Colin Winnette on Experiencing an Undercurrent of Satisfaction
An interview with Colin Winnette, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:
Colin Winnette is the author of three books: Revelation,Animal Collection, and Fondly. Links to writing, reviews, and interviews can be found atwww.colinwinnette.tumblr.com. He lives in San Francisco.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?
I’ve taken a bizarre pleasure lately in answering that question by flatly saying, “I’m a writer.” I used to be really insecure about it, but my matter of fact side thinks, after three books, I’ve earned the title. My insecure side, however, immediately qualifies the statement by saying, “I mean, I make a living writing copy for a children’s hospital.”
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Trying not to think comparatively.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
First, I would ask them to expand on their question and tell me just what it is they think that I do.
If they said, Write fiction, I would say, Great, you’re imminently qualified. Go forth and fiction.
If they said, Publish a book, I would say, Just set yourself a realistic schedule and work until you finish one then send it out until someone bites. It helps if you read widely and look into the life of a few presses, just so you have a clearer sense of who might bite versus who definitely won’t, also why you’re sending something to a particular place rather than the myriad others. If your primary concern is publishing a book, though, you just have to keep at it — someone, somewhere, will eventually probably bite.
If they said, Write fiction that I can be proud of, I would say, Write whatever you can, whenever you can, and try not to edit yourself at first. Just do what feels right. Then look back over everything and see what genuinely resonates with you, versus what’s just there to get yourself to the part that matters. Save that first part, destroy the rest — or put it somewhere out of view if you’re sentimental. Keep doing that and you’ll make some things you can be proud of, and you’ll do it more regularly and more quickly, after some time. Also, to avoid disappointment, and keep yourself open to the diversity of life’s rewards, don’t expect anyone to pay much for your work. Especially at first. Then, if they do, or when they do, it will be this excellent bonus.
If they said, Make money writing. I would say, Honestly, you’d have to ask someone else, but my guess would be: take note of what people, in general, seem to respond to, past or present. Study it until you find something that gets you energized, then attack it, or climb on top of it.
And if they were just starting out I would say not to worry too much about doing things the “right” way, or to strictly adhering to someone else’s advice — we learn a lot more, and a lot more deeply, from mistakes, than we do from advice.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
This is a tricky one for me because I’m an anxious kind of person, and every achievement recalibrates my expectations for myself. In the grand sense of the word success — the individual human sense of the word as it applies to one’s overall life — I think I’m successful. I’m happy and, for the most part, I’m getting to do what I want. At least right now. I’ve worked hard for a lot of things and many of them worked out better than I could have possibly expected. There are many parts of my life, personal and professional, that I never would have thought to hope for. Day to day, I experience an undercurrent of general satisfaction, which I think is, in some ways, the ultimate goal. On the other hand, some part of me is devoted to the belief that nothing is ever quite what we think it is, or, if it is exactly what we think it is, it won’t last. So I’m constantly fluctuating between a deep sense of gratitude and satisfaction, and this desperate scramble to work for some kind of future happiness or greater stability. Basically, I always want to do more and I always want to do better. But you probably meant, like, do I think I sell enough books or something…No. I don’t sell enough books.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
How much money do you have in your checking account?
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
I’m allergic as hell to cats and we have a really adorable and very needy one. So I take Zyrtec pretty much daily.
What are you working on right now?
A new novel, which is in early stages. I’m also putting together a story collection, and writing some new shorts for various things.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
I’d probably lower the rent. Get a few people back in their homes.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Maybe dancing with my friend Mauro and his two daughters. Maybe picking up the food my wife and I ordered in, then watching Coven.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
I still can’t get over the fact that The Straight Story exists, and that it’s so good.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
Maybe earn $50? Maybe get some wine and a pizza?
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I like writing for a living, and I like editing fiction. I would love to teach a creative writing course some day, if the opportunity presented itself. I always felt like my workshop teachers had the sweetest gig. You learn a lot from talking about fiction with people who are curious about it or committed to it (and even more so, from a mix of those two things), regardless of how far along those people are in their careers.
I don’t admire a particular kind of writing, I don’t think, but whenever a work feels particularly committed to its project, I’m impressed on some level — regardless of how successful it is. Also, I think it’s easy to make work that’s pleasing, so I admire work that complicates something familiar or seemingly simple, or reveals how complicated it already is.
What are some of your favorite smells?
As far as smells go, I’m a big fan of bread, and coffee.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Living in San Francisco with my wife and our cat. Honestly, I spent a lot of time in my life in pursuit of Experiences, with a capital E, but this fairly “normal” stuff has by far brought me the most joy.