I’ve been wondering why all these radio interviews and podcasts make me so uptight, and why I sound borderline hysterical on the air. (Not terrible or clumsy, I don’t think—just on the verge of hyperventilation. Or as I call it, “lively.”)
I think I’ve figured it out.
Yesterday I thanked my high school English teacher for telling me maybe I could be a writer someday.
A writer needs to be told that by somebody credible, because deciding to become a writer takes gall.
Any number of jobs are just as difficult as being a writer. But it does not take gall to declare you are going to school to become an electrician, or a CPA.
As a writer, you have to answer a question that others will ask of you, and that you must ask of yourself: What makes you so special?
As a young writer, I thought what made me so special was my great big original ideas that the rest of the world could benefit from absorbing. The more I wrote, the more I realized that what I really do better than the average jamoke is illustrate ideas, tell stories and portray this American life vividly and subtly.
I do that after lots and lots of rewriting and editing, which I do by going away from my work and coming back to it … and by reading my words through the imagined perspectives of a variety of known friends and enemies and carefully rewriting them to acknowledge as many different points of view as I know myself.
And here comes a friendly radio interviewer or a podcast host, asking me to describe and reproduce the effect of essays I’ve sweated over literally for years—constructing, rebuilding, planing, sanding, fine-sanding and polishing—off the cuff, before an unseen audience of untold numbers or composition!
It’s guaranteed spectacular public failure is what it is—the other day among many clumsy things I said recording an interview for Cleveland’s NPR station, I blurted out the word “fart”—and the only reason I agree to any of these interviews is that we’ve paid a publicist to set them up.
Also, because I enjoy the rush.