Meet the Writer is a feature for which I interview authors who identify as women. We talk less about a single book or work and more about where they’ve been and how their lives affect their writing. Today, please welcome Lindsay Lerman. You can learn more about her on Twitter and Instagram.
Grab the Lapels: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?
Lindsay Lerman: For a long time I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be Mariah Carey. (I remember watching the video for Vision of Love and just swooning and swooning.) This has an indirect influence on my writing. I tend to weave song lyrics into prose, most of which I end up cutting, but I do it because it takes a lot of effort for me to distinguish between various forms of writing (prose, poetry, theory, song lyrics, etc.), and I often can’t make those distinctions when I’m really focused on writing. The lyrics are just embedded in me, and they come out alongside “my” words. Singing is also a crucial way that I track my mental health. The times in my life when I haven’t caught myself singing while doing the dishes or walking down the street are the times when I’ve been in serious danger, mental health-wise. If I’m not moved to sing, many “somethings” are off. Now that I think of it, I often take singing breaks while I’m writing. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that!
GTL: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? Why did you start writing?
LL: I started keeping journals and notebooks as soon as I could write. I don’t think I ever had interest in writing; it was just how I analyzed, synthesized, made sense. I’ve always thought of myself as a reader more than a writer. I think the writing was just a natural extension of a lifelong obsession with stories. I needed the escape of stories during childhood and adolescence, and although I’d like to be able to say with confidence that I lost myself in stories (and eventually writing) as a response to trauma (and there was certainly trauma), but I think this is too easy an explanation. Trauma or not, I was looking for escape, for elsewhere. I don’t love craft or wordplay or character or arc any of the building blocks of writing stories. I write because I don’t know what else to do.
GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?
LL: I am less and less interested in understanding my potential and my power as responses — or in relation — to the horrors I’ve been able to work through. From here on out, I want to understand creation in less reactive and more active terms. I am learning how to take liberties and be something like free as a writer — how to be lightly or gently attentive to the concerns of the market without being overly concerned about the concerns of the market. I accept the fact that I’ve got to call my own audience into being, for the most part. I see that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I have to protect everything in me that makes endurance possible. That presents a different challenge each day. Right now, at this moment, “creative development” means taking a long, hard look at my self-destructive tendencies — what they are, why they are, etc. and seeing what needs to be culled and what needs to be cultivated.
GTL: What happens when you’re not happy with your writing?
LL: I have a few close friends I can count on to tell me when I’ve written something that is not what I want it to be, and they’re often my lifelines. But in general, I know when it’s not working. I might not be able to articulate it, but I can really feel it. All the oblique details that are difficult to pin down and make sense of just aren’t working in concert. It’s painful, but I’ve come to understand that when this is the case, the only solution is to become the person capable of making the book what I want it to be — there are no shortcuts for me. Sometimes this takes a lot of time, years even.
But I know that sometimes it’s important to be unhappy with writing. Right now I’m working on something bigger and more complex than anything I’ve written before, and I’m often unhappy with it because it’s requiring so much of me that I’m not quite capable of doing yet. Yet! I have to let myself be uncomfortable with the fact that it isn’t where I want it to be — I have to kind of sit with it. If I rushed to be happy with it too quickly, doing what I already know how to do, relying on old habits and skills, I wouldn’t be challenging myself. I wouldn’t be creating something worth reading.
GTL: Did you learn anything from writing your novella, I’m From Nowhere?
LL: I learned that I set the terms of my own success. It’s really tempting to adopt other terms, but they don’t work, don’t fit. I learned that when I’m in that limbo (the difficult liminal space) of having written something but not knowing where or how or when to publish it, people are often worried or embarrassed for you, even if you’re okay with being in limbo. People really want to know how to identify and classify you, is what I learned. I learned that not being open about writing daily – that is, writing in secret — had taken a toll on me. I had a massive secret life that was becoming bigger and more significant every day, and pretending that it was just some small thing I did on the side was eating away at me. I learned that I can take a lot of rejection (rejection after rejection after rejection) and still understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I learned that I’m stronger, braver, and more tenacious than I had previously let myself think.
GTL: Why do you think your book would be a good choice for a book club pick?
LL: I worked hard to make it an accessible book, with many points of entry. If you want to think about gender politics through fiction, my book has that. If you want or need to think about ecological catastrophe, my book has that. If you want to think about meta- and technical concerns (like non-standard narration techniques), my book has a bit of that for you too. It’s short and it can be read quickly, but the hope is that it warrants re-reading. I’ve had some people tell me that it’s a book that took them a long time to process, even if they read it quickly, and if that doesn’t make for a good book club pick, I don’t know what does.
Interested in sharing your journey as a writer? Reach out via email: firstname.lastname@example.org and get your story out there.
This is a writer who has a thought, who thinks, a lot about who she is and why she writes. I like that, I like the sort of writing that it often produces, and I love that you bring this out in your interviewees, who so often seem able/feel free, to discuss what drives them to write.
Thanks, Bill! I try to ask questions that get to the heart of storytelling and storytellers without asking that age-old question that makes me cringe at readings: Where do your stories come from/What’s your inspiration?
What an interesting post and good questions, too, as Bill said! I love that Lindsay writes from feelings and not from technical details, not something I can do and something I find it fascinating to read about.
When I try to write from feelings, I feel horribly self-conscious. Her post inspired me to let go a bit. I think I spent enough time in creative writing programs that I’m constantly thinking about a reader on the other end so that I can publish a book as opposed to what I want to create. Have fun, start there — this is what I need to tell myself. Writing a book is enough for me. Publishing is not a necessity.
Lovely, thoughtful interview!
Thank you! I feel like Lerman gave me the confidence to write without thinking in a success-driven fashion, because my definition of “success” is related to publishing.
That’s so wonderful!
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