Sam van Zweden



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Guest Post on The Emerging Writer Online Journal

Today I’ve got a piece up over on the Emerging Writer Online Journal. It reflects on the process of coming to see myself as a nonfiction writer, and how the recent NonFictioNow Conference made me think even more.

The Emerging Writer Online Journal is a fantastic opportunity for emerging writers. Karen, who edits the journal, is keen to hear pitches for just about anything concerning writing, the writer’s life, process… Etc. It’s a great way of getting your name out there, of having a paid writing gig, and of building up your publication folio. I can’t recommend this organization highly enough, so go make the most of their generosity!

On Killings

Today the lovely folk at Killings (the Kill Your Darlings blog) have been kind enough to publish an article of mine. It looks at the discomfort I felt when confronted by honest, humble musicians in a ridiculously large arena, and with a stupid amount of fame.

You can read that article here. Big thanks to Ronnie Sullivan for her eyes pre-publication, and to Imogen Kandel’s patience and commitment to providing quality editorial.

I Can Still Be Inspired By Your Life – Anonymous Guest Post

I met a girl at a party recently, and after some prolonged flirting, she tried to tell me that I would write about her. I told her, with the absolute certainty of the inebriated, that I would never ever do such a thing. And yet here we are.

But! This isn’t just to prove what a capricious cunt I am. I’m writing today on the nature of inspiration. While I may have been sure at the time that there was nothing inspiring in her short skirt and vapid eyebrows, clearly there was, if only in my blind resistance towards her wheedling her way into my writing (a lot more surface [and permanent] than my heart). What is it then? What turns someone from a real and complex human being into a kind of implement with which I hope to channel something eternal (or sexy) ?

Let’s look at another case study. I once fell in love. And so I wrote about her. Looking at my journals from the time it seems that I did nothing else. Why? What was I doing? It certainly wasn’t helping me sleep with her (as besides a few tentative [and terrible] poems, I never showed her anything) so what was I hoping to achieve? Thinking about it more now, it seems that I wasn’t necessarily doing it to achieve anything, or at least nothing tangible. My musings seemed to be anything from the diarunal (*from a diary) to the deviant, from fantasies to fan-fic. She just filled everything from me. I was prolific. In a very limited sense. But prolific nonetheless.

Not that very much of it was good. In fact if you are looking at amassing a large body of work I would much more highly suggest travel, or a job in a new environment. Anything other than girls actually, because that leads to my second point. What I wrote was inevitably and unbearably same-ish. And how could it not be? Being that the subject matter was already impossible to improve upon. So rather than exploring things, I just wrote about her. How she looked with wet hair, how her body was a time of day, what happened to me when she did that thing with her tongue. I’m sorry for the needless foppery, but I feel without scaring you enough you won’t appreciate the true horror of a writer with an obsession. Look at Philip Larkin’s erotic schoolgirl fiction or the letters from James Joyce to his wife. On second thoughts, don’t.

Because, frankly, they’re a mess. And I was no different. You should have seen me, or have had to re-read them when researching this piece. It is like watching a train wreck hit a car that spun off wildly, starting an explosion in a mediocre fireworks factory that just shot words four feet into the air like You’re so Pretty! And I’m sorry! and I love you! and fuck you too!

I even wrote about her new boyfriend’s job.

But none of this answers the question as to why I am inspired, or what purpose it serves. Yes I was a sad sack of shit, but I was in love. Can I justify it like that? If not, what about the idea that perhaps there is something in the process of writing that tries to come to a mutual understanding. An exchange between writer and subject where the writer comes to learn more in the act of re-creating than they can in the act of fornicating. Is this specific only to writers? I sure hope so.

The old idea of catharsis comes into play too, and is probably the excuse (albeit not a good one) for a lot of my ‘darker’ (*cringe*) poems. Use what you know (poetry, big words) to come to terms with what you don’t know (how she could possibly do this to me?!?). It works too, sometimes. Just like throwing up, you feel better once it is out of you. Don’t let it become a habit though. I went through a time as an emaciated, hungry wretch in the month post-breakup. My tongue was bile. My heart was a shoe.

So catharsis, understanding. They seem like noble intentions. But why some people more inspiring than others? For me it was intrigue. The more they seemed distant and unattainable, the more I sought to pin them down like butterflies to a page. Meredith* at the party, bluntly telling me I was going to write about her was like a guy walking up to a complete stranger at a bar and saying ‘You’re going to come home and fuck me, yeah!’ No subtlety, very little hidden depth. But that’s something we like as writers – the ambiguity, the depth. It helps to take away from the fact that we can be just as shallow as everyone else.

The things I gained from using these muses were small, sometimes incoherent and often only really relevant to the people they involved. I couldn’t help when I did it, but besides a spate of rash and revealing in-jokes, it rarely caused too much damage. There were things I found out about myself that I could only learn through suffering. It came naturally, I felt an emotion and so I wrote. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I now know not to worry about it either. And so, Meredith* you were right. But you’re still a shit kiss.



*definitely not her real name.

in this light, at this moment – Rafael S.W

Today’s is a guest-post from a good friend, Rafael S.W. When I talk about those people that support me with my writing, Raf’s one of those I’m referring to.
He’s weighed in on what I wrote about last week – about the conditions under which we need or prefer to write. 

picture by Zouavman Le Zouave

I have started to be very aware of light levels in my writing. As I type this, I am in my grandmother’s kitchen because that is the only place I can be in her apartment that means I can have some lights on but none that are in my face. I spent a fair few minutes flicking different lights on and off before deciding on how I wanted it. This might sound weird, but I have become somewhat of a light connoisseur. I used to have one of those touch-lamps that could change the level depending on how I felt and what I wanted to write (the brightest setting for seriousness, essays / a completely dark room except for the lowest setting when I wanted to write poetry). Then I broke it. And now at home I write while my new lamp (which doesn’t dim) is covered in paper, with one of the two bulbs taken out, and it sits behind my door.

Where did this come from? Was it in the single moment where a girl first took me to her room and it was lit by nothing by Christmas lights? Was it when I walked home from 4 am parties and spoke poetry into my phone while the streetlights dimmed the road ahead of me? Was it when I first noticed how beautiful skin looked in the blue wash of a laptop screen? I don’t know, but ever since I’ve been writing with a light level that reflects my mood, my writing has felt smoother, less forced.

I have heard that the converse is true too. I have a friend who is completely impacted by the halogen brightness of trains at night. If he sits on a seat underneath one of the ones that flickers, however minutely, he might not even notice, but after a few stations his mood will sour, he sometimes even gets headaches. And only when he sees the spasmodic winking of the light overhead will he have an explanation for while he suddenly feels terrible.

I’m a strong believer in writing in a way that works for you, however weird. If it’s upside-down to candlelight, then so be it.

“That’s bad light there.” Says my grandmother, coming out from her room, squinting a little in the gloom. “Can you see alright there?”
Enough, yes, I can see enough.

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