“Don’t Think About a Career. Just Think About the Next Sentence.” Sam Lipsyte Against Literary Forecasting
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on Thresholds
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the essay collection Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
Sam Lipsyte (No One Left to Come Looking for You) joins Jordan to talk about giving up on punk rock, rediscovering a passion for writing, and the revelation that if you realize nobody cares, then you can do the thing that makes you happy.
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Dungbeetle • Riverbank State Park • John Cheever • Galaxie 500
From the conversation:
Sam Lipsyte: I’ve written seven books, and there are some people who are interested, who like to read my stuff and are interested in seeing what I do next, but they’re not waking up worried about whether I’m going to write another book or not either. And there is an aspect to it where I will say to myself—and I think this helps—stop thinking about your career. Don’t think about a career.
Just think about the next sentence in this book. This could be the last thing you write: this sentence, this story, this novel, this could be the last thing. And so you’re kind of holding two ideas in your head at once. Yes, you’re trying to create a life where you can have the space and time to make a body of work. But you’re also understanding that every sentence you write might be your last.
What I always make sure that I steer away from is to start having big plans like, well, there’s this book and then there’s the next book and the book after that. And this great thing I’m not going to use here, I’m going to save that for the other book. That kind of planning and forecasting, at least for me, has always been detrimental. Just stay where you are, and understand this could be it. Don’t hoard. Just put everything into it.
Sam Lipsyte’s latest novel is No One Left to Come Looking for You. He is the author of the story collections Venus Drive and The Fun Parts and four novels: Hark, The Ask (a New York Times Notable Book), The Subject Steve, and Home Land, which was a New York Times Notable Book and received the Believer Book Award. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Best American Short Stories, among other places. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, he lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University.