Three Core Elements of My Home Office

Thinking Through Your Setup

I enjoy seeing how other writers work, and what tools they use. Today, I thought I would share three useful elements from my home office setup. The idea here is not so much to tell you how to set up your office, but to show you how I’ve put some thought into my setup. I will recommend the things I use, but the real recommendation is this: Think through your setup.

Erasable Pens, Highlighters, and Markers

Eons ago, I tried out erasable pens. They were the worst. Absolute garbage. Recently, I decided to give them a try again. Now, they are outstanding.

The brand I love is called FriXion. They appear to be imported from Japan; the packaging is riddled with kanji I cannot read. I have just been ordering them off Amazon with free shipping, so I don’t know if they are stocked in any stores.

They erase using heat, so basically anything that provides friction will erase for you. I have heard that if you leave your inked-up notes or whatever in the sun too long or near high heat then they will also be erased; I also hear that you can recover your erased text by putting the paper in the freezer. I can’t testify to that, but my sources are reliable.

You sometimes get light smudging with the highlighters (if you erase), but overall every FriXion item I have used is more or less excellent. Here are the three items from my recent order:

FriXion erasable coloured pens set

FriXion erasable coloured highlighters set

FriXion erasable coloured markers set

These things have changed my life. I cannot recommend them highly enough, especially for messy writers.

Monitor Adapters

I switched from PC to Mac and from desktop to laptop at the same time, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The portability of the laptop is an obvious advantage — whether I’m working in my home office or in my university office or in a coffeeshop, I have the exact same computer setup.

However, I missed multiple screens. I was used to having a two-screen setup: one for my writing and one for my research. I had put my PC screens into a garage sale pile, so I still had them, and one day it occurred to me that I could probably just find some sort of adapter and plug them into my laptop.

I did, and it worked. The only catch is that my laptop has a retina display but these old monitors don’t, so they basically look like garbage, but they are functional and it beats paying crazy money for fancy retina monitors.

All I needed was two of these babies:

Thunderbolt to VGA adapter

Of course, what you need really depends on your ports.

Kneeling Chair and a Standing Desk Rigging

I found some old wooden thingamajig at some garage sale and put it on the desk to raise my laptop. When you sit at your desk to write, your computer monitor should be level with your face so that you don’t have to look down. This is proper ergonomics.

To make this setup work (since my laptop keyboard is now out of reach), I have an external keyboard and trackpad.

I use the Apple brand ones:

Apple bluetooth keyboard

Apple bluetooth trackpad

They work wonderfully but are expensive. Now, there are a lot of less expensive options. I hear that this is a great set, and it’s very affordable:

Kingear wireless keyboard/mouse combo

However, I cannot vouch for those.

When you raise the laptop up like this, you can actually use it as a standing desk (in which case you’re not ergonomic anymore, but at least you’re not sitting all the time). When I stand, I just use the laptop keyboard. I basically sit to write and stand for non-writing, paperwork-type tasks.

When I sit, I use a kneeling chair. I found mine at a garage sale. It looks similar to this one.

I am no expert in what chair you should use, but I love this kneeling chair. It has really helped my back. It takes some time to get used to it. Don’t take this as medical advice, but for me it more or less forced me to engage my core when sitting and so has been helpful.

No matter what kind of chair you end up using, heed this warning: Put time and money and thought into your chair. Don’t be afraid to pay a lot of money for the right chair for you. Your chair is the most important thing in your office. Your chair = your health.

As I say, with this setup, I can also stand when I want to change positions or when I am just sick of sitting.

A lot of other stuff in this office that I will maybe walk through another day, but those are three core elements of my office that might inspire you to plan or re-plan your own office — the key is to be intentional and think about how you want to work.

Whatever you put in the office, and however you want to use the stuff in your office, take some time to consider your setup. An office setup that works for you will encourage you to spend more time in your office, getting things done.

KANADA: a comic Kafkan novel

sign up for the early chapters of my serialized story

KANADA is a comic novel filled with darkness, a spiritual cousin to Franz Kafka’s AMERIKA, starring a troubled and stumbling man named “I” — an experimental novel fusing humour and nightmare.

This serialized novella is the main attraction at my Patreon. Only a very early version of the first chapter was ever published, and then only in a small chapbook edition of less than 50 copies. Now, finally, I’m publishing the entire novella, which constitutes 1/3 of a planned novel.

As we reach the end of the novella, hopefully we will also reach a funding goal that allows me to continue the novel. KANADA is all planned out, and just needs to be written at this point. The novella of the first third, however, simply needs revision, which I will complete as I post new sections.

Kafka’s AMERIKA opens with an eager, optimistic immigrant happily spying the Statue of Liberty, which holds a sword aloft (instead of a torch). That strange little narrative shift from our world into a surreal world is mimicked in KANADA, where Winnipeg’s “Golden Boy” also holds a sword, but more radically the entire city core is surrounded by a massive wall of black metal designed to keep its denizens downtown. KANADA is a comic novel, but also partakes of magic realism in this manner, and has a strange, Kafkan darkness at its own core.

I’ve launched a website,, which will later contain more information on the book.

For now, sign up for the first few chapters, free to your email, and please consider supporting me through Patreon for FULL ACCESS to the rest as it is published.

KANADA: sign up for a sneak peek

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Interview with Frank Black

Originally published in Stylus 13. 5 (2002)

[Photo by Rosario López]

Frank Black is the mastermind behind The Pixies, who paved the way for the alt-rock explosion of the early 1990s, and can count Kurt Cobain and David Bowie among his many fans.

At the time of this interview, Black had recently released two new albums with his band the Catholics, Black Letter Days and Devil’s Workshop, as well as the original Pixies demos (known to fans as The Purple Tape) as The Pixies.

You have a history of avoiding the press, and once claimed you’d never do another interview. So how come you’re talking to a loser like myself?

I do interviews all the time. I may not have done interviews on a particular record years ago, but I usually do interviews.

What turned you around?

I guess it’s just the nature of the business. You have to let your customers know you’ve got a record out, and the best way to do that is to talk to a journalist. Also, hopefully, it’s an opportunity to, you know, be misunderstood.

Why did you decide to release two separate albums? Are they meant to be companion pieces or are they supposed to stand alone?

Either/or, I guess. You can buy one, you can buy both. I made two records this year, so I’m releasing two records. If I made three records I probably would have — well, I probably wouldn’t have gotten away with three records, I would have gotten too much resistance from the powers that be. Seems that they can handle two records.

What I’m wondering is why not a double album.

Why? Oh, well, it’s two different sections, two different lineups, two different producers. So it’s sort of out of deference to some of the people involved. I didn’t mix and match, I just kind of left them separate.

On the two new albums, the American West dominates both the lyrical and the musical content. Why is there that focus?

I guess it’s just the whole idea of going west. The first time I went west I was a baby, so I don’t have any memory of it, but subsequently I ended up moving back east, and then back west again, back east and back west again . . .

I’ve done that a lot in my life, growing up, and of course I travel around as a musician, so I’m still very much in touch with that experience of heading west across the continent. And of course I live in L.A., so even though I haven’t moved for quite some time now I’m always coming back here from somewhere, most often moving in a westerly direction from other parts of the USA or from Europe. Or Canada.

Black Letter Days is bookended with two covers of the same Tom Waits song, “The Black Rider.” Why did you choose this song to cover in such a prominent fashion?

We started to play that at our show about a year and a half ago. We tried a couple of different covers when we were recording, but that was the one that we did the best. Even then, I wasn’t happy with the way we were doing it . . . so we started to fool around with it a bit and have some fun, and the result was one reel of tape with probably seven different versions of “The Black Rider,” one devolving into the next and getting sillier, so what you hear is the first take and the last take.

It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, we’re just doing the song because we like it. Lyrically, the song is, on the one hand, really kind of dark and ghoulish, but on the other hand it’s very cabaret. It’s like, “Welcome everybody, to the night club. Let me sing you a song about the Devil.” It’s got this show biz-y kind of vibe.

Do you know if Tom Waits has heard the song?

No idea. He’s a busy guy, I’m sure he’s got other things to do than sit around with the new Frank Black record.

I understand that you recorded these albums in a portable studio of some sort.

Yeah, we’ve got a real vintage analog pile of gear, it’s all in flight cases. We move it around to different spaces and set it up and hopefully get a good sound going. We’ve set it up in three or four spaces now, all in LA, but we have hopes of moving it to other cities and setting it up in other warehouses.

Were you still recording live to two tracks?

Yeah. Or one track. Some of those songs are in mono. There are mono recordings on both albums actually. We have a mono machine and a stereo machine.

What is it about this method of recording that appeals to you?

I just like the challenge. It’s fun to have that parameter. We’re a band, so let’s all play together as a band. We’ll either pull it off together or fail, and we’ll put all our successes on an album and hopefully eliminate the failures. It’s very simple, instead of constructing this facsimile of a performance.

It’s interesting, because the trend now is towards overproduction. Every song you hear on the radio is, as you say, a construction.

Right. There are no rules, I’m not against anybody doing that, it’s just that what people do with that technology is they tend to iron everything out, so everything’s on 10 — as loud as it can be, as bright as it can be, as perfect as it can be — and the people who are doing that are the ones who are really trying to be on corporate radio, which is only playing 10 songs or whatever.

They’re all trying to fit into a certain super tiny niche because of the rewards available to those that make it into the exclusive club of commercial radio . . . I don’t listen to the radio, the music’s too bland and there’s just too much advertising. It’s just so, so corporate. [Makes disgusted sound.] I have no interest in it at all.

Why did you decide to release The Purple Tape [as The Pixies] at this time?

It’s just the way that it worked out, it’s been talked about for a couple years but we never got all our paperwork together or whatever until now, so it’s just a coincidence it came out in the same summer as the other albums.

What about the decision to re-record “Velvety,” with lyrics?

Well, that’s just some song I wrote in junior high and I never wrote lyrics for. When the Pixies did a version of it as a B-side I called it “Velvety Instrumental Version” as a reference to the Velvet Underground, because I was really into them at the time and I fancied myself able to pull off that kind of sound, which is maybe not that accurate. So I kind of painted myself into a corner, I was like, “Okay, I called it the instrumental version, so now I have to write a song called ‘Velvety.’ ”

So that became the lyrical direction of the song, I had to write a song about some woman name Velvety. I like those kinds of random parameters. That’s what songs are a lot of the time, they’re just games that you play, sometimes it’s a language thing, sometimes it’s a meter thing or a rhyming thing, there are all kinds of neurotic little games going on.

It seems that your past success has put you in this position where people demand that you grow as an artist, but then when you do they start condemning you for not sounding like The Pixies.

Right. Thank you for saying that.

Is it frustrating working under the shadow of that band?

Yeah, it’s occasionally depressing, when you read some review that totally pans you or something . . . The only thing that’s would give me revenge would be if I had a hit that somehow overshadowed it.

Unless that happens, that’s always going to be the thing hangs over me and, well, that’s okay. People like to talk about successes, frequently a success happens to someone early on in their career and it’s hard to escape that, not just for me but for anyone.

You’ve claimed to have had UFO experiences in the past. Would you care to tell me about them? (I’m a huge UFO fan.)

Well, there was a UFO that hung out over a house I was staying at when I was a baby and I heard about it years later from my family members. I was so surprised to hear this story, that they all saw this thing floating in the sky above the house, called the police and everything. They thought it was the end of the world.

I had another experience that I do remember, that my brother and I had involving kind of a missile or a rocket-shaped craft that passed over us in the morning or afternoon when we were outside playing. It was completely silent and passed slowly over us and we stopped and looked at it. And then we went back to our playing, you know, we were fairly young.

We never talked about it to anyone, not even to each other, and it came up in conversation 25 years or so later. We were both surprised that the other one remembered it, we each thought it was our own weird personal memory, and we just found it really surprising that we both had this kind of shared memory of the same thing.

I’m not really sure if I believe in UFOs, but I’ve had a couple of odd experiences.

You’ve also talked about a comet making you decide to start a band.

Well, I was down in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I was getting ready to go on a world trip. I was going to go down to New Zealand to look at Halley’s comet which was passing by that year. It just seemed like a cool thing to do.

I had begun to make preparations to drop out of school and to go do that, when I thought, “Wait a minute, what am I doing? I’m going to go to New Zealand and look at a comet? It’s cool, but what is it that I’ve been dreaming about my whole life? It’s to be a rock musician.”

So it was kind of interesting how the whole comet thing brought this to the top of my head, like “That is not my calling, to wander right now, my calling is to do this.”

Recommended Artistic Consumption

A new feature on the site — Recommended Artistic Consumption — where I simply round up some random things that have been fascinating me of late.

Andy Warhol eating a hamburger

If you haven’t already seen it, you HAVE to watch [the classic 4-minute conceptual art film/joke of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger)

It’s the weirdest way to eat a hamburger ever. First off, he puts the ketchup BESIDE the hamburger, and then dips the burger into it. It only gets odder from there.

While you’re at it, why not watch the parody Macaulay Culkin Eating a Slice of Pizza?

Artful Car Wash

While away a few more minutes with the car wash scene from Michael Haneke’s brilliant art film The Seventh Continent. It’s mesmerizing and beautiful.

Concette Principe

Thanks to Concetta Principe, whose Instagram post reminded me of the Haneke scene … and speaking of Concetta, I recently blurbed her excellent book This Real!

The Story Grid

Recently read The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne. It sounds deranged when you take a look at it, like a super-structural, hyper-formulaic scam. Actually, it’s a pretty solid synthesis of some core concepts from Robert McKee, Christopher Vogler, and other structurally minded editors/writers.

These critters have a bad reputation with writers, but if you actually read their work, you’ll see that it’s not as prescriptive as it seems, although I disagree with a number of fundamental propositions, like the prominence of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” in their theories. (I believe that the “Hero’s Journey” is ill-suited to modern storytelling, although it works well in particular genres.)

Cautions noted, this Coyne book is one of the best I’ve seen in terms of breaking down pretty complex narrative structural issues into their core fundamentals. Also, he emphasizes all of this as an editing approach as much (if not more than) as a writing approach, and as a result this is probably the best book I’ve ever seen for plot-focused story editing.

I really need to make the time to write my own book on editing. In the meantime, I highly recommend this book. Coyne also made the whole book available online for free, in blog posts, “for the ramen eaters” (as he puts it). Jump down to the very bottom of the post archives and read chronologically (towards the present) and you’ll read the whole book plus more. I ended up buying The Story Grid before I finished reading it online, so that’s my endorsement.

Coyne does a very simple, extremely clever thing: he divides Genre in TWO and claims that strong stories have both an EXTERNAL Genre (e.g., a horror story) and an INTERNAL Genre (in other words, the protagonist’s interior world has an entire storyline/movement that is A DIFFERENT GENRE than what’s happening “externally” in the plot).

Coyne looks very closely at The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris to explore how (in his terms) that story combines a Thriller plot with what he calls a Disillusionment plot. Although this maybe sounds like gobbledegook to some of you, it’s actually an extremely simple-on-the-surface but complex-in-depth way of looking at how you can combine genre plots and (for lack of a better term) literary characterization in a very practically minded manner. Worth checking out, I guarantee.

Like everything else in the writing realm, you just need to not put all your stock in Coyne’s prescriptions, and remember this book exists in a tradition of narrative theory that is heavily prescriptive. It’s a more useful tradition that the naysayers would admit, but it’s still a specific tradition … it is of great use, but limited use.

The Focus Form

A simple tool to quell distractions and anxiety while you work

One of the most common problems a writer faces — in fact, one of the most common problems most people face — is the question of how to focus. I’ve devised one simple, elegant answer: the Focus Form.

The Problem

You sit down to write a short story. The next thing you know, you’re on Twitter arguing with idiots about their idiocy. You wrote those tweets, but that’s not really the writing you planned to produce, is it?

How did you get there? It began innocently enough. First, you sat down to write your story. Then, you got an idea for a poem. You popped open a new file to jot down the lines of the poem, and it was going good but then you got hung up on a word. You decided to check your thesaurus for a better word with a similar meaning.

You spied a word option for which you didn’t fully remember the precise definition, so you looked it up online. While you’re online, you figure you’ll research something for that story, so you googled that. Then you got caught in the online drift. Before you knew it, you were on Twitter.

Then that idiot’s tweet caught your eye and stressed you out. People are really that stupid these days? What is going to happen to the world? You know you shouldn’t engage, but you engage anyway. You can’t help yourself — you’re wound up.

Your phone goes off — a reminder that you’ve got to leave the house in 15 minutes if you don’t want to be late. Now you’re out of writing time, and you barely did anything.

Sound familiar?


It’s familiar to me. So many things in the modern world can take your focus away, and the sad, paradoxical irony of the writer’s life is that the very device which enables your writing — the computer — is also the single largest impediment to your writing.

So what should we do? Ditch our computers and go back to longhand scribbling on legal pads? Let’s say you do that. Do you stop getting distracted? No. Your phone is still beeping. So you put it on airplane mode, and put it in the other room.

Free from distractions? No. You’re stressing out about money still. You’re getting awesome new ideas that are cool but not what you’re here to do. Your hand hurts from holding a pen, you haven’t held a pen this long since you wrote your last exam.

It’s easy to blame the modern world for our distractions, or our phones, or the Internet, or idiots who tweet. But the problem is our brains. So what can we do about it, short of lobotomies, or decades of therapy?

Try the Focus Form

My core tool in the battle against my brain is the Focus Form. You can download it here. … Let me walk you through how it works.

In the top left, you write WHAT you want to focus on and WHY.

The WHAT should be a work-session goal that can feasibly be accomplished during the work-session.

If I’m working on my screenplay for Edenbridge, I don’t write “Edenbridge.” That’s a hundred-page screenplay, and I’ve got an hour. Instead, I write what I want to do in this next hour: “Draft the scene where Sara dies.”

One easy way to lose focus is to think about your larger project and get overwhelmed, not the smaller part that’s in front of you. Focus on the part of the project that you can actually accomplish right now. The first ingredient in our recipe for Focus is to actually focus our efforts.

Writing a book seems like an impossible task, and it’s easy to procrastinate. But you can write 1000 words in the next two hours. Is that too much? Do you still feel like you want to procrastinate that? Drop it down. Write 500 bad words in the next two hours. My friend Natalee Caple and I often make weekly goals where we commit to doing bad work. Bad writing is better than not writing. At least you’re still a writer!

The point of the WHAT/WHY section is so that when you catch yourself getting distracted, you can quickly draw your attention back to WHAT you are supposed to be doing (not in the grand scheme of things, but right now), and WHY. This is the core purpose of the Focus Form — catching yourself and returning your attention to your task — and so this part is the most important.

Underneath your WHAT, you write WHY. Why am I drafting the scene where Sara dies? Usually, for me, this is a few bullet points. You want a nice mix of practical reasons and more inspirational reasons.

The point of working on my example scene is:

  • to move closer to a finished draft of Edenbridge
  • because it’s going to be an important, hard scene that needs a lot of drafts
  • I want some practice writing a death scene
  • this will help move me closer to the next stage of pre-production
  • and thus hopefully closer to some more money!
  • because my daughter is getting closer and closer to university and university tuition

You could have fewer points. As long as your WHY list is motivating — actually good reasons WHY you should complete this task — then it doesn’t matter how much or how little you write. If your WHY list is not motivating to you … then why are you writing this thing? Write something else!

(When I really have to get something done, even though I don’t want to, then I just write “to get this OVER WITH and move on to something more fun” — if the task doesn’t excite me, maybe being finished the task will. Or, I write down a reward — “so then I can eat my haunted ghost pepper chips” — and I just artificially motivate myself in that manner.)

Then you start working.

While you work, you try to catch yourself once you get unfocused. There are three things that usually un-focus people: (1) Ideas, (2) Distractions, and (3) Anxieties.

The key here is to catch yourself getting unfocused and then identify what is un-focusing you. Then you write it down in the appropriate box on the form.

Then you re-read WHAT you’re supposed to be doing and WHY. Then you get back on track, and back to work.

Let’s walk through these three categories:


You know when I get my best ideas? When I’m supposed to be doing something else. Sound familiar?

This is insidious. Often these ideas are great (or, at least, they sure seem great when I’m working on something else!) and I find myself tempted to work on them.

Strike while the iron is hot! But wait, I was in the middle of striking a hot iron…

You know what happens next! You keep raising your hammer above a newer, hotter, more exciting iron … and never strike.

Write the idea down, and evaluate it later … when you aren’t dying to distract yourself from working. When I’m done my work session, I look through these ideas, and if they are actually good ideas I transfer them to my long “Someday/Maybe” to-do list. Maybe I make a couple of quick notes in Evernote or something.

The idea will keep. Any author with any experience knows this: ideas are worthless. You can’t even copyright ideas, that’s how worthless they are. They will keep just fine. What is valuable is an idea properly executed. So stop not executing your ideas because you got a new idea.


You know how you are working and then suddenly you find yourself on Facebook? When you catch yourself doing this, close down Facebook immediately and write “Facebook” on the form. Then get back on task.

There are two things happening here:

  • You are catching yourself in the middle of the habit, which is the first step towards breaking the habit
  • You are listing out your different distractions

Later on, I will go through this list and see where I’m wasting my time. This gives me a more objective sense of what I’m doing and not doing during my writing session. I might think I wasted my time on Facebook, but maybe I actually wasted it reading articles that I found while on Facebook. Facebook might not be the real problem, just an enabler.

Your goal (when your writing session is over) is to figure out what you can do to prevent yourself from getting distracted in the first place. I noticed recently that I spent a lot of time checking the Facebook page of a toxic person that stresses me out, to see if I could anticipate what they might do next.

So I blocked that person. Now, I can’t check that page, and I’m getting more work done and checking Facebook less, and my stress level dropped 20% overnight. Will I be less prepared when they pull some crazy out of their hat? Not really. You can’t prepare for that stuff, you can just drive yourself crazy trying to prepare.


Ever get stressed out while you’re working, and distract yourself that way? I sure do. This ranges from anxieties related to the project (“This stuff I’m writing sucks hard”) to stressing about life (“I think my daughter’s mad at me”). Well, I’ve got plenty of time to worry about stuff later, when I’m not working. After I write that scene, I can worry about how much it sucks, or why my daughter’s not texting me back.

The core concepts here (and for the Focus Form as a whole) are drawn from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness meditation. You are “practicing attention” to catch yourself performing unconscious habits. You are isolating the things that draw your attention away from what you want it to be focused upon. You are objectifying abstract thoughts.

A lot of the time, simply writing on the form what I’m worrying about is enough to stop me from worrying. “My teenaged daughter isn’t replying to my texts!” Oh wait, that’s right … she’s a teenager, not replying to her Dad’s texts, because … she’s a teenager.

If it’s a bigger thing, like a real, legitimate worry, it will still be there to worry about later. Schedule some time to worry about it. That sounds stupid, but is an actual CBT technique that a psychotherapist would recommend to you, if you paid them hundreds of dollars. You create a “worry schedule” and then you try your best to confine worry to your scheduled time. What do you do when you catch yourself worrying? You write the worry down (like, maybe, I don’t know, on this form) and tell yourself you will worry about that later, during your scheduled worry time.

With enough practice, this mostly works, or works for most worries — although it does take practice. You delay your anxiety a bit, and it lessens, and you get some limits around it. In the meantime, you can get something done, or even just have a nice lunch.

Try It for a Week

Try the Focus Form out for at least a full week. It’s a little bit of extra work, but it functionally saves you wasting a lot of time.

If all that happens is that you realize you should block that toxic person from your Facebook feed, the extra effort of the Focus Form will pay off. Try to get into the habit.

I designed this form to be simple enough that you can sketch it on any blank piece of paper, but you can also download a pretty version here.

Let me know how the Focus Form works for you!

Reframing Rejection

My Weird Tales Rejection Letter

One of my earliest rejection letters, from age 22. This rejection letter reshaped my entire thought process around rejection and in retrospect was foundational in my career.

Let me walk you through how it blew my young mind and made me rethink how I would view rejections forever. Most writers would do well to reframe rejection in the manner that I did after receiving this letter. Since this letter, rejection causes me no anxiety at all.

Let me walk through the salient features of this Weird Tales rejection letter.

First off, it was composed on a typewriter.

In 2002!

The typos aren’t worth correcting … it’s too difficult, on a typewriter, to correct them. Check out the strange, seemingly fake address in the top right … this rejection letter has personality.

It was the first rejection I ever received that felt like it was a “real” rejection in the sense that it appeared unreal. It conformed to all of my ridiculous, preconceived, stereotyped, Hollywood notions about what a writer’s rejection letters should be.

“Alas — not for us.”

Succinct and so neutral!

My 22-year-old self saw these words as a revelation. There are stories for them, and stories that are not for them. If they are rejecting my story, maybe it isn’t the story’s fault, or their fault, or my fault.

Maybe it just isn’t for them.

They offer no less than three concrete examples of how the story is flawed and could be improved.


They said something nice.

“We did like the throwaway details.” I don’t need my ego soothed now (maybe I did then) but it’s a nice touch.

They sent me their guidelines…

… because I didn’t follow them properly. Obviously, I look like an absolute amateur to them. They can smell how bad I am, and how new I am at this.

This point is important to press for a moment. From my submission, they knew immediately that I was not worth their time. But they gave me their time.

They gave me a lot of their time.

They read the entire story, wrote a detailed letter to reject it — on a typewriter — and then sent me a copy of their guidelines.

They even asked me to comment on whether or not their guidelines were clear and made sense to novice writers! Included in that last sentence is the assumption that maybe, just maybe, I had read their guidelines … but they had made some mistake in writing the guidelines and they were not plain enough for novices to comprehend.

Since this rejection, I went on to work as an editor at a number of places (most notably as the editor of dANDelion) and I will admit right now that I never put this much thought and time into a rejection, even when I had to reject the work of my friends!

All in all, they took me seriously.

When I received this letter, I was 22 — a “grown-up” despite still being in that period of adolescent brain development that neuroscientists say continues until around age 25.

It also wasn’t my first rejection. I had received a number of form rejections by this point, and even some kind, hand-scrawled comments. In fact, I’d even published a decent amount by this point.

I immediately saw everything they had done and I thought to myself, I’ve been looking at rejection all wrong. They are taking me seriously.

They are rejecting the work, but they are taking me seriously. A rejection is professional correspondence. They are treating me like a professional.

Rejection doesn’t mean I’m not a “real writer.” Quite the opposite. Only “real” writers get rejections. Even a form rejection — in fact, especially a form rejection — means that they are treating you like everyone else — and everyone else is a real writer too.

That reframing of rejection changed my entire writing life.

If you struggle with rejection, try to reframe it. Look forward to your next rejection.

My friend GMB Chomichuk makes it his goal to collect one rejection every week. That’s right — he’s seeking the rejection (if he “fails” and has his work accepted, then he just gets back to the hard work of being rejected).

It’s easy to forget that having your work accepted isn’t your job. Your job is writing. The editor’s job is to accept or reject your work. Stop trying to do someone else’s job, and most of all don’t stress out about a job that isn’t yours. Focus on your job.

A final thought from the stellar Ursula K. Le Guin:

Let me wrench this quote out of context to conclude — it’s a good quote to keep in mind amongst the nightmare of the social sphere, but it also has a nice, narrow applicability here:

Go on and do your work. Do it well. It is all you can do.

Ishmael’s Twitter Feed

My favourite novel (in English) is MOBY-DICK, and I’m thrilled to have discovered Ishmael’s Twitter feed!!! Enjoy.

feeling angsty gotta head to the sea again i guess you know how it bees when youse a #sleaze lol

hooked up with this weird dude last night his name’s Queequeg he’s got a face tattoo lol just my type right? #lol

place just serves chowder but they have 2 types tastes fine Queequeg seems to like it he says we’re married now like #whatever Queequeg lol

signed up to #whale on this boat captain supposed to have one ivory leg that sounds cool maybe i can get a selfie hugging his leg later lol

whaling is hard work lots to learn about #Plato for some reason guess he fought whales? idk lol

havent seen the captain still weird but whatevs odd gang on this ship oh did i mention Queequeg’s god looks like a #dildo lol

reading lots of books got lots of time #learning lots like diff names for whales also like how universe a dark void lol

captain Ahab rolled up finally and started talking smack about some white whale whatevs we get it #KillTheWhale duh we are whalers lol

Moby Dick is serious the name of the whale omg lol lol #LOLLL

a white whale too like named Moby Dick lol #sperm #skeet #WhaleTale lol

lots of #nothing so thought about whales a lot why not gotta think something keep falling asleep when on watch lol

not much to do learning lots about #whaling pretty cool i guess but also like whatever whales are fishes i gets it lol

trip starting to drag like what the dilly when do we get to fuck with whales #totes wanna get a whale lol

some mysterious dudes just #RolledOut of the hold one guy is a prophet I guess like whatever lol

poor Pip got sea crazed I guess totes crazy up in the #hizzy on this whale boat lol

Queequeg got sick an built a coffin but then like he fine now with a #fine-assCoffin haha what a dork lol

omg this other dude lost an arm to Moby Dick and his name is wait for it captain #BOOMER wtf haha is this real life lol

Ahab gots him a new #harpoon pretty boss but like enuff already I gets it you hate Moby Dick this dude is one-note lol

MOBY DICK!!! MOBY DICK!!! kinda scary and cool and all but #yenno built it up a bit much sorta expected more idk whatevs lol

whale’s gotta do what a whale’s gotta do I’ma gonna try to keep my distance #yolo lol

kinda seems like these dudes don’t know much about killing whales they know a lot about NOT killing whales though like #wtf lol

almost drowned but then Queequeg’s coffin popped up so floating coffin keeping me alive #ironic yo haha lol

got #saved by some ship boring here though kinda sucks without some mad quest to get the blood pumping oh well fun while it lasted lol

guess the moral of the story is that the universe is godless and indifferent? plus whales are big #yo also death is our fate #whatever #lol

Dr. Moreau’s Funding Proposal

I propose to establish an island laboratory, far from civilization. Once there, I will experiment on various animals, using a painful series of surgeries to transform them into human-like creatures. Although genetic manipulation is now in fashion for this sort of work, I prefer vivisection. Science, at its purest, is also an art.

In addition, I will train these animals to go against their base natures — for example, I will force carnivores to become vegetarians. In general, I will enforce a strict vegetarian policy amongst my creatures. In combination with the pain of their wounds, and the confusion of being something more than beast but less than human, this should drive them insane.

I will also train them to worship me as a god.

My thesis is that horrible things will occur. If I am correct, this will prove that humanity has become unnatural creatures in its own right, abominations of the universe. Since we are monsters, there is no God.

Why an island laboratory? Isolation from civilization is important, because then it will be difficult to procure the necessary supplies for the smooth running of the island. For example, anesthesia will be a luxury I cannot afford. This will ensure that things go poorly.

The attached materials detail, more specifically, my plans and procedures, and how they will go awry. Ethics approval is not necessary for this project, given its nature, which is to defy morality.

I think there’s real potential for horror here. I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for your time.

8-Ball Interview with ryan fitzpatrick

ryan fitzpatrick lives in Vancouver and lived in Calgary. He wrote two books of poetry: Fortified Castles (Talonbooks 2014) and Fake Math (Snare, 2007). With Deanna Fong and Janey Dodd, he helped assemble the Fred Wah Digital Archive. He co-edited a questionably funny anthology called Why Poetry Sucks with the guy who runs this website.

I co-edited the anthology Why Poetry Sucks with ryan and also was the editor for his book Fortified Castles, and we co-created the #95books hashtag and reading challenge.

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

I’d like there to be less of an imperative to talk.

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

The older I get the more I hate advice. Advice, especially when it’s unsolicited, is like a diagnosis and a prescription. I’ve certainly been guilty of doctoring other writers, but it’s something I’ve actively been trying to stop myself from doing (so if I do it to you please tell me to get lost). To be honest, as a young writer, I would’ve preferred less advice. Sometimes, it’s just enough to listen.

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

My writing practice is increasingly wrapped up in other work, so regular habits don’t work for me. There is no getting up every morning to hit a word count (unless you’re talking about a word count for my dissertation and even then I don’t always hit that). For me, what has been important is the maintenance of a project/series, one that’s easy to slide in and out of, alongside an ongoing research practice that has a cross-disciplinary casualness and that doesn’t intersect with my academic research too much.

4. What is your editing process?

Rewriting through revised procedures that encourage increasingly layered complexity.

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

Time and money (natch), but also living in (and helping reproduce) coercive forms, structures, spaces, and relations.

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

A combination of whatever’s on the top of the pile, whatever other folks I trust are talking about, and whatever I have to read for work.

7. What is your greatest single ambition?


8. Why don’t you quit?

No, thanks.