Lynn Steger Strong on the F*ck-It Mindset Behind Her Second Novel
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Lynn Steger Strong is the guest. Her latest novel, Want, is available from Henry Holt.
From the episode:
Lynn Steger Strong: You know, I’ve had maybe the opposite response, which is to say in some ways, I think this book was me being like, fuck it. I can say fuck, right?
Brad Listi: Yeah, yeah.
Lynn Steger Strong: But me saying, fuck it. I’m not sure if books are worth anything. I’m not sure if the fact that I still sort of doggedly try to be a writer is worth anything because it doesn’t seem to matter. So what would I write if I was just like, okay, language, what can I do inside of you that I can’t do anywhere else? I wrote this book from that place.
The fact that this book came out at a time where we’re all being asked to say what’s the value of anything we do, it was useful to have already been in that place. I had a novel before this; in my mind, it mostly failed. No one really read it. It was honestly the biggest impediment to selling this book, was how poorly the one before that sold. And so, I had long since made my peace with the fact that I like to write books, I’m probably never gonna stop, to the detriment of every other aspect of my life. And I’m gonna try to continue to be slightly better at it each time. I’m going to send it to a few people. If they like it, I’m going to feel some sort of pride in that. Beyond that, I’m going to get up in the morning and love my kids and be good at my jobs and whatever.
It’s a longwinded way of saying it was actually a useful way to be coming at publishing a book during a pandemic, because my bar was really low, and because I already felt like my job was over. My job is to write the book. And I have no idea what it’s worth because I don’t get to sit down next to other people while they’re reading it. I hope it’s worth something to other people, but with regard to making something that I feel good about, I did that, and then I had to move on.
If you’re asking as a fellow writer, which maybe I’m interested in too as someone who teaches a lot, I have weirdly found that I have more faith in books, I think, than I did a few months ago, not least because my book has actually been the best part of right now, and for most of my life, my career has been the worst part of my life. The idea that it’s been a way to connect to people, to write emails to people, to feel intimate with other people’s brains in ways that mostly I feel like we can’t be right now, that’s felt like an extraordinary gift.
And the feeling that that’s a gift has really sort of propelled me through the next project, much more productively even than I was able to get into this one, because it’s just like, right, books don’t save the world. They don’t save people’s lives. They very seldom pay the bills. But they’re this other thing that I still, for whatever reason, value, and I weirdly value it right now more than maybe I ever have.
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Lynn Steger Strong is the author of Hold Still, released by Liveright/WW Norton in 2016. Her nonfiction has been published by Guernica, Los Angeles Review of Books, Elle.com, Catapult, Lit Hub, and others. She teaches both fiction and nonfiction writing at Columbia University, Fairfield University, and the Pratt Institute.