the business of writing

on the last day of the 10 week memoir class term, i’m supposed to discuss the ‘business’ of writing.


business and writing, i’d like to say, isn’t a thing. but it is and i live it every day of my life.

just yesterday i came up with 3 quotes for people who want to work on books and essays with me.

i deposited my check from litreactor.

i searched the mail for 2 other checks i’m waiting for, but they didn’t come.

i sent my resume and cover letter to a local community college in hopes to teach there.

i worked on a new essay about my hatred for h&m.

i read and commented on two of my gotham students’ essays.

i read and commented on my gotham students’ homework.

i got an acceptance from LENNY, and have some edits to work on.

i told 2 people that no, i couldn’t get their books to cheryl strayed. (i don’t appreciate being asked this. no one got my book to cheryl strayed, i did it myself. cheryl has announced on her website she isn’t blurbing. do your research.)

my friend karina told me on the phone the other night i should write a little book about ‘writer etiquette’.

remember when i wrote On Picking My Brain? 

know who else wrote one? jill soloway. i didn’t know this until yesterday. her collection was released in 2006.

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after watching the amazing season 2 of Transparent, i remembered jill wrote the essay collection Tiny Ladies In Shiny Pants, an essay collection that explores most of themes she goes deeper into in her show.

my dad was saying the other day, it’s always a series of events that makes someone successful or unsuccessful.

jill soloway is incredibly inspiring. this New Yorker profile of her is so interesting. she’s in her fifties and has worked her ass off to be where she is. she had some awful career years, and some very good ones. writer’s write, that’s the business of writing…..

also i love what she says in this interview in VULTURE:

The question of privilege comes up quite a few times this season. How do you balance making the characters both incredibly selfish and sympathetic?

JS: I don’t really think so much about likability, I just think about authenticity. There are so many people who would be like, “Oh, white people problems!” People say that to dismiss a certain kind of entertainment that’s about perhaps people with financial privilege. But I really don’t think about that, I think about how to make that real. People talk about the kids as being jerks or being narcissistic. I remind them that when you grow up in a family with that huge a secret, people don’t really know themselves. The secret stands in for the boundary. So these kids really didn’t know who they were, where they started and where other people began. I realized this about my own family; I grew up in a family with all secrets and no boundaries, this constant feeling of holding onto each other for dear life because nobody really knows what’s up. And then you lift the veil and you turn the lights on and you see what was going on, and you’re like, oh, my moppa was trans – we had a moppa, our family is queer, I come from a queer legacy.

Even looking back at my own moppa’s family, I’m like, wow, who was trans and gender-nonconforming in our legacy? Even for me to recognize that I have a legacy of gender-nonconformity and queerness in my family that I didn’t know about, it’s like you suddenly are born, in a way. They might be obnoxious and narcissistic, but the Pfeffermans are children, they’re sort of teenagers, adolescents who are really being confronted with the truth of who they are for the first time. So they’re going to be clumsy, they’re going to make mistakes. There’s a moment this season where Ali is explaining herself to Syd, and she’s saying something like, “I want to be with you, but I also need to be able to figure out who I am.” I’m rooting for her in that moment because she does need to be able to figure out who she is, and I think everybody is trying to figure out who they are; everybody’s got a earning for understanding. I guess it can be seen as self-centered or self-centering, but they’re trying to get their balance.


Something I have my class read in our last weeks is Why I Write by Stephen Elliott:

It’s amazing and heartening how many people want to be writers. Like all writers, I’m frequently asked about process. Process is different for everybody. When I’m really in a book I work seven days a week, three to six hours a day, starting when I first get up. I write every day because I’m not capable of writing eight hours straight. If I were I would skip the weekends. A girlfriend once told me she had good news. She didn’t have to work on Wednesday; we could spend the whole day together. She didn’t think of me as someone with a job. It made me happy. I kissed her a bunch of times and told her I couldn’t see her on Wednesday.

I’m also often asked about publishing. I tell people that it’s easy to get published; it’s just hard to get paid. There’s lots of good writing, but there’s very little that actually stands out as different and necessary or so good that it demands to be read. If you write something like that, someone will publish it. I don’t think I could keep going if I didn’t believe that.

I don’t believe in connections. I believe in the slush pile. I remember sending an unsolicited personal essay to When it was published I got a letter from an editor at GQ asking if I had anything else. A similar situation resulted in my writing a long article for Esquire. Unsolicited manuscripts worked for me: Five of my seven books were sold without an agent, though “sold” might not be the right term. Of the four anthologies I edited only one of them was agented. It’s better to have an agent, if you can find a good one. You should always try to get the most for whatever you do. It was a mistake for me to wait so long. But my point is that to be published you don’t need to know anybody. For short stories and personal essays and poems in particular, just write and send them. Sometimes writers spend all their energy pitching articles and don’t write anything, as if they’re waiting for permission. By the time the editor responds the writer might not even want to write the article anymore. There are many publications that are only great because they take the slush pile seriously. And agents read those journals, often finding their clients.

But all of that is secondary. An editor once told me why writers don’t get published:

The number one reason they won’t publish a book is because they haven’t written it yet.


my past student allison mccarthy got the ‘can you get my book to cheryl strayed’ taste out of my mouth from this generous and kind note:

I feel like I’m learning so much from your books and online writing, from the work of the people who take your classes and just having you as a teacher. There was a two-year period (2012-2014) when I was in a shitty relationship that shot through my confidence and so I wasn’t writing at all, with the exception of a book review here and there. But then I started up again with your class at LitReactor and suddenly I was writing again, pitching again, trying again. There was xoJane and Human Parts and the Washington Post and DAME. Right now, I’m now editing an essay for Sherry Amatenstein’s SHRINK/SHRUNK anthology for Seal Press. SEAL PRESS. I’ve wanted to write for them since I was sixteen. I got the acceptance letter when I was in India and I spent a half-hour bawling into my mug of peppermint tea.

So I wanted to say this (because it’s the truth)… I don’t know that I would have accomplished any of those things without the work I’ve done in your classes. The opportunities I’ve had through those workshops (both online and in-person) mean the world to me.



everything above is the business of writing. (and the joys of working from home, i guess. a day in the life.)






4 thoughts on “the business of writing

  1. I’m a photographer and much of what you have to say transfer’s over. I stopped picking the brains of those I look up to, and started asking myself what it was about their work I liked instead. Great read – thanks!

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