities for friendships and conversations are a tremendous gift—but don’t get too caught up in comparing your own successes (or lack thereof) to the amount of good news in someone else’s Facebook feed.
Steve Himmer is the author of the novel The Bee-Loud Glade and the ebook novella The Second Most Dangerous Job In America. He edits the webjournal Necessary Fiction and teaches at Emerson College in Boston.
Visit his web page: http://www.stevehimmer.com/
Read more by and about Steve:
How Steve Himmer Became a Writer
This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Steve for saying yes!
1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I’ve always lived in my head to a great extent, making up stories and “what if?” scenarios that distracted me from the “real” world. Daydreaming. Writing seems like a pretty natural extension of that, and maybe it explains the kind of writing I do, which tends to be driven by invention and speculation far more than memory. How we use stories as individuals and as groups to make sense of the world endlessly fascinates me, whether it’s through music or writing or performance or folklore or books, and in some ways I think being a writer instead of, say, an oral storyteller is more a result of my being generally shy (not to mention storytellers not being common these days) than a need to write, per se. The wordplay and the story are the thing, not necessarily the medium.
2. How did you go about becoming a writer?
Well, like I said, I started making things up early which I now think of as practice. I read a lot, which is probably true of most if not all writers (at least I hope so), and as widely as possible: fiction, poetry, travelogues, science, history… I’ve tried to read about everything I’m curious about at one point or another. And I wrote, of course, first by imitating other writers then by slowly doing my own thing. I’d like to think I’m doing my own thing, at least. I traveled as widely as I could, and studied anthropology and science and politics in college (and later got an MFA) and worked at jobs both fascinating and tedious, all of which now seems inseparable from being whoever I am as a writer. It took me awhile to start writing fiction, though: for a long time I wanted to be a travel writer, or an author of popular anthropology, but discovered I was more interested in the stories I found in those genres than anything else.
3. Who helped you along the way, and how?
My parents have always been incredibly supportive and encouraging, without sugarcoating the difficulties of life. That’s always been a huge help. I’ve had some excellent first readers as friends, and had some great workshop-mates and teachers in grad school—though I never quite found the “mentor” you hear about when people wax nostalgic about their MFA experience—and have been lucky enough by now to meet lots of inspiring, brilliant writers and editors online and off. The web has been enormously helpful to me, giving me access to conversations I never would have found otherwise.
4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?
I’m not a big reader of writers’ biographies, but there are a few I return to again and again. Especially George Mackay Brown—Maggie Ferguson’s biography of Brown is a favorite of mine. I find his innate loneliness inspiring, because without being melodramatic about it loneliness is very much the defining emotion of my life and my writing (man, how miserable does that sound?). Also Brown’s deep commitment to a place, Orkney, and his need to write about that place in so many different ways without any regard to its fashionability or marketability to publishers. He was willing to do his own thing, and probably suffer for it in terms of reputation and certainly commercial success, though those eventually came his way after he’d stuck to his guns long enough.
5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?
Like I just said about George Mackay Brown, stick to your guns. Learn from what other writers have done and are doing, but trust your own instincts even if they seem foolish sometimes or make you feel like an outsider. Develop what Charles Baxter called, in a great interview at The Days of Yore, a “fuck you” attitude: you’ll learn to know when your writing is doing what it’s meant to even if no one else seems to care. Use the web, make the most of it—the opportunities for friendships and conversations are a tremendous gift—but don’t get too caught up in comparing your own successes (or lack thereof) to the amount of good news in someone else’s Facebook feed. There are more reasons than the presence or absence of genius why one book or writer gets attention while another doesn’t, and most of those reasons are arbitrary and absurd and unpredictable, so you’ll drive yourself crazy chasing them. Just stick to making up the stuff you think the world needs.