The one where I interview myself
Just for fun.
Over the weekend, I read an article in Interview magazine in which Donald Glover interviews himself and I thought it the most haunting interview I’ve ever read. He knows the questions to ask himself and uses the form to dive into his own psyche. I couldn’t help but want to explore the same form here.
Let’s start with the obvious: you titled this article like a Friends episode. You used to title every newsletter like that—why did you stop?
If you stumbled upon my first newsletter, “the one in which I have a feverish idea” you’d be like “I’m not going to read that article, I have no idea what it’s about.” At the time, all of my subscribers knew me so it made sense. But if I wanted to attract new people to my work, I probably should have called it: “I don’t want to be an obscure writer anymore so I’m starting a newsletter.”
Now that my newsletter is growing, I want newcomers to know what my stories are about. A lot of Substack writers title their newsletters “Issue 56” or something, but as a reader I find that frustrating—I don’t want to be that person (even if I miss that familiarity).
You’ve been on Substack more than a year now, you also now have Twitter and TikTok. How have you been adjusting to internet life?
I feel both exasperated and awakened by it!
I was talking to my sister-in-law about this last week, she was saying that she didn’t want her daughters to have a phone for as long as possible—citing all of the studies about the mental health ramifications of young people on social media.
I totally understand the detriments of social media, because I was exhausted by it to the point that I quit it altogether for three years. But after such a long break, now I’m getting back on it intentionally because I want to express myself, share my craft, and be inspired by other people’s craft, and I’m using it differently as a result.
On TikTok, there are teenagers who play cello in their school band who have millions of followers. Or who sew their own 18th-century clothing and wear them to school. And I can’t help but wish I’d had those same opportunities to express myself as a teenager. Even if you are a complete loner at school, you can find your people online! And that’s so exciting to me!
Even as an “adult,” I don’t have many friends in real life who have the same interests as I do. After high school, I largely felt like I had to conform to other people’s interests because no one had mine. But TikTok has opened me to a world where people bind and paint their own books, build houses for fairies, invent incredibly strange machines, and make music out of legos. There are places that exist for us creative types online and I just feel myself opening up and being inspired by all of it!
Are there negatives to social media? Absolutely, and the exasperation part comes because I struggle with projection. If someone wants to write a different way than I do, they might come to my comments section (or Twitter) and project on me that I should be writing a different way too—like a “no no no, stick to the status quo” kind of vibe (that phrase was sung like the song from High School Musical, in case you didn’t pick that up).
I know it’s just because that’s what the commenter wants to do as a writer, but it still hurts me. Because I think we’re both doing art, and I don’t think either of us should feel bad about however we want to go about it. I want permission to be completely free with my art and it can be hard to protect that online.
You have been very experimental with your craft lately. Isn’t it all a bit too much?
Yes, when I feel like I have to limit myself to set parameters. I do this thing where I create rules for myself and then get stressed about following them—it’s really frustrating!!!! I have to continuously remind myself that I am an adult and I can do whatever I want!
For example, I recently started feeling like writing this newsletter was my job. I came up with a list of articles to write for it that felt very “on brand” but then I found myself deep sighing about it. I just didn’t want to write any of those newsletters and I’m not sure why I felt like I had to? I want to be very experimental with my craft which means I should not be following a formula at all!!!
I think it’s constraining to have a niche. Like the fact that I call myself a “novelist” in the title of my newsletter makes it feel like I can only ever write novels, or write about writing them. I definitely think being a writer is a big part of my identity—maybe even the biggest part of my identity—but only because writing is how I express everything else. I still need to have “everything else” to be able to write about it.
If all I had to write about was writing, well how boring would that be?
Remember when you were laying on the floor all “damsel in distress” about this last week?
Yes, I was talking to my husband about how I really wanted to write this utopian novel—but I felt like it was a stupid idea because what if no one read it? And anyway I don’t have time to write it because I am writing this newsletter now and I don’t have time to write both!!!!
I was being very “existential millennial” about the whole thing (“I wish I could just write novels and my newsletter for a living!”) and I felt like I was hitting a barrier: if it takes me two years to earn a living from my newsletter, I will burn myself out long before I get there. And I won’t have time to write my novel in the meantime!
Thankfully there was a very obvious solution my husband pointed out right away: Didn’t you start the newsletter to publish your novels? Just publish your utopian novel for your newsletter just like you published your gothic novel for your newsletter. My book is my newsletter—I don’t get why I felt like it had to be harder than that. I’ve been stressing myself out thinking that I have to follow some kind of newsletter writing formula to “make it” but I forgot that I am kind of inventing my own thing here and can do whatever I want!
That’s when my newsletter strategy became very clear. I’ve already fallen into a cadence of publishing newsletters every other Monday and fiction every Friday. When Obscurity is done in the summer I can start serializing Oblivion in the fall. And if I add a newsletter (like I did this week) or skip one (like I did two weeks ago), what newsletter police is going to come lock me up for not adhering to my self-imposed deadlines!!????
This all seems very obvious—it’s what you’ve already been doing.
Yes, but I think I just needed to give myself permission to be more free with my art. I may be a journalist, working in a career that is very dependent on deadlines. But my newsletter and my books are my passion project–I don’t need to impose that structure on them just because I’m doing it in public. I need to allow this to be the part of my life that I love the most—just like it was when I was doing it in private.
Related: I’m locking my comments and literary salons to paid subscribers now because what I really want is to have honest conversations with likeminded artists. This isn’t about strategy anymore, it’s about finding our people and having a place on the internet where we can talk about all the things we would bore our friends with IRL.
(If you aren’t a paid subscriber you missed my last literary salon “do you want to be famous for your writing?”which totally proved my point! What an amazing conversation! These are some freaking inspiring people here!!!!!)
Ok but why do you have to publish your books via Substack? There are so many better ways to do this.
I already know that there is a proven model for self-publishing success—I get emails to that effect every week. It’s called “rapid release publishing” and the idea is that authors publish upwards of 12 books a year and release them in rapid succession on Kindle Unlimited and “wide” across a number of other publishing platforms.
Though there are several indie authors who make a lot of money doing this, I have no interest in this method whatsoever because writing that many books in a year would make me hate writing books. PLUS, I think the creator economy could eventually replace rapid release publishing. For instance: I’d much rather “rapid release” my newsletter and make money that way, while keeping my books a slow creeping, beautifully haunting, life-enveloping kind of thing.
I want my books to be masterpieces—these personal accomplishments that just feel like the very best of my writing. Obscurity feels like that to me—I think it’s the next great American gothic, even if no one else thinks so yet. And I want my next book to feel the same way. I want Oblivion to be the next great utopian novel that is read and enjoyed and studied for generations to come!
And I want to publish them both on Substack alongside a community of Substack fiction writers and readers so that’s just… how I’m going to do it.
You have too much confidence and it’s making me uncomfortable.
Ok, WAIT!!!!!!! Have you been the real hater all along??? I should have known—you’ve always been my worst enemy. Here I am blaming the internet for all the turmoil I’ve been feeling as a fragile artist out in the world while you’ve been trolling me the whole darn time. I can’t believe I didn’t realize this sooner.
We’ve talked about this before, but allow me to remind you: there’s nothing wrong with believing in your dreams. There are enough people in the world who believe the very worst about themselves—who think they are ugly, have nothing to say, are not good at what they do, and are afraid to share their work with the world—and I think that’s the real problem.
Would you rather live in that world? Or one in which you are beautiful, have meaningful things to say, work on being good at what you do, are confident in what you do, and share it with the world? Maybe it’s because I love writing fiction, but I believe we can choose which world we want to live in. And if I’m going to write my own story, which I very much intend to do, then I much prefer to romanticize it.
Remember that time when I went to get my makeup done for an event and the makeup artist was about to smear beige gunk beneath my eyes? I asked her what she was doing and she said it was concealer to cover the purple bags beneath my eyes. It was such a strange moment—I had to explain to her that I really love the purple under my eyes because it happens to be this very otherworldly indigo color that makes me look ethereal—like a fairy.
She was so confused—she really wanted to put that stuff on my face and make it all white and matte and boring. But that’s when I realized that if you get enough people in your life calling the skin on your face “bags” then you’ll start covering them up. And maybe that’s the secret to being on the internet anyway: that we need to be the way we want to be, and be confident in the face of others thinking we should be something else.
In any case, fuck insecurity, I’d rather be confident!
It’s interesting you say that because I don’t find anything you just said in this interview particularly interesting. Do you think people will actually read this far down in the interview?
You would say that—in fact, you say that every time I press publish on a post. Honestly, the answer is that I don’t know—but I’m still glad that I wrote it and am expressing it. Perhaps that’s what makes me a writer!
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading my strange things!
Until next week,
P.S. I love this format so much and even found it SO therapeutic as a writer. Would anyone else be interested in interviewing themselves on their Substacks and then sharing the link in the comments? I am dying to know where your conversations would go!!!!!!
The print magazine is almost done!
For those of you who subscribe to this newsletter at the Novelle Collector tier, I’m so excited to report that the print magazine is almost done! I should be sending it to press in the next couple weeks!!!
The Novelleist: Year One is about making a living as an artist in the age of the internet. It includes all of my most important posts on that subject, all of the most important comments on those posts, all of the case studies from authors who are doing this successfully, and my conclusions. It’s weighing in at about 160 pages right now.
Become a Novelle Collector to get the print magazine plus the (very) first edition of my gothic novel Obscurity (which goes to press next!!!).
I’m speaking at some events in real life
For those of you who live in Salt Lake City, I’ll be speaking at two events in May. On May 4th, I’ll be speaking about worldbuilding in the metaverse at this event hosted by Future House Studios. On May 26th, I’ll be be speaking about the future of the web3 world, as well as moderating several panels at Cryptopia. Hope to see some of you there!
My newsletter goals
My newsletter goals, and how I’m tracking to them, are shared with paid subscribers of The Novelleist.