I can’t fucking finish the 3000 words but I’ve cleaned my boyfriend’s apartment a million times and looked at every last website and video.
Here we go. It’s our first conversation. I’m so lucky to know Daniel Zomparelli. If you don’t follow him on Twitter already, you really should. He is the life of my (pretty small and awkward) Twitter party. Daniel is the Editor-in-Chief of the necessary and vital Poetry Is Dead magazine and a damn fine writer. His first book of poems, Davie Street Translations, was published by Talonbooks in 2012. His collaborative book with Dina Del Bucchia, Rom Com, which I had the pleasure of editing, was published by Talonbooks in 2015. I asked Daniel to participate in this series because I love talking to him about the writing life. Daniel is smart, frank, and almost as neurotic as I am. But not quite.
SACHIKO MURAKAMI: So, Daniel, what’s the hardest thing about being a writer?
DANIEL ZOMPARELLI: I think I am going to start by answering this question by saying the hardest thing about being a writer is the actual labour put into writing. I took the last two days off to finally finish my short story collection that is literally 3000 words from being completed and even most of it is edited and has been published or shortlisted for contests and I can’t fucking finish the 3000 words but I’ve cleaned my boyfriend’s apartment a million times and looked at every last website and video.
I get annoyed when people look at writers like “you must have so much fun just sitting around making things up” and it doesn’t feel like that way at all for me. For me, the ideas are fun to come up with but the writing feels so tedious and pulling out 100 words from me is intense. Whereas when I do admin work I feel like a star because there are these tasks and there are very real end goals that feel complete when they are complete.
SM: First of all, I am super happy that you are almost finished your short story collection. That is big exciting news for CanLit.
I totally get how you feel. Writing is hard. I have my moments where I get into a groove and it’s like time disappears and I’m in pure concentrative bliss. But those moments are few and far between, and even fewer and far-betweener the deeper into my thirties I get. Sometimes I worry I have brain damage from the drinking and drugging or the antidepressants. Then I blame the Internet for my distractibility. Then I Google “neurology concentration” and that’s the end of the possibility for writing, that day.
And as much as day jobbing kills me, routine tasks do give that dopamine rush of task completion. Where as a poem is never ever done.
Does it always feel this way for you? Is it because you have a deadline looming? Why does it have to be 3000 more words?
DZ: It always feels this way for me, except with poetry. I’m much more of an editor than a writer, so when I have a draft of something I can edit and edit it until it’s where I want, and I will happily do that a million times over. So poetry works easier for me because I usually have an idea I jot down and throw onto a page, then I can form and edit it to what I was envisioning. Prose is tough for me because I have the idea and know exactly what I want to happen and then it’s hard to translate that from my brain to the page. Always feels like my prose is just “and then this happened and then he gets sad but then maybe a dream happens and then they do stuff and they’re not sad or maybe they are lol?”
I don’t have any deadline looming except my own in my head because I know this book is almost done and I ignored it for 9 months (literally didn’t even open the word files). And 3000 words is my guess to what I need to finish these stories. I am a dork and create spreadsheets every time I produce a book. So this book’s spreadsheet is organized by word count. I’ve attached a screen grab to show what a nightmare I am.
SM: Ah, your spreadsheet seems to turn it into more of an administrative task. Does that make it less daunting?
DZ: Spreadsheets definitely make it less daunting in an administrative way, but also help me understand what I’m doing and where I am at in the process. Keeps me focused.
SM: For the nine months you were not writing, was that because you were promoting Rom Com? Do you give yourself a writing break after you finish a project? (I do. A long, long one, that makes me feel like a horrible, useless, unproductive person.)
DZ: Yes, definitely take breaks when promoting the book, but I have a tendency to let that break go on for a long time, well past the launch and to the point where I start to think “maybe that’s all the books I needed to write and I can move on.” For a very long time I was certain my first book would be my only book and I would just get married and adopt babies with the boyfriend I had at the time. Just really settle into an uncreative heteronormative lifestyle I resent.
Does that ever come into your thoughts on writing? Of relationships vs writing (rather than a healthy space of both)?
SM: Do you mean, would I ever choose starting a family and give up writing to focus on that? Or do you mean having to divide my attention between writing and relationship?
I put a lot of work into relationships. Maybe a codependent amount of work. It’s really hard for me to focus on my own shit when there is so much of someone else’s shit to deal with, you know? Why deal with this blank, infuriating page when I could spend my time worrying about whether my boyfriend’s happiness levels have dipped below the breakup line? And that’s just me dealing with a partner, never mind the needs of any hypothetical child.
DZ: I more meant relationships, not necessarily starting a family. Which, yes, I feel exactly what you said.
SM: I’m glad we’re on the same page. What influence does being with your partner have on your anxiety levels surrounding your last 3000 words?
DZ: Being with my partner levels out my anxiety, but then I feel weird about not writing. He’s also a writer, but for television so he’s forced to produce as they work with many writers and in rooms full of writers. He, for his own writing (specs and pilots), has the same style or process as me so we are cool to give each other time and space. He is actually in New York right now working and I am staying at his place in LA to finish the book. I tend to need to make a big deal about writing for myself to actually get the task done, so spending four days alone in his place is helping me finish it. I’m now about a 1000 words from being done. The stories only need a few more scenes to be completed. I just had that intense moment where I realized I wrote a book.
SM: You finished a book. This is exciting, both for you and for this interview. How do you feel now? Were those last 3000 words really the hardest thing about writing, looking back?
DZ: Oh definitely not. The first words and all the stories that failed were the hardest part about this book. I’m used to writing poetry so attempting a fiction book was mostly all about feeling like a failure the whole time producing it! Although, I will say I always felt like a failure while writing my poetry books too, so that’s just a cool feeling I have at all times about being a writer.
I’ll feel that completion feeling more so when I’ve printed the whole thing out for a final round of edits.
SM: Should we continue this conversation indefinitely so as to prevent you finishing your last 1000 words and keep you in a perpetual state of anxiety, or shall we end it now?
DZ: Lol, we can end it now.*
* Daniel completed the book just an hour before he needed to get to the airport.
Well folks, Daniel Zomparelli says the hardest thing about being a writer is the labour of writing, and then not only does he write this email-conducted interview, he goes and finishes his book during the interview. I believe we just witnessed a very special moment of personal victory. Meanwhile, I will sink into a deeper shame-hole for all the writing I’m not doing.
If you want to hear Daniel talk more about all things writerly, you really should check out his podcast, Can’t Lit, which he hosts with the equally loveable Dina Del Bucchia. (I had considered asking Dina to co-participate in this interview, but I wondered if they might want to do a few things not-with each other. Never fear, dear readers. I will rope her into an interview soon enough. Dina: I’m coming for you.)
But wait, there’s more! More interviews are in the works, with all your favourite CanLit darlings. I’ll be posting one every Thursday until I run out of writers with woes. Next week I talk to poet and children’s writer Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang about bringing together bitter writers, and the horrific question: so, what are you working on?