This week is rare for two reasons. 1) We recorded in sunny L.A, which also meant using a tiny (and thus cute) mobile recording device 2) I had two guests! It was a great time, although we ran out of space at one hour. That dang cute little device.
My first guest this week is Steph Georgopulos, a writer I’ve admired since the early days of Thought Catalog, where she was an editor. She also edited Human Parts, wrote a book, and now freelances for publications like Refinery 29, one of my faves to read. She’s also telling a serialized story about the internet. My second guest is my good friend Sarah Lansky (née Heuer), she of Philolzophy fame. Aside from publishing a book, she has been creatively writing for years and is super funny/ philosophical. We sat in a circle talking for an hour with white wine and had a great time.
1. What first made you try writing? What gave you the courage to put your writing out for the world to see?
Steph: Writing was the only thing (aside from reading, I guess), that anyone encouraged me to do. It was how I got my positive reinforcement from adults. So I was always doing it, I just never planned on doing it professionally. I got the courage to share my writing eventually because … well I wouldn’t call it courageous, I didn’t know it was supposed to be scary? Or maybe I thought no one would read it, anyway. I started small, so. It’s easier to have two readers/fans and one troll than it is to publish your first essay on a huge website and get instant feedback from hundreds of people. I think this happens more often now than it did when I started. I took a lot of baby steps.
Sarah: I don’t think I ever consciously thought “I’m going to try writing” – it was just an outlet when I didn’t have a lot of other ways of expressing myself as a kid. In a strange way, starting a public blog and going on to write other things in public forums kind of serves the same purpose for me – it’s always been more of an outlet/platform for expression than anything else.
2. How do you think your writing has changed from then to now? What have you learned?
Steph: Ugh. Um… I think I’m more deliberate now. I used to skip sentences that would hook an idea together because I knew what I meant. I wasn’t writing like someone else needed to read it and get behind the same idea. I rushed, a lot. I also used to experiment with form a lot more, which I miss. I’m not sure how that got lost. One thing I do now that I often didn’t do then is have someone read my work before submitting it for publication. Sometimes two or three people. I have a couple writer friends I like to exchange papers with. It’s not really about catching typos or anything, it’s more of … when something comes out of your brain, it’ll make sense to you. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to everyone else. Having an objective reader helps me catch the places where I’m being vague or confusing.
Sarah: I think when I began writing publicly my main goals were to be “zany”/cool. I used a lot of embarrassing Hipster Runoff-style slang. Then we sort of moved into Era 2.0 of PhiLOLZophy which became a lot more confessional, which I think really stretched me because I was writing about such personal things. Then I actually became happy (ha) and my desire to write confessionally disappeared. I write a lot less now, but what I do is creative fiction which I don’t share with anyone. So I guess I don’t really have much commentary on how my writing style improved as it evolved; moreso my observation is just that the kinds of things I write has changed along with me.
3. How do you think creative writing has changed on the Internet since the inception of alt lit? What do you think is next?
Steph: I wasn’t around for the inception of alt lit. I was a latecomer. One of the things I like about it, though, is that it doesn’t pretend we live in another time. It’s self aware, it name checks The Way We Internet. Maybe it’ll seem dated in the future, but I think it’s important to have work that reflects whatever fucked up era this is. I don’t know about the future — on the whole, the internet has become a lot less bloggy than it was five years ago. I kind of want a backlash to that? Things feel a little too serious around here.
Sarah: I think “alt lit” itself has changed somewhat significantly since its inception. When I think of “true” or original alt lit I think of Tao Lin, Brandon Scott Gorrell, etc. writing poetry and novels and then starting Thought Catalog, which seemed exclusive and untouchable. (When they requested to syndicate PhiLOLZophy I about fell off my chair.) Sometime after that I feel like alt lit democratized and became as much about inside jokes and sharing memes as it did about writing. That sounds like I’m trivializing it but I’m not – what I mean is it became a community in the truest sense of the word, a community that seemingly anyone was welcome to join equally. So to actually answer your question, I think that changed creative writing in that it created a space where anyone could “try” writing and receive support and feedback from this major community, which I think is probably really culturally significant. I’m not really close to the alt lit movement at all right now, so I don’t know how it will continue to evolve, but I’m actually very interested to see what happens when the alt lit community becomes middle aged – will it still be something that’s important to them? Will there be a whole new crop of alt youngsters? Or will something else entirely take its place? I guess we will see.
Pick up a copy of Steph’s book.
And Sarah’s book, written with Chrissy Stockton.
Books mentioned in this podcast: