I am so excited to share with you my interview with Chelsea because I am in absolute love with her essay collection Tonight I'm Somone Else. Her style of writing is unique and fearless, so completely her own and I love that. This collection greatly influenced my own work and my own discovery of who I am as a writer. I hope that it inspires you as well.
Chelsea Hodson is the author of the book of essays Tonight I'm Someone Else and the chapbook Pity the Animal. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Bennington College and has been awarded fellowships from MacDowell Colony and PEN Center USA Emerging Voices. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Frieze Magazine, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She teaches at Catapult in New York and at Mors Tua Vita Mea in Sezze Romano, Italy.
I asked Chelsea some questions about social media, genre writing, and her writing tips. She also has a fabulous class on Skillshare called "Creative Writing: Begin with the Body" which I strongly suggest you check out! I did it after reading her collection (does anyone else stalk writers after reading their work?) and the results of my free writing where very interesting, to say the least. Click here to take the course.
1. I think that there are many times we almost forget we have a body when we are scrolling and liking and sharing and tweeting and consumed with technology. Do you feel this way? What helps you stay centered or more in tune with your body so that you can write about it? What questions would you suggest to your students to keep them in the body while they write?
Writing is one method I use of fighting back against the digital clickbait world we live in—in my mind and in my writing, the physical takes precedence over everything else. I’m interested in thinking about touch as language, and instinct as power, and my writing is a close examination of those ideas, amongst others. I’m often afraid when I start a new piece of writing—where do I even begin? A trick I’ve come up with is to begin writing about my own body and move outwards from there. I think about it in a cinematic capacity: the camera starts zoomed all the way in, and slowly moves out. For anyone interested in engaging with the physical in their writing, I would suggest engaging with other kinds of art that keeps the body in the forefront: performance art, dance, even some music videos.
2. With so much emphasis on branding, knowing your niche and being able to define yourself in one quick sentence in the social media world, do you feel any pressure to stay in the nonfiction realm for future projects, now that you have made your mark in this genre?
No, and I would advise against paying attention to this kind of thing at all if you’re interested in making art. The only job of the writer should be to make good work. Agents, publishers, and publicists can come into play later, but if you’re preoccupied with “branding” while you write, you’re in trouble, because you’re thinking about money, which means you’re thinking about what your audience will like and won’t like. This is the worst line of thinking a writer can go down—it’s too much pressure, and it’s distracting. And no, I feel no devotion to nonfiction in particular—I began as a poet, wrote a book of essays, and now I’m at work on a novel. I never want to repeat myself, and I don’t really believe the genres are that different anyway.
3. What is one of the most valuable lessons you have learned from other writers? Who are some writers that you particularly admire or who have influenced your work?
In a Sarah Manguso essay, she wrote, “The difference between publishing two good books and forty mediocre books is terribly large.” That line stayed with me and saved me from overpublishing. I think there’s a tendency to get as many bylines as possible and to be “known” as a writer, but I think keeping your work totally private for years is very underrated. The writers I’m admiring the most right now are: Eve Babitz, Nico Walker, and Leopoldine Core.
4. Do you have a writing ritual? Or special routine of some kind?
No, I don’t, it’s always changing. But my ideal day of writing includes going back and forth from reading to writing: maybe I read for an hour, and then write for two, and then go back to reading again. Sitting at my desk for too long makes me restless, and reading something great reminds me that the only goal for me is to be “in conversation” with these writers in some capacity. That takes some of the pressure off.
5. If you could speak to your younger self, what is some advice or tips about writing you would give?
I would advise myself to be a little more reckless in my writing. I am naturally a very careful writer with perfectionist tendencies, so I spent years writing too slowly and preciously. Fighting against my natural tendencies is what finally allowed me to really say what I wanted to say. The less fear the better.
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