S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.
S2: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, June Thomas, I’m your other host, Isaac Butler, and I’m yet another host, Ramalingam.
S1: That’s right. All three of us are here because this is a very special listener call in episode where we dig into our mailbag and respond to questions and concerns about creative work. Ramon, you’re a novelist. Isaac, you have been a theater director and you have just finished the first draft of a nonfiction book. Roman Isaac, do you often have people coming to you for creative advice?
S3: The sad truth is that the questions I get most often are really technical, you know, one of them, maybe the most common one, is how do you get a literary agent? And in fact, usually the question is actually, how can I get your literary agent? And, you know, those aren’t fun to answer, really, because it’s actually so easy to figure out how to get a literary agent. And in fact, to get my literary agent is not it’s very straightforward. You just find her email address and email her. But I do teach periodically and some percentage of what my students ask me about is more creative stuff, how to stay productive, how to collaborate with an editor, how to put one foot in front of the other when you’re writing a long project. And I actually really like those questions.
S4: Yeah, totally. I have a friend who is just getting back into writing after a long gap. Actually, she was a writer before I was, but then took time off from it and is getting back to it now and every now and then she asked me for advice about sort of forming the creative habit, sticking to your work, how do you get it done while being a parent? And and I become a kind of accountability person for her when it comes to her writing, which I enjoy. I like doing that sort of stuff. And I love helping people with their work and trying to help people with their creative process when I can. But like Rumah most of the time, it’s actually my students. It’s actually students asking me like, oh, I want to do more writing, how do I do that? Or, you know, things like that. I have thus far been spared the how do I get your agent questions? But hopefully as I progress in my career, I will get them more.
S4: To say that you’ve made it, it’s it’s how you know. Right. You’ve arrived when you suddenly get questions about how people can empirically absorb your career.
S1: All right, let’s get to it. Our first question is from one of our Slate colleagues, Ayman Ishmail, who left us a message without not working.
S5: I could use some advice. So I’m mostly curious about this so-called work life balance. I mean, it feels like one of those myths that are just meant to make people feel that the people who can’t always give their work lives in the lives equal attention. So I want to know if it’s possible to have a real work life balance seminar.
S1: I should add the Aimen, who I hope many listeners know from the late, great podcast Manop Support Your boy isn’t just a writer. He’s a photographer who also shoots and edits video super talented. He does a lot of creative work outside his nine to five job. So he’s really busy and he’s also married. And I know that he cares a lot about spending time with his wife.
S3: So Ramon and Isaac, what do you think this is such a like question of the contemporary age? You know, I have to say that in my opinion, the work life balance as most is mostly mythic. You know, balance shouldn’t be the objective because it’s just another word for status and neither work nor life should be static. You know, the imperative for me isn’t to achieve some ideal state that doesn’t exist, but to better understand how to shift between my priorities, whether those are work and life or work and the gym or work and your hobby or what have you.
S1: I’m going to stand up for balance here. I think it’s useful to imagine your life is that like old fashioned type of scales that Lady Justice holds. If you’re expending way more energy on one side of that balance, you are probably paying insufficient attention to work or much more likely in the current economy to your life outside of work, which includes your relationships, your hobbies, your passions. And if you constantly feel like things are out of whack, it’s a sign that maybe you need to think about changing some things. In other words, absolute equilibrium is probably an impossible dream. But paying attention to how the scales are hanging is useful. Just never leave, let alone OK.
S4: Yes, please don’t. Please don’t. Um, so I think that the weird there’s a weird way in which we think about this where it’s like what work life balance means is that every day I spend x number of hours at work and X number of hours of my creative process and Y number of hours with my partner and the number of hours walking the neighborhood or whatever, you know, and it’s actually just never going to work that way. Right. Like life is too chaotic and too complicated to actually have some kind of day to day set up. That equates to balance. I find that it’s much more helpful to figure out really what what you want your life to be about and what you want it to be centered on and then prioritize from there. Like there are people who their priority is, their work. That’s what they want to do, like their priority is their creative work. Their relationships are completely secondary to or even in service of it. And that’s not the life that I want. But it is valid to want that kind of life. I am certainly someone who is more likely than not to not pursue some residency or whatever, because I don’t want to be away from my wife and child. There are other people who feel differently about it and I just think all of that’s totally fine that the thing is, is to be self-conscious about it and to really actually be making those choices with some idea in mind of what kind of life you want and where you’re headed. And probably since you’re like, I happen to know that a man is married, it’s probably a conversation to do with your partner, not by yourself, certainly with with Ann and I. We’ve done that many times over the years for both of our careers, and it’s been very, very helpful. But there’s also been times where we like even though we share an apartment and it’s during a pandemic, we barely see each other because we’re both working so hard. And then there’s times where we take time off together and replenish. It’s just it’s never going to be a steady day to day thing. Life feels balanced. It’s going to be over time. You feel like you’ve made the right decisions to head towards the kind of life you want.
S3: I just want to point out that when Isaac was listing his theoretical obligations. When he said walking the neighborhood, I think we all know what he really meant was walking the dog.
S6: I did get a new dog. It was top of mind. It’s the only exercise I get right now. To have your priorities in order. I walk my dog and listen to audiobooks. That’s that’s the closest I get to exercise. On that note, let’s move on to our next listener question.
S4: This one is from listener Jennifer. She writes, I’d love to hear the three of you talk about how you handle receiving negative feedback from editors or collaborators. I work in video production, and sometimes my colleagues don’t agree with my creative choices. Sometimes their criticism is valid, but other times I really think my choices were good. Negative feedback causes me to doubt my artistic judgment. How do I know when to fight for my choices and when to trust my colleagues from what you got?
S3: Well, I mean, I guess I would say that negative feedback isn’t or shouldn’t be a referendum on your entire sensibility. Right. It’s about a single specific choice for a single specific project. And I really think that’s important to remember, especially when you’re working with collaborators, as this listener describes. Right. She’s talking about feedback from colleagues on like a team project. You know, when there are other people involved, that’s an asset sort of you know, everyone’s hands are kind of pushing the thing across the Ouija board. That’s the metaphor I usually use for my students. It’s definitely not easy to remain firm in your commitment to your own vision when you’re constantly being told, OK, that’s not right. That’s not right. But this is why I personally find those personal projects that don’t involve other people. They don’t involve other voices or other feedback can be really satisfying.
S1: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, Ramun, that there’s a big difference when you’re collaborating with someone on a creative project where there isn’t like a boss figure who has more power when it comes to making choices in a collaboration like you do have to come to consensus, listen to each other, all of that stuff. And so you really shouldn’t be feeling that. You’re always seeing your artistic vision compromised. If you leave every interaction that you have with your collaborator feeling bummed out, then maybe that’s just not the right person to work with just in terms of fit. And if it’s a work for hire situation, you can make the case for your choice and you should if you believe in it strongly. But you also just need to accept that the person who made the commission gets the final say. But I also think that you just need to be open to feedback and not even think about whether it’s positive or negative. It’s just feedback. And then the last thing I want to say is that I’m always surprised that some people only hear feedback if it’s negative. There are people I’ve worked with who later said, you never give me any feedback. And I totally did. I know I did. I have very clear memories of giving feedback. It’s just that most of it was positive. And somehow it’s not that they didn’t hear it because in the moment they did, but it just doesn’t stick with people. What sticks with you is what you perceive as negative feedback. So just kind of be aware of that. That’s like something that we all do. And it’s very hard to even when you know about it, it’s hard not to do it. But just be aware of that.
S4: June. It’s only valid if it causes me pain.
S6: Yeah, exactly. You know that that’s when you don’t cry. No, it doesn’t cost that real unless you cry these you know, my esteemed colleagues have handled this very well.
S4: The only thing that I would add as someone who’s collaboratively created a lot of things is that the thing that you are creating actually exists outside of any of you as individuals. And it’s not really about any of you or your artistic sensibilities, even though you might have different artistic sensibilities. And that’s part of what’s fueling the conflict. So negative feedback, actually, all feedback really works best when both the giver and the receiver have agreed on what the project is trying to do. If there’s disagreement on that, that actually has to be resolved first. And it could be if you’re receiving feedback that you find befuddling or just sort of like this just seems totally off base. It is, actually, because the two of you never sat down and talked about what you wanted the project to be doing in the first place. And you actually need to get that in order first. You know, one of my professors in graduate school, the most useful thing he had us do in workshop, actually far more useful in giving each other notes was having each of us describe the piece we had read back to the person who had written it. And you actually learn a lot more just from doing that, even because it lets you know what you are communicating clearly and what you aren’t and whether or not you’re really on the same page about what the work is doing.
S3: Yeah, and that seems really salient, whether you’re talking about staging a play or making a TV commercial. Right. Or, you know, recording a podcast or whatever the task at hand is, is like defining your term. So that is like really philosophical theatrical advice that is really applicable to new. No matter what it is you’re doing for your job. Isaac Butler, life coach, I like. We have another question. This is from Marie. She writes, It seems like everyone says the first step to selling a book is to find an agent. Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe this is the question. How do you find an agent?
S6: I feel like Cameron put this in here just to torment. He’s renting like a little Grinchy smile as he fashions a reindeer horn for his basset hound.
S3: I mean, I do indeed hear this question a lot, and it’s so straightforward. And actually, this gives me the opportunity to make a bigger point. Right. Like before you seek advice on something that is pretty well established, really, you should Google it like the Internet has a lot of information about this. But honestly, if you want to find a literary agent, I would say you should find the person who represents the work that is most analogous to what it is you want to be doing. So find your favorite writers. Or, you know, if you’re writing a three volume biography of Jimmy Carter, figure out who Bob Caro’s agent is and take it to them. Write good agents, even the very best ones, as I’m sure Bob Carroll’s agent is. You know, you might think their way out of your league, but the truth is that agents who are serious are always looking for clients. They’re always looking for projects. So, you know, I just think you shouldn’t exhaust the goodwill of your friends and your mentors by asking questions that the Internet actually could answer for you.
S1: Oh, Reman, I want to just put the fire in, but I don’t know how to do that with words. You made that question seem easy. Too easy, almost. So let me complicate it a little bit. When should a writer go looking for an agent? When they already have the draft of a book, when they have an idea, when they commit to the writer’s life? I say, what do you think?
S4: I will say that the main reason why you would begin working with an agent is that you have a book that you would like to sell to a publishing house for money. That is the reason to do it. The reason not to do it is to validate that you have made the right choice in pursuing a career as a writer. That’s not what agents are for. Right. And actually, no one can give you that validation other than you not even selling your book is going to give that validation.
S3: Yes, I’m here. I’m here to confirm that.
S6: What can I tell? One story on myself.
S4: You know, when when we got when Dan Quayle and I got the deal to do, the world only spins forward. I was like, I’m now a quote unquote real writer. I have a book coming out. And then like not ten minutes later, I was like, actually, I’ll be a real writer when I sell my second book. I just and at that point I knew that it had nothing to do with books at all. Right. It’s just about, you know, some internal mechanism that has to flip over anyway. So all I would say is that I think it’s when you’ve probably finished a book or if you’re a nonfiction writer, finished a full book proposal that you think is ready to go on to the next stage. And that next stage with an agent is usually going to be if they agree to represent it, really intense feedback, at least one, if not multiple rounds of that before it goes to market. That’s the time to do it. The only exception to that is maybe you have an idea for something that you haven’t pursued yet, but you’ve published something somewhere and agents come sniffing around you. Yeah, you probably want to strike while that particular iron is hot. But for the most part, it’s because you have something that you think you’ve gotten in pretty good shape and are ready to start thinking about selling it.
S3: Yeah, I think it’s I think it’s extraordinarily rare, as you say. I think for the agent to pursue you, unless you are Kellyanne Conway and sitting on something of real sort of monetary value to an agent and to a publisher, they’re not going to come. No one, literally no one is ever going to ask you to write a book. It’s never, ever going to happen.
S4: Right. I just meant that, you know, like, it’s happened to me once and I know lots of other people. It’s happened to like you write a piece, then you might get an email from an agent that’s like, hey, if you were ever thinking about writing a book, you know, drop me a line. That’s an email to drop, you know, follow up on that is all. I mean. But yes, no, no one is going to come to you in a real serious way with a suitcase full of doubloons. Yeah. Unless you already have a name or an experience that is saleable, no matter how good the book is.
S3: I think that writers, especially like aspiring writers, can tend to overestimate the significance of an agent. They’re just a person just like you. It’s a bit like hiring an accountant or a travel agent. You know, they’re there to do their very specific job. So you should go to one when you have the job ready to do.
S2: OK, we’re going to take a quick break, but we’ll be right back with more listener questions after this.
S1: Hey, working listeners, we want to remind you that you can write to us or call us any time with questions or concerns or quandaries about creative work, give us a ring at three or four, nine three three work or drop us a line at working at Slate dot com. And if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcasts. All right, let’s move on to our next question. This question is from Adam. He writes, Hi, working hosts. I’m an aspiring singer songwriter and I’ve been trying to write more original songs on guitar. The problem is, I feel like my songs end up sending a lot like whatever music I’ve been listening to lately. How do I make sure I’m crafting my own unique musical style and not just ripping off my heroes reman of the very real anxiety of influence?
S3: I mean, I think you can’t avoid immersing yourself in whatever you respond to in a given moment. It can help you. It can help your productivity. It can help you feel inspired. I think giving work the distance of time can really help you understand how to evaluate it. So if you’re in a period of listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and stressed out that you’re letting Joni Mitchell take over your own vision, I say put those songs aside for a while, the songs that you’ve produced and revisit them when you’ve moved out of your Joni Mitchell phase and are listening to a lot of Laura Nyro or whoever it is.
S4: And that’s great. That’s great. Yeah, influence is good, actually. That’s my that’s that’s how I feel about it. My I have two pieces of advice. The first is actually if you Google the phrase the ecstasy of influence, you will find a really incredible it was personally life changing to me essay about how to make good use of influence by the novelist and essayist Jonathan Lethem, who’s actually going to be a future guest on working and just read that essay. It’ll make you feel a lot better about this whole problem. But I think influence is good. It’s how all art is made. You can’t avoid it. And so the first step is to relax and not beat yourself up about it. I think Remon is making some some very, very good points. But I also think that there’s a way to feel less anxious about influence by using those influences even more directly. Lean into it. If there’s a song that you feel like you keep sort of copying, accidentally reverse its chord progression and write a new song to that chord progression, for example, or take one image from it and write a new song around that image, you can always revise it later and get rid of all that stuff if you want, but actually, you know, weaponize your influence, make it into a jumping off point of inspiration deliberately. And I think that will actually help more than than feeling guilty about, oh, I’m possibly sounding too much like James Taylor or, you know, whatever.
S1: I think I’m somewhere in between you two. I think that there there are definitely people who you kind of have to watch out for. Like I know in my own life, when I was writing about television, I had to stop myself from reading Troy Patterson’s criticism, because whenever I would like ingest a big slab of partisanism prose, I would end up writing like a sort of cut rate. Troy Patterson and it’s not true. That wasn’t true of every writer who I whose work I like or who was writing in a similar vein. But there was something about the way that he writes that would just turn me into a fake version of his beautiful style. I think possibly it’s because he writes kind of like a stylish Brit. So maybe that was just something like atavistic. So just be aware of that. Like, if there is somebody who you just find yourself copying and you can just feel it and you just know you’re not as good as the original, just kind of take a break, just be aware of it. And then I would also say I guess maybe a kind of a more dime store version of what I was saying. Sometimes you can use the power of influence to your advantage. Like I once edited a writer who was a really laidback guy, but when he wrote, he would kind of get a little bit self and get a bit buttoned up. And so when it was time to write, he would pull out some PG Wodehouse. He would just read a couple of pages and it would kind of give a lightness to his work. So, you know, as Isaac said, weapon Isaac, just be aware of that your tendencies and manipulate them like mad.
S4: All right, our next question is from a listener who called us and left a voicemail listeners, we love voicemails, so let’s go ahead and take a listen to it.
S7: Hello, working podcast. My first instinct was just to ask how, why and what which is in all caps, if you can’t tell and I guess maybe to be a little bit more specific. One of the questions that I’ve been dealing with lately is when your creative project is something that’s personal and not necessarily tied to any, like, capitalistic purpose, like making money off of it or it being part of a job that gives me a salary. I don’t know how to keep myself motivated to work on it, but in a kind way, the subject matter that I am dealing with is pretty heavy and I usually tend to dive into work and really immerse myself in it. But this time around, for various reasons, I’m trying to keep my mental health in check. But I’m not sure how to balance that with actually doing the work as well. Thank you all.
S4: I have one really practical piece of advice here, and then I’d be very interested in your thoughts, gentlemen, which is to actually schedule any like blocking off time in your calendar away time to work on it and then just do it. You know, I mean, it doesn’t have to be every day. You know, it could be like I have a friend who has kids and was trying to find time to work on a book. And I was like, well, when can you actually do it? She’s like, OK, I have two hours every Saturday morning. I was like, great, just do that. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just do that. So I think if you can look at what you have time wise and then just set aside it and set it as a reasonable goal, not all of your free time working on it, but what you can reasonably give to the project, block off your calendar during that time, tell the people who might otherwise invade that time that they’re not allowed to like, sit down at your desk and just try to just make a little bit of progress each time. And before you know it, you’ll have made a great deal of progress over the course of that amount of time.
S1: That’s so smart. It really feels. I’m obviously I don’t know the details of of this project, but it’s clear that that it is heavy. You know, I have no idea if it’s, you know, but there’s clearly emotions clearly, just maybe even trauma. So I understand like like she said, you know, wanting to be kind to yourself. But it also seems clear that. You are able to just let go of it. It isn’t something that you want to let go of and just oh well, never mind. It is something you want to wrestle with. It’s something you want to process in this way. So kind of the fact that you’re aware that that it is a heavy thing that you can’t do too much, I think Isaac’s plan of scheduling it and just kind of checking in with yourself, OK, how did that affect you? Did it mess up your we did it mess up your the next day? You know, hopefully it won’t. And I just suspect that the fact that you are still pushing to deal with this admittedly heavy, perhaps emotional topic suggests that it’s something that you really have to kind of push through no matter if you’re making any money from it. So, yeah, scheduling Isaac’s a genius.
S3: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s Isaac is talking about sort of literally compartmentalizing something which is not always great when you’re talking about how you reckon with your emotions, but could be a useful strategy for managing them. The other thing I would say is that a big creative projects, even a happy one, even like a light happy one, like writing a children’s story book. You do skate a pretty fine line of stress and tension and anxiety around something that you’ve sort of brought upon yourself that you willed yourself into. Right. So you’re always kind of walking this line between, you know, what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy. As you say, June, there are some specifics to this particular endeavor that we don’t know about. But I do think that big creative work entails this kind of risk to the psyche. And it’s a tough one. It’s especially tough when when we function in a system, as this caller acknowledges, in which we measure something’s important in capital. But sometimes a project is worth engaging in, even if it doesn’t pay you or isn’t necessarily about getting money. Sometimes it’s about facing something bigger or just tackling something that is important to you as a human being. We have yet another question from yet another writer. I guess there are a lot of writers, audience. This correspondent says Ramon, Isaac and June. I’m a creative writing student currently working on my undergraduate degree over the past two years, have completely fallen in love with fiction writing. And I’d love to publish a novel someday. But sometimes I feel like my straight white male perspective might limit what I can do as a writer, as a reader. I’ve been enjoying a lot of books by women and people of color, and I think those voices are the ones a lot of people want to hear right now. How do I continue pursuing the form I love as the straight white male perspective becomes more and more stale? I’m going to hand this one to our straight white male eyes. Can you set this gentleman straight? Straighter, I suppose?
S4: Straighter. Yes. Yeah. So I have a couple of things that I would say here. One of them is, yes, you’re straight, white, male, but you are also you. And what we you know, we want diversity of all kinds. But but that does not mean that the individual author is only defined by what demographic group they belong in. There’s a way that we can talk about culture that kind of reduces people to that. And I want to avoid that trap. It your perspective matters as an individual. You are not just a straight white man. You are all of your experiences. And those experiences, however, also include the works that you are encountering a reading. It is great that you are loving. Reading works by authors who aren’t straight white men. You know, keep that up, get outside of your perspective, critique your perspective. Think about how that perspective is working in your fiction. It can only improve you as an artist to read as diversely as possible, not just in terms of demographic, but in terms of style and era literary movement and idea, and to then see how those question and complicate your own way of writing. That’s that’s my thought for you. Straight white man.
S6: I mean, one straight white man. That’s that’s that’s my thought.
S3: You know, I think you’re right. I like that a lot of the conversation around this is quite reductive. Right. A contemporary a current demand for art by black and brown and what have you perspectives certainly is a good thing, which is a great one. Good thing. But it certainly doesn’t mean that there’s no need for art from other perspectives and reading Morrison and Baldwin doesn’t mean that we have to throw Bello and Didion into the garbage. That’s just not how things work.
S6: You don’t want to throw Bello into the garbage. I love Saul Bellow. He’s my favorite writer.
S3: So I just think, like, you know, you shouldn’t ever think of artistic accomplishment as some finite resource. It’s like parental love. You never run out of it. Oh.
S4: We’re going to take another break and then we’ll be back with more of your questions here on working.
S1: OK, it’s time for our next question. This one is from habia they write high working hosts. I’m curious, have you ever regretted taking on a creative project? If so, what did you do, push through to the end or pull out when you realized it wasn’t right for you, Remon?
S3: Well, this is the very reason that I’m writing a new novel rather than selling a book on an idea or a handful of pages. Creative work is a commitment and I often begin things that don’t work or that I no longer feel engaged with. So I try to avoid that particular regret. Right. But regret is dogged. So I think if you’re locked into something that you simply don’t care about anymore or aren’t right for, it’s worth wiggling out of, especially if it’s like a job for hire or something where you can leave without it destroying your professional life. You know, it may not feel great to abandon ship, but maybe it’ll be a relief and maybe that relief will be a kind of creative revelation. I’m not sure.
S4: Hmm. Yeah. You know, I’ve asked a few of our guests about abandoning projects, and their answers are always really fascinating that, you know, sometimes you just run out of it’s a more common thing to run out of steam on a creative project than you might think is I guess, what I would say. And many of them have said that, you know, you might run out of steam on a creative project. And then it turns out there’s something there that you revisit two years later or whatever, and something comes out of it. So, you know, abandoning a project is not the end of the story necessarily. And I will also say as a director, I have had to quit projects before. It has definitely happened. It’s always been difficult. I’ve always felt really pained and conflicted about it. But in retrospect, every time I’ve done it, it has been the right choice. It is not a choice to make lightly. And I’ve been very lucky that in the couple of projects I’ve had to quit, it was prior to contracts being signed or any money exchanging hands, which makes all this more complicated. But sometimes you just have to walk away from a situation that’s not working. What’s scary about all of this is that no one can tell you when you’ve reached that point, you just have to go by, feel sometimes and hope for the best. But I will say that that every time I’ve done it, it absolutely was the right thing to do to listen to that voice that was like, this is going to be a disaster. Time to jump ship, you know? So so, yeah, don’t be afraid to do it. As hard as it is.
S1: I have not experienced this particular kind of regret, but I think I may have gone too far in the other direction because very long time ago I worked in publishing and it was independent publishing where there wasn’t a lot of money involved. And I was scarred by seeing one or two people who were so excited to get book deals eventually kind of perceive the projects as these slugs that they just wanted to be over and done with more than anything else in the world. And I think that memory might have turned me away, scared me away from some projects that might have worked out well for me. But I guess I think that having a realistic or maybe even a pessimistic or worst case sense of what’s involved in the commitments that you make, like what it means you won’t be able to do, whether that’s a promotion in your day job or a really nice vacation or spending X amount of time with your partner or your kids even like just think that through and that. Yeah, that does reduce the likelihood of your doing it, but it also reduces the likelihood of a finding yourself just full of regret, a miserable or miserable about that thing anyway.
S4: Our next question is from a listener named Katia. She writes, Hi working. I noticed a few of your guests have talked about daily creative rituals. Do any of you have daily creative rituals, June? Do you?
S1: I don’t have rituals, persay, but earlier this year, I promised myself that I would do something creative every day. And I’ve interpreted that in a very specific way, doing something vaguely artistic, which is less fraught for me than writing, which feels more like my work or my job or something. And I have done that. They’ve only been a few days where I had to kind of cheat a little bit by counting something that I did as part of my day job. Most most days it’s kind of something and nothing. I’m just like sitting on the couch at the end of the day and I’ll, you know, work on making journals or just sort of decorating paper or sketching. And even though it’s kind of pointless in a way, like there’s no larger purpose to it, it has really helped me to relax. I tend to get a little bit stuck in thinking of my precious, precious time. Am I wasting it? And when you have this weird little book to point to and say, no, I did this tonight even while I was watching some brainless TV show, like, it’s sort of like saying it reduces some of that stress. I think about you icic I.
S4: I wish I had more developed rituals, having talked to, you know, some of our guests about it, because it does seem to help them. I found that when I was in graduate school, I tried to kind of develop daily writing rituals. And what I found happened was I became too precious about them and too attached to them. So if I was in a day when I couldn’t do whatever that thing was, it then screwed up my ability to write during that day. So instead I just kind of abandoned it. And the upside of that is that it’s it’s easier for me to just get to writing or to use whatever part of the day I have available to write, to write. So, for example, at the end of taping this episode, I have to go right back to editing my manuscript and I’ll just set the computer down and take it out and get going. Right. But the downside is, is that I feel like on days when the muse has not arrived, it’s just much easier to just procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate, because there is no thing I’m doing that announces I am now writing and setting aside, you know, Twitter or whatever. What about your mom?
S3: I mean, I think you’re right. I think sometimes people can make a fetish out of these rituals and it’s like you have to let your Pelo cento and you have to get a certain blakley pencil. And, you know, the light has to be a certain way. And I’m not really big on all of that stuff. The nearest I come to a daily ritual in my life, professional or personal, is reading and reading is deeply connected with the act of writing. So I read every day and I can’t think of the last time that I didn’t read something, usually novels. And this might just be me justifying something after the fact. But I feel like it’s a very easy left. It’s a very easy ritual to commit to personally.
S4: Do you like to read before you write or do you write as early as possible or.
S3: You know, it’s sort of I just don’t think you can I can’t personally exert that kind of control over the day. And that’s why I don’t really bother with too many of these rituals, because you just life is unpredictable. And I think if you focus on accomplishing the ritual, then I think sometimes it comes at the expense of accomplishing the task itself, you know?
S1: So your writing can happen whenever you have a space in your.
S3: Absolutely. I, i the book that I just published, I worked on on the subway. I used to take my kids to school back when that seems very distant. And then I would go to the gym and I would sit in the waiting room of my gym in my dirty clothes with a pile of papers on my lap. Like you, I don’t like to get too fussy about where and when I’m in a work. I like to just work, you know? Huh. So we have a final question, dun, dun dun. This is from Tara. She writes, Hey, working hosts. A lot of your guests have talked about how hard it is to explain to people what they do for a living. Why do you think creative people feel so uncomfortable when others ask what they do? And how did the three of you respond when people ask what you do? June, what’s your answer to this question so?
S1: Well, first of all, I think a lot of the awkwardness around answering this is because people don’t want to put on airs, you know, and there’s certain jobs that like it’s almost like you’re lording it over. Yeah, I actually have this supercooled, but I will often say that I’m a middle manager, which is true. It is true. But it’s just a small part of what I do all day. But whatever I say, I notice that I pretty much always describe myself in terms of the work that I get a salary for rather than what I do for fun or creative release. I mean, some would say that that’s what you should do, that anything else. You’re kind of lying. You know, if you’re a tax collector and you’re saying that you’re a musician because you, you know, play the guitar on the weekends, maybe that’s a lie. I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s a lie or if it’s kind of going with what you feel, you know, really that you get joy from. But I know that I always personally stay with with my day job.
S4: Well, but we wouldn’t want T.S. Eliot to answer. I’m a postal clerk or whatever. Wasn’t he a postal clerk?
S3: He was. I think he was a bank clerk. Banks. Yeah.
S4: We wouldn’t you know, if you met TSL, you you want him to say, like, I’m a poet, not I’m.
S3: Well, I hardly think T.S. Eliot would be the down to earth type that you’re more like, OK, so I, I my my own personal struggle is.
S4: Yes. Not wanting to appear hoity toity, but also because I feel like I do a lot of things and it’s just been really hard for me to figure out a way to explain it to people, because I what usually happens, I say I’m a writer. Oh, what kind of writing? Fiction. Nonfiction. And I say, oh, nonfiction. But that can mean anything from instruction manuals to lyric essays. And so then they say, what kind of nonfiction do you like? Guys arts stuff, you know. And so but over the last few months at my kids’ school, the drop off happens outside. So all the parents are outside with all the kindergarten. Parents are outside with their kids at once waiting for them to line up and go in. And so I have had to field this question a lot. And so I finally have an answer for it. And that is they say, what do you do? I say, I’m a writer. I’m a non fiction writer. What do you do? And I say, well, I do a lot of things. But the main thing is I write cultural history and criticism and then there that’s easy. And then if they want to ask more about that, they can. And if not, they don’t. And we can just go about our day. I’m far more interested in, you know, what the lawyer for the Southern District of New York and my kids class parent, you know what he’s up to, but of course, he’s legally bound to not tell me. So, you know, like like it’s fine. It’s we can just we could just move on.
S3: Right. I mean, as you’re saying, like, I think one of the bright spots of this pandemic is largely this kind of small talk has gone extinct, you know, because we’re not seeing anybody. I usually do say I’m a writer, which is true, but I rarely go any further than that. I really talk about what I write. In some ways it’s embarrassing or it’s just like I just don’t feel like getting into it. But I have found that it’s really easy to avoid the subject of what you do by turning the questions back on the person asking, you know, people really just want to talk about themselves. You can just exploit that.
S4: And they’re really unused to being asked follow up questions about their jobs. You find, you know, but because I have I’m a bit of a journalist, you know, I’m always like, oh, yeah, no, tell me more about it. It’s always very interesting. You don’t say Ruman. You don’t say during small talk. You’re like, oh, I’m a writer and my novel is being turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts.
S3: No, no, never, never. I usually just say I’m a writer. What do you do? Tell me more about practicing law or being a pediatrician or being an architect or being an engineer, because actually that stuff is much more interesting to me than what I do because of what I do is so nebulous and so weird. And I do it all the time. So I already am thinking about it all the time. I love talking to people who have more traditional jobs. I especially love talking to people who work in finance. I find that really it’s like talking to a rabbi or something. It gets really mystical really quickly.
S6: We’re listening to the numbers. Yes. Exact numbers. Exactly.
S2: All right, everyone, we hope you’ve enjoyed the show, and if you have remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you’ll never miss an episode. And yes, I’m going to give you a slate plus pitch slate. Plus, members get benefits like zero odds on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. But more important, you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working Sony. Thirty five dollars for the first year and you can get free two week trial right now at Slate Dotcom working plus.
S4: Thank you so much to all of our listeners who sent us question that’s been so much fun to talk about them. And thank you to our amazing producer, cameraman Drewes.
S3: We’ll be back next week with an episode about our own personal, creative New Year’s resolutions.
S2: Until then, get back to work.