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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
In 2013: I resolve not to panic. At this point, I have so many unpublished manuscripts I could provide booster seats to five out of five children at the Olive Garden. Because of my age (34) and marital status (married), total strangers question me—frequently—about the intentions of my womb. My long-held dream of making the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” Award is looking very unlikely—unless someone wants to do me a solid within the next eight months. People who have my best intentions at heart have started suggesting “gift books” as potential writing projects. At the time of writing this, it is December 31st and I feel totally panicked about my relationship to the Internet, my age, your recent book deal, my parents’ health, and whether or not I will ever see my name on a book spine. It’s unproductive. It’s unbecoming. It’s giving me fine lines. Worse still, the panic takes the magic out of writing. And that shit is divine.
Accordingly, for this post, I asked a few of the literary citizens I met in 2012 to share their writing resolutions so we can enter this New Year feeling inspired, less ashamed of ourselves, and—hopefully—less alone.
Elliott Holt (You Are One of Them): In 2013, I’d like to do better at balancing my need for solitude (essential for writing) and my need for companionship (essential for the psyche). For the past two years, I spent more time alone than is healthy. It was good for my work—I wouldn’t have finished my novel if I hadn’t turned down all those social invitations—but the loneliness led to despair. I need lots of head space for writing, not just during the daylight hours when I’m composing at my desk, but at night, when I’m mulling over character choices and plot details. But I also need to spend more time with people, especially the ones that know me well enough to understand when I need to be by myself.
Victor LaValle (The Devil in Silver): My last novel was termed ‘literary horror’ but serious horror readers balked at the phrase. The book simply wasn’t scary enough for them. I took this as a challenge. So my next novel will make Satan himself shiver. I am resolved to disturb anyone who dares to crack the book.
Bernice McFadden (Gathering of Waters): My writerly resolution for 2013 is to devote more time to the short story format. The short story is where I began this journey and I realize that I’ve neglected it over the years. I want to return to my origin and celebrate it!
Matthew Dicks (Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend): I’ve always felt that it’s important to establish New Year’s resolutions that are so impossible to achieve that I can’t help but be disappointed with myself at year’s end. This will invariably cause me to redouble my efforts in 2014, thus increasing my chances for future success. With this insane rationale in mind, my goal for 2013 is to complete the novel that I am writing, start and complete a second novel, publish at least one children’s picture book, and complete three sample chapters for my memoir. 2013 promises to be a disappointing year indeed!
Joseph Riippi (A Cloth House): 10 things I’m resolved to do in 2013:
1) Read more books than I did in 2012 (89 as of December 29, 2012).
2) Read more books than Matt Bell did in 2012 (99 as of December 29, 2012, according to mdbell.com).
3) Sell the novel I resolved to finish in 2012.
4) Write a monologue play about a man who lives with mannequins in the Powell’s Books basement (Are there mannequins there? Wearing t-shirts and totebags and reading?).
5) Write a standalone short story that’s longer than 5k words.
6) Send out more poetry submissions than I did in 2012 (None as of December 29, 2012).
7) Send out more fiction submissions than I did in 2012 (Only 3 as of December 29, 2012).
8) Read William Gaddis’ The Recognitions and JR and annotate with a golf pencil.
9) Read Chris Ware’s Building Stories at least twice more.
10) Stress less, and have more heart.
Saeed Jones (When the Only Light Is Fire): In 2013, I am determined to begin each day by reading a poem or meditating on a single piece of art before I do anything else. Maybe I’ll jot a few notes in my notebook then as well. Typically, I reach for my iPhone before I’m even out of bed. Within moments, I’m waist-deep in emails, Facebook status update, Twitter, breaking news, so forth and so on. It’s not that I want to hold the world at bay; I just know now that there is such a thing as being ready to face it all.
Major Jackson (Holding Company, 2013 Workshop Faculty!): My writerly New Years’ Resolution in 2013 is to create twelve (one per month) new metaphors that might be read by future Affect Theorists and Labor Unionists as my unique means of crafting a new gender, and also, to drink less coffee.
Matthew Specktor (American Dream Machine, forthcoming from Tin House Books): Like most writers, I suspect, I am at once a slave to habit and at the mercy of my flabbiest whims. I nap too much, procrastinate like a champion, and have the best-organized (read: needlessly, obsessively picked-over) iTunes library in the history of humankind. I don’t make resolutions, because I don’t like to fail at them and—more importantly—because I don’t believe anything worth doing needs to be commanded of me, even by myself. That said, I’d like to take better care of my time in 2013. To waste less of it doing things that bring me no pleasure, and if I must procrastinate (and I must, I must!), to do so in delight rather than in shiftlessness or despair.
Mike Sacks (Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason): My New Year’s resolution is to use the words “because,” “of,” and “and” less frequently. I’d also very much like for that wild (and possibly rabid?) bobcat to finally leave my first-floor bathroom. Not too much to ask, right?
Michelle Legro (Associate Editor, Lapham’s Quarterly): Writers underestimate the power nap. It’s in this half-dreaming, half-wakeful state that the sentences start to unspool themselves. My resolution is this: the “power” part of the nap will involve waking up and writing it all down. Samuel Taylor Coleridge took the most famous power nap in history, but instead of waking up, he just nodded along and failed to write down the majority of a super-crazy dream about a pleasure-dome of sexy ladies and regretted it all his life. What’s this? He was super-high on opium? That works too.
Laura van den Berg (What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us): Read more, always, and take the time to dream.
Jason Diamond (Founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn): I’m going to spend an hour a day writing in my notebook instead of being on my laptop. I think doing away with all the interruptions the computer provides will be good for me.
Sean Howe (Marvel Comics: The Untold Story): Now that the Mayans have proven themselves incapable of sustaining a good myth, in 2013 I elect to take up the slack. I intend to begin lying, primarily about myself, but also—so sorry!—about you, too. Don’t tell me you’re not a lover of good fiction.
Elissa Bassist (Editor of “Funny Women” on TheRumpus): My resolution is not to finish my book before 2014—it’s to forgive myself if I don’t finish my book before 2014. I thought I’d finished this book in early 2012, but early 2012 was when I learned what a shitty first draft looks like. Mid-2012 I began revising/rewriting the book, sure I’d finish by 2013, but December 2012 was when I learned that when you want to be done and when you’re done are not—regrettably—the same.
Matthew Vollmer (Future Missionaries of America): I resolve to stop counting. After all, I have never been good with numbers. I am terrible at math. And math has been terrible to me, in part because it frequently intrudes where it has no business: my writing. And I’m not talking about those equations that pop up in the work of Pynchon or Foster Wallace. I’m talking about word counts and numbers of pages, about the quantity of publications over a particular period of time, and about comparing how much I’ve done to how much someone else has done. I resolve, therefore, to be finished with all that. No more shall I be held hostage to numbers! No longer will I worry about how much and how long and how short and how many. I’ll admit that such a resolution poses some difficulties, since, as an educator at a state university, administrators expect me to tally up what I’ve done.
Amy Brill (The Movement of Stars): Most resolutions seem to be about starting new things: gym regimen, political movement, less toxic relationship, etc. Mine are to stop doing things. For instance: I resolve to stop cooking. Time-consuming, kitchen-wrecking, hand-destroying: why bother? My very small children will be fine eating frozen “fish” sticks. The 8000% daily allowance of salt in these Ramen noodles will help my low blood pressure. I also resolve to stop turning off the TV. I was raised on a steady diet of Sesame Street, Happy Days, and Family Feud. I turned out okay! I also resolve to stop cleaning up. Plastic toys replicate in the night. More will only spawn where these once lay. I could be writing instead of cooking, cleaning up, and playing “teacher” for the 19,000th time. In case those fail, I resolve to stop sleeping. Then I’ll have plenty of time to write my next novel. Finally, I resolve to stop complaining. Since I’m in good health, I love my husband, and my kids are alive, alive, alive, I’ll be better served in 2013 by zipping it, and being grateful.
Dan Kennedy (Rock On: An Office Power Ballad): TWO RESOLUTIONS: I will only use profanity with purpose and meter; I will, however, continue trying not to use it onstage. And dear sweet Christ above, don’t fly in the cheap seats. You don’t need to be wherever they want you to go that fucking badly; that severely.
Matthew Salesses (Last Repatriate): I’m resolving to be more positive this year. No more: nothing will happen for me, nothing I write is any good, no one reads fiction, no one will buy my book, etc. I’m sick of all the writerly negativity. I hate it. I really hate it.
Vanessa Vaselka (Zazen): Before any Internet I will write for two hours each morning (with ear plugs) then go outside. Come back and do another half an hour. Write half an hour by hand every afternoon. Read for pleasure 30 minutes a day (not at bed time!) No more half-assed attention! Meditate if necessary.
Matt Sumell (Short story writer): My new years resolution? To not blow it. There are a lot of people I’d like to make proud: friends and family, my agent, pretty ladies that I don’t know yet. I just don’t want to let anybody down. Also to get my dog to stop shitting in my bathtub.
Penina Roth (Founder of the Franklin Park Reading Series): This year, I’d like to read some classic novels I’ve missed and ones recommended by writers I admire – of course, Moby Dick is the one everyone is talking about, but I’d also like to get to Middlemarch, The Age of Innocence, Don Quixote (a seventh grade assignment that I couldn’t fully appreciate at the time), To the Lighthouse, Heart of Darkness, Speak, Memory, Wide Sargasso Sea, and The Adventures of Augie March.
Adam Novy (The Avian Gospels): For me, the question isn’t, what will I change in 2013, but if I’m capable of change. If I am, I’ll finish all the stories I began in 2012—there’s like six of them—and finish all the essays that I start, and finish up my book, which should appeal to many different kinds of readers while still being the kind of book that I would write. Also, bail on Facebook.
The humor columnist behind Electric Literature’s “Celebrity Book Review,” Courtney Maum is a frequent contributor here at Tin House, and sometimes we lend her out to The Rumpus and Bomb. You can find more of her work on courtneymaum.tumblr.com or on Twitter at @cmaum. Courtney’s just finished writing a novel. Duh.