how to finish your novel with alexander chee

How to finish writing your novel: don’t write for free, with Alexander Chee

with your host Jessica Abel

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If you haven’t finished writing your novel yet, you could lay the blame on any of a myriad of reasons.

You’ve got too many commitments, your day job or freelance work sucks up all your time, you’ve got kids, a spouse, friends (never mind your own physical and mental health) competing for your attention…

…and then there’s your inner critic who loves to drop in during studio time, ready to light into you at the least provocation.

Seems like it would take 12 years to finish a book under those conditions. (I mean, that’s how long it took me.)

But don’t worry, you and I aren’t alone in this.

“Sometimes people are like, how come The Queen of the Night took you so long? And it’s like, well, I did waste a lot of time writing essays for $150.”

Alexander Chee
How to finish writing your novel with Alexander Chee

Recently, I talked to Alexander Chee, the prize-winning author of the novels Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night, and the essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, about money, negotiation, and building a healthy relationship with your work and career.

We also talked about the myth of the solitary artist, and the reality: that community and relationships are key to not just success, but survival.

The answer to “how to finish writing my novel” has less to do with “write the ending first!” and more to do with our creative process as a whole, and how we approach writing as both love and labor.

Alexander is the source of an incredibly pivotal insight for me: that caring for your creative process IS self-care, and when you allow yourself the margin to take care of your work process, it benefits not only your body and mental health (and that of your family and loved ones) but the work itself.

Here’s how to care for your creative process and actually finish writing your novel:

1) Don’t write for free

(Or, more accurately, don’t take writing jobs for free.) There’s this prevailing myth that writing is sacred and demands asceticism. Dedicate yourself to your craft, write for the love of it, ask for nothing, and expect nothing. If it’s commercially motivated, then it’s soiled. In living in accordance with this myth, we do a disservice to ourselves, and to the community.

When we devalue our own work (whether literally, by working for free, or by operating under the presumption that art and money are separate, irreconcilable entities), we uphold a system that dictates that financial precarity for artists is our only option.

That physical, literal suffering is a requirement of art.

On the contrary: As an artist, it is an act of self care to make money and set boundaries around getting paid.

Alexander summed up how our attempts to keep our work “pure” plays out:

That idea that writing should not be touched by those thoughts of money has been used to rip off generations of artists.

Alexander Chee

“In my own experience, for example, I used to write essays, some of the essays in my essay collection I wrote for a measly $150, $200, online because of this sort of awful double standard that appeared with writer pay in the period from like 1996 through the present really, where as content went online, the idea was like, “well, it’s the internet, we don’t really know how it’s gonna work out. We can’t really pay you very much for it.”

It’s due to those kinds of double standards that Alexander Chee is a member of the Authors Guild’s Council. The Guild advocates for the rights of writers—by fighting for a living wage, fair contracts, and fostering a community (hey, you can join the Author’s Guild here!).

He makes it clear that part of your activism as a writer for yourself, but also for the community, is to always ask for money and if they offer you money, ask for more money:

“My husband said to me, basically, you can’t, you can’t work on these essays for that little money. You work too hard on them. They take you an incredibly long period of time.”

“I stopped agreeing to that low fee. The thing that was amazing was to see the fees go up that I was being offered.

And every time I didn’t like the fee, I would say no. And sometimes that meant I would not get that particular opportunity, but then almost immediately something else would come along and soon I just didn’t look back.

That’s why I think of the creative process as self-care. Charging money as self-care. Price as an emotional boundary.

Alexander Chee

Knowing what your price is, and being able to stick to it, takes care of me. It takes care of the people in my life. In the last few years I’ve been seeing how the lack of self-care isn’t just something that affects me. It affects my family, my spouse, my everyone I work with.”

And if not literally being a starving artist, or being able to afford healthcare, or the knowledge that you’re strengthening the precedent that writers can just work for “exposure” won’t sway you…

Not asking for money for your writing will keep you from your writing.

Being too grateful for the opportunity and bending over backwards is unsustainable.

2) Be realistic about how many hours are in a day—creative project management is self-care

Being honest and realistic about how long it takes to do something, like finish writing your novel (and how you value your work), is part of the creative process.

It’s so easy to overestimate our ability to get work done. So if you’ve got to edit a 75,000 manuscript, family to take care of, friends to spend time with, a day job, maybe, other copy edits to attend to… it’s important to set boundaries.

What I learned to do was to look at how many words per day can I do on that schedule? Is that reasonable?

If I started to fall behind, I would recalculate. I would get a 75,000 word manuscript back, copy edited, and you’re told to go through the copy edits and submit the changes. And they say, “how does this day sound?”

And I didn’t have a way for figuring out, […] could I get that work done by then? It seemed like I could, but was I lying to myself and then lying to them also?

So then I would just divide 75,000 words by say, 60 days, and look at what that looked like, and see if that was manageable. And if it wasn’t manageable, then at the beginning of that conversation about deadlines, I could then reasonably write back and say, this deadline puts me on this schedule that I won’t be able to manage. Can I get more time?

When you’re a new writer, it seems terrifying to ask for, because you’re like so grateful that you have this chance to publish. You don’t think, how much time do I need, will I be able to survive the publishing schedule?

The willingness to negotiate is crucial and it takes practice.

If we’re too grateful for the opportunity, and say yes to anything in an effort to please, we short ourselves, not only in money, but in time. We set up a skewed power dynamic.

My experience thus far is that if I give writing away, people don’t respect it

Alexander Chee

All of that has serious consequences when we work flat out to meet a deadline, affecting our health and relationships (and potentially still whiffing the deadline).

It takes practice, over and over again, to ask for more money, for more time.

The more we learn about how long it actually takes to write, or engage in any creative work, the more we can be honest about what our prices are. And they’re usually higher than we think.

3) Trust your community

I see a lot of people thinking about social media in terms of marketing only. But really, being a writer is a community project, honestly.

[…]

There’s this myth of the writer as a solitary creature who just sort of works on a work of genius and then offers it and everything is taken care of.

(laughs)

Anyway. And so that’s not real.

In relation to your writing, you’ve got two kinds of relationships.

One is the relationship you have with your audience.

That relationship can be maintained via your published writing, but also Medium posts that are a bit more personal, or lengthy Twitter threads about the Present State of Things. When you offer ways for people to connect with you as a human being, you can grow from those interactions (within your boundaries, of course).

That’s one side. The other side is professional relationships and networking.

People would call it networking, sometimes. And I would think this doesn’t feel like, I mean… “networking” always sounded like a really weird clinical sort of term for something that to me felt like just hanging out with people that I thought were interesting and that I was interested in.

And I was always like, am I networking? Do I have a network? I remember thinking that I did not have a network and then realizing that I did, because my sense of what people meant by the word, and what I was actually doing were completely different things.

Alexander Chee talks about being a good literary citizen—showing up at readings, doing readings, writing blurbs, hanging out, judging contests, being a juror for grants and awards, writing letters for students and colleagues, all the kinds of things you need to do in order to build that web of relationships that helps everybody.

Building those relationships is key to success. It’s where you’ll develop clients, meet potential agents or publishers, and come into contact with unexpected opportunities.

4) Trust yourself

We can be incredibly bad judges of our own work, and our own capability to do the work.

Alexander told me about how his self doubt held him back in the past:

I gave up on myself a lot, which may surprise people. But one of the essays in my collection, “Girl,” for example, is an essay that sat in my files for 20 years. And every so often I would pull out the manuscript—which I had printed on a dot matrix printer at the University of Iowa in 1994. I’d look at it and think “that’s pretty good” and then I just wouldn’t revise it. I just didn’t believe enough in the essay and in myself. And when I finally finished revising it, I was shocked at how close to done it was.

And then it just kept shocking me.

Guernica had asked me, did I have anything on the subject of gender, for example. I had just finished looking at it and said, I have this old essay I’ll revise and I’ll send it to you.

Guernica, at the time, was making a commitment to pay for work at a level that they had not previously been trying to pay. It still wasn’t very much. But when they said they wanted to publish it, I made an agreement with them. I said, if you think this essay is of the caliber that you would feel comfortable submitting it for Best American Essays, please do.

And so they did submit it to Best American Essays and then it was chosen for the 2016 Best American Essays. And then I felt like a huge dummy for having sat on it for 20 years.

20 years.

If you’re struggling to finish writing your novel (or whatever you have going in your studio), maybe it’s time to look at the boundaries you’re setting around the work.

Are you getting paid, and paid enough, for the work you’re doing (whether that’s publishing or in some other field)? If you’re not, is it because you’re not asking?

Are you setting reasonable deadlines in negotiation with those who are asking for it?

Are you negotiating for anything, period, ever?

No shame if not: it’s hard. But that’s the bottom line. Know your needs and limits, and defend them.

And if your work isn’t getting published…

Are you submitting it?

If you’ve been sitting on your novel, or short story, or essay for weeks, months, years...maybe it really is time to trust yourself and let your work be seen.


In this interview, Alex and I talk a lot about money, and specifically, about how asking for money and negotiating for what you want and need is a key piece of building a healthy relationship with your work and career.

We also talked about the myth of the solitary artist, and the reality: that community and relationships are key to not just success, but survival.

Finally, Alexander is the source of an incredibly pivotal insight for me: that caring for your creative process IS self-care, and when you allow yourself the margin to take care of your work process, it benefits not only your body and mental health (and that of your family and loved ones) but the work itself.

More from the episode…

  • The importance of collective action in securing the rights of authors.
  • The role of community in creative career-building.
    • How is writing “a community project”?
    • What is the “golden thread” and how does it help creators build relationships with their followers?
    • The word “networking” sounds “weirdly clinical” to Alexander— why at some point he figured out that’s what he was doing, and that it was a key to his success. What’s a better way to look at this fraught term?
  • Alexander breaks down why writers should always ask for more money: “Sometimes people are like, how come the Queen of the Night took you so long? And it’s like, well, I did waste a lot of time writing essays for $150.”
  • What was in the folder writer Denis Johnson (Jesus’s Son) labeled “answers”?
  • Instead of running himself into the ground because he’s eager to please, Alexander lays out his process to not overschedule himself.
  • How earning with your work can help you make more work, in a literal as well as an emotional sense: “It won me …a typewriter that I then used to write for a long time. And that typewriter became a talisman at a time that I needed a talisman. I wrote this typewriter into existence. I’m now using it to write more stories.”
  • “Don’t be so grateful that you let yourself down.” —What Alexander would tell his younger self if he could.
  • Why it’s so important to trust yourself and recognizing when self-doubt is holding you back from pursuing your creative goals.
  • Alexander lays out several important pieces of advice to novice pro writers, including “There’s no reason to think that just because you’re an unknown writer you can’t somehow get a decent fee for your work.”

More from our guest:

Alexander Chee is the author of the novels Edinburgh, The Queen of the Night, and the essay collection How To Write An Autobiographical Novel as well as many short stories and essays. He is a contributing editor at The New Republic, an editor at large at VQR, and a critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times. He currently teaches creative nonfiction and fiction at Dartmouth College.

Connect with Alexander Chee

alexanderchee.net

twitter @alexanderchee

instagram @cheemobile

facebook.com/alexanderchee

https://alexanderchee.medium.com/

querent.substack.com

Additional links

authorsguild.org

https://thesewaneereview.com/articles/the-autobiography-of-my-novel

https://alexanderchee.medium.com/your-questions-answered-how-have-you-overcome-writers-block-fc5525bab1cb

https://www.crowdcast.io/e/acpod-alexander-chee

Transcript


Click here to read the transcriptAC Pod 001 – Alexander Chee

Alexander Chee: There’s this myth of the writer as a solitary creature who just works on a work of genius and then offers it, and everything is taken care Of laughs laughter (laughs) Anyway.

And so that’s not real.

AC intro: What does it take to become a successful writer or artist?

There are some destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like.

And we’re kept in our lane by the undermining belief that, as artists, we’re somehow incapable of building autonomous, sustainable careers– if we choose the work that’s closest to our hearts.

So we’re going to tear down those myths and get the truth by going to the source:

Incredible professional creatives who’ve followed every path but the expected one to success on their own terms.

I’m cartoonist, author, and coach for creatives, Jessica Abel.

And this is the Autonomous Creative.

Welcome to the very first episode of the Autonomous Creative.

We started this podcast as a live show with an online audience a year or so ago. And the interviews we’ve done so far have been amazing, and eye-opening, and so exciting. And so I’m thrilled that we’re finally getting them into a proper podcast feed so they can reach a larger audience.

If this is your first time listening, you are in for a treat, and there’s so much more to come. So be sure to hit subscribe, to get the episodes as they drop.

I am so excited to welcome my guest today Alexander Chee, the prize winning author of the novels Edinburgh, the Queen of the Night, and the essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. His work has been published all over the place, including the New York Times Magazine, the Suwanee Review, the Yale Review, and Guernica, and it was anthologized in the 2016 and 2019 Best American Essays.

He’s an associate professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College.

In this interview, Alex and I talk a lot about money, and specifically about how asking for money and negotiating for what you want and need is a key element of building a healthy relationship with your work and career. We also talked about the myth of the solitary artist and the reality that community and relationships are key to not just success, but survival.

Finally Alexander is the source of an incredibly pivotal insight for me. That caring for your creative process is self-care. And when you allow yourself the margin to take care of your work process, it benefits not only your own physical and mental health, and that of your family and loved ones, but the work itself.

There’s so much goodness in this interview. So let’s jump in.

Jessica Abel: Alex, welcome and happy Korean American Day.

Alexander Chee: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Jessica Abel: So I want to get right into it with you. Cause I want to talk about this battle I see– or not a battle, but a partnership, really, between your activist side, which is so raw and so practical, so tactical, talking about the concrete things that are needed for life—and I feel like that’s part of where you’re really honest talk about money comes from—versus this more literary side that’s maybe a little less unrealistic and commits to being a writer, despite the kind of ridiculousness of the prospects.

That there’s like, this balancing act that kind of, you go back and forth between these things, even in a single sentence sometimes, you know, there’s this, and then there’s this, and put these things together. That’s kind of the framework for how I was thinking about how to talk today.

But I just wanted to start off just so everybody kind of understands where we’re coming from here, with just talking about what your work life looks like right now. And I remember I was reading in, in your essay book, you have quote about when you studied with Annie Dillard that you wanted her life, that she had a professor husband, she had a daughter, she had a college provided house, that she was teaching one class a year and writing the rest of the time. House on Cape Cod. And you said in the long run, we only hit what we aim at, which is a quote from Thoreau.

Have you hit it? Are you there? Did you get there?

Alexander Chee: I feel like I’m in the neighborhood. I don’t have a box set yet, for example, but now that I’m inside of the, the sort of mix of work that I can see that she was doing at the time that I had that idea — I can see my way towards what that is. So I have a very comfortable situation now after many years of not having that.

I think one of the things that really hit home to me was when, you know, my husband and I have both been freelancers for a very long time, and it made such a huge difference in our lives once I got on salary. You know, I’d had a mix of visiting writer positions and you know, they’re often better paid than adjunct pay, but they still have what I would call the job precarity, you know. The visit isn’t usually very long. Only in one case was it longer than a semester, really.

I guess the other piece that I am seeing now, too, is that I get royalties for my books, which is, you know, it’s not a huge flood of money, but it’s a regular amount of money that every time it shows up, I am just so grateful, you know, and I think that’s one of the things that I’m anxious to protect as, as someone who, who participates in the Authors Guild work as a council member.

Jessica Abel: Right, yeah. That’s one thing I definitely wanted to bring up, is you mentioned the Authors Guild a couple of different times, and I feel like that’s something that we should highlight for people that, that is something that if you are working as an author, that’s something that is a way to get involved in making everybody’s life better. Right? The collective action.

Alexander Chee: You know, so recently, for example, the Guild lobbied successfully, I’m just going to pull it up here, for things like, unemployment for freelancers and also mixed-earner unemployment compensation. So people who earned at least $5,000 last year in self employment.

They were disqualified previously from receiving state unemployment benefits, as well as the additional hundred per week additional benefit. But, you know, pandemic unemployment assistance also, Nance benefits included. for the National Endowment for the Arts, funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, funding for the Federal Arts and Education Grant Program, funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions.

These are just a few of the, the things that the Authors Guild was able to do in this last session as an advocate. And that I think, is the sort of political power that isn’t say as, you know, obvious as like getting into the street and marching, which is also important. But this kind of advocacy is increasingly where I am also extending myself. And encouraging other people to extend themselves.

Jessica Abel: Well, it requires a lot of people get involved for it to work, right? So the more people get involved the better.

But I’m glad we jumped right into that because I feel like this is the, this is the whole crux, right? That, that this trying to create a life that’s sustainable, trying to create something that is reliable in a context of precarity and, you know, just push back from every possible side…

One of the things that Tom Hart said after we talked last time, he wrote something saying, oh, I wish I’d talked about this was this idea of, market forces and grappling with market forces. Which I think ties into the Authors Guild. It’s like, you’re dealing with the real, like actually what’s happening. And what can you actually do within the structure of what exists? Like when there are new laws coming through, how can we advocate to make things better for authors?

So he was saying something along the lines of, the question, is it worth it to me to learn how to market myself so that I can stay autonomous? Is it worth it to me to bend to the market, to keep working in my field?

When is it worth it? When is it not worth it? Is that something that you think about a lot in this context?

Alexander Chee: Sure. You know, I think of something my friend, the literary publicist, Lauren Cerand told me a long time ago, something that she called the golden thread, which for her was the way in which social media allowed a writer to take a reader’s moment of interest in them and turn it into a relationship.

And then you, you simply try to provide through that relationship a semi coherent stream of what you’re interested in, what you’re reading, what you’re thinking about, what you’re working on, what you’ve just completed, sending people back to your archives as time goes on.

I see a lot of people also thinking about social media in terms of marketing only. But really, being a writer is a community project, honestly. And there’s a lot of community that’s, that’s needed and necessary in that. And so it was something that I had to kind of figure out for myself as I was coming up as a writer, also.

People would call it networking, sometimes. And I would think this doesn’t feel like, I mean, like “networking” always sounded like a really weird clinical, sort of term for something that, actually, to me, felt like just, you know, hanging out with people that I thought were interesting and that I was interested in. And, and I was always like, am I networking? Do I have a network? You know, I remember thinking that I did not have a network and then realizing that I did, because my sense of what people meant by the word, and what I was actually doing were completely different things.

So it’s, you know, part of it was also like, there’s this myth of the writer as a solitary creature who just sort of works on a work of genius and then offers it and everything is taken care of (laughs) Anyway.

And so that’s not real.

And so I, that’s part of what I was, I was learning. Like I, sometimes people ask me like, how did you meet your agent? Because she’s someone that people want to meet. And the truth is that she, she introduced herself to me after I had finished an open mic at the Asian American Writers Workshop in 1995. She gave me her card and I didn’t use that card for seven years.

I kept it and we kept in touch in various ways. I would see her at events, she would say hello, but when I finally signed up with her in 2002, it was not lost on me that I had found her through the Asian American Writers Workshop, and through my willingness to read a rough draft of a story on a stage in front of a group of people that, they weren’t necessarily strangers, but I didn’t know them so well, but we were in community as Asian-American writers in New York at the time.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s what you’re saying is so important. The two things. One is that there’s this kind of, well, the relationships, both relationship with your readers. So your Medium page, for example, is clearly your way of kind of having an ongoing, not just in Twitter, but like, you know, in lengthy kind of thoughts, relationship with your readers and letting people understand who you are as a person. Some of your more recent articles, like the one where you you talked about buying a house, really spoke to me. Because you know, thinking about, you know, do I want to live in this country? Is this something I want to commit to? And what does it mean to buy a house? Those are thoughts that I’ve totally been grappling with and so that was a way of me connecting to you as a human being.

So there’s, that’s the one side. Then the other side is professional relationships and networking. You talk about being a good literary citizen, for example, you know, showing up at readings, doing readings, writing blurbs, hanging out, you know, like all the kinds of things you need to do in order to build that web of relationships that helps everybody.

Alexander Chee: Judging contests, being a juror for grants and awards. You know, writing letters for students and colleagues and friends, especially writing letters for people who they might not think they need a letter for a long time.

One of my funniest moments as a writer in 2014 was when I was asked to provide a letter of recommendation for Denis Johnson… [laughs] Because he didn’t have one. And the, and the provost at the University of Texas, Austin, was like, where is his letter?

And it’s like, he’s Denis fucking Johnson! [laughs some more] Are you okay?

But the, you know, the head of the Michener Center was like, so would you be able to write this for Denis? We understand that he was your teacher. I was like, yes, I will write a letter of recommendation for Denis Johnson.

Jessica Abel: That’s that would be a first for me. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to write a letter for one of my teachers. That hasn’t happened yet.

Alexander Chee: For a legend!

Jessica Abel: It’s like that’s a bar. That’s like something, that’s reaching some level. I don’t know.

But then you know that the Authors Guild too is being a good literary citizen, but it’s also activism. So these things tie together, is what I’m trying to get to like the relationships and caring about how all these things work, caring about how your students do, caring about how your colleagues do, trying to help people. That’s part of this whole activist engagement with the writing community.

And one of the things you said in a tiny letter that you sent out is that part of your activism as a writer is to ask for money. I loved that. [Alex chuckles]

Like, this is something, everybody– I will tell, you know, cartoonists this all the time I will tell illustrators this all the time, it’s more in my area. It’s like, don’t work for free. It hurts you and it hurts other people.

You know, part of your activism, and you’re saying here, part of your activitism as a writer, for yourself, but also for the community, is to always ask for money. And if they offer you money, ask for more money. [laughs] That was awesome. I love that.

And, and, another little quote here, “my experience thus far is that if I give writing away for free people don’t respect it” which I 100% agree with.

Alexander Chee: Yeah, it’s just incredible to me the big difference. And I, I had like more insights recently when I, a while ago I worked on a profile of Denis Johnson’s– well, it was a sort of a window into the writing and publishing of Jesus’s Son. It was something that I did for Playboy Magazine, which paid me very well for it. And it’s not online, but it was in the digital issue that commemorates Hugh Hefner for people who want to find it in, because, and the rights have returned to me recently so I’ll probably be putting it up somewhere.

The thing that I learned from doing that research was just watching how Denis had, had advanced his career as a writer and how part of that was how he thought about money. And there was a strictly utilitarian aspect to it, like even with his last book, even when he’s a legend, he sent it to his agent and he said, I need some money for a road… [laughs]

So, so that’s what she, that’s what she went out to try to get him some money for a road for his Idaho compound where he was living with his wife near the end of his life.

A friend of his told a story of how when they were moving him to Idaho as a group, he had packed all of these file boxes that had the early drafts for the stories that became Jesus’s Son, and they were organized by character name, in his memory, which I thought was really interesting.

And then, and then he was driving the truck full of the files and Denis was going out early with his, at the time, his new wife. And so Denis said, if you get into any trouble, just open up the file marked “answers”

And so sure enough, the car broke down, and he opened up “answers” and there was a roll of cash. (laughs)

I was like, that’s, that’s impressive. And I like the idea of him being, you know, he wrote Jesus’s Son for money. He was ill. He needed money. It’s considered one of his, one of his greatest works now, this slim book of short stories. And at the time that he wrote it, he had fallen on some hard times. He was ill and, and he had this rule for himself about his stories where if he told a story to his friends he couldn’t also write the story down.

And then he thought to himself, you know what, this is is actually a really stupid rule. And so he started writing down these stories that he had come up with based on like stories from friends and things that had happened to himself. And that became the stories in Jesus’s Son, which he then sold. And the New Yorker took, I think something like five of them, which is a pretty hefty sum. Many of them sold to other magazines at the time. It was something that, that lifted him, you know.

And I think a lot of the, a lot of the conversation that we get so often is about like, there’s so much negative talk about short stories in the industry, for example, and how you can’t sell them. You know, I’ve, I’ve made some substantial income in the last couple of years through short stories. And I would never tell anyone to abandon the art because it’s not commercially practicable.

You know, I think, something that I’m always doing with my students is trying to just give them context for the so-called conventional wisdom that they get through, like, message boards, Facebook, social media in general, you know? I feel like I’m always trying to clear away, those sorts of ideas that can really stop people when they, when they should not stop them.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, I think that again, gets back to that back and forth. Because on the one hand, we’re talking about money and how money is essential and, and, you know, Denis Johnson’s working for money. He’s writing for money. You write for money. Doing short stories, all this stuff.

On the other hand, don’t stop doing short stories if short stories are what you should be doing, because of you’re afraid about money, right? So it’s both of those things at the same time. And you were talking about earlier on this idea that the sort of myth that artists retreat into some kind of a cave, work alone, and then come out with this finished, perfect thing. And that can’t, you know, the myth includes that it cannot be, if it’s commercially motivated, then it’s soiled. There’s something wrong with it.

And yet, like here we are, right. You ha- we have to live, right? You, you can not be writing anything, if you starve to death, like that’s not– like that doesn’t work, right?

Alexander Chee: Or if you can’t afford healthcare.

I think the, that idea that writing should not be touched by those thoughts of money has been used to rip off generations of artists. And whether it’s somebody else ripping us off, whether it’s us ripping ourselves off, it’s something that you really have to get rid of. It’s not that you need to suddenly…

For example, I used to, I used to write essays. Some of the essays in my essay collection I wrote for like, a measly $150, $200, online, because of this sort of awful double standard that appeared with writer pay in the, in the period from like 1996 through, like the present really, where as, as content went online, the idea was like, “well, it’s the internet, we don’t really know how it’s gonna work out. We can’t really pay you very much for it,” but then almost immediately, you know, the question of like, could you drive traffic, became part of the equation for writers.

And so I was, I did some consulting with writers and literary organizations on social media and the internet in the, in that period. And I remember meeting with a writer who had, had written for a very long time for a very old school food magazine. And she was finding herself in this position where she was losing a lucrative column that she’d had for them because she did not have an internet presence. And they were hiring somebody who did have an online presence who had built up their audience online. And so she was asking me to help her. To figure out like how, how could she put her content online, monetize it, help create a profile for herself. And also, you know, not just give everything away for free and not make any money because, you know, people don’t like to pay for recipes so much. They really expect it to be free. And yet, they take a lot of work. They take testing, they take food knowledge.

And it was interesting to see this, this kind of, this was about 2007 when I was having this conversation with her. it was interesting to see that transition happening, you know?

So my husband said to me, basically, that’s all background from my husband saying to me, you can’t, you can’t work on these essays for that little money. Like, you work too hard on them. They take you an incredibly long period of time.

You know, sometimes people are like, how come the Queen of the Night took you so long? And it’s like, well, I did waste a lot of time writing essays for $150.

Jessica Abel: It took me 12 years to make a comic book. I hear you.

Alexander Chee: Right, right. And like, I, I remember telling a friend of mine that I, I was thinking about working on comics after finishing The Queen of the Night, he was like, oh, so you’re going to do do the only thing that takes more time than a historical novel. [Both laugh]

Jessica Abel: Welcome, come on in!

Alexander Chee: So I, I stopped agreeing to that low fee, and the thing that was amazing was to see the fees go up that I was being offered. And every time I didn’t like the fee, I would say no. And sometimes that meant I would not, I would not get that particular opportunity, but then almost immediately something else would come along and soon I just, I didn’t look back.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. That’s awesome. Love to hear that.

You talked a little bit about the American Art Trap, the idea that you have to make art, making art requires also somehow becoming- remaining a good member of your social class, middle class. Working-class people and upper-class people are allowed to betray their class to write, but middle-class people have to sort of maintain a standard or something like that.

Alexander Chee: I would just say, I would offer up that like actually every writer is a class traitor but the people who seem to punish themselves the most for it are people who are middle-class. That’s actually more close to the spirit of, of what I’m talking about in that, in that context.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, well, yeah, I mean, you were saying that this is, this is a trap. Like this is a trap, this idea, this feeling that we need to remain somehow. You know, you wrote, will you be able to write and also eat? Do you have to hold another job? Can you have healthcare? Will you have a house? Will you have dental work, retirement, you know, are these things that are possible for you given all of, you know, circumstances?

And then, you know, and somewhere else you were talking about the, how writers are terrifying for normal people, but you know, to be for non-writers in a capitalist system, you know, this is something so terrifying, the idea that you would sell almost anything in order to have time to write. And, you know, “time is our mink, our Lexus, our mansion.” This is, you know, from like a different art or a different essay in the same book. And I feel like these things are just jostling all the time that, which one’s going to be on top when, you know?

Alexander Chee: M-hm. Yeah. The way that I tried to, to thread my way through it is to both value what I, what I write, whether I’m making money at it or not, which is hard. It It’s a continuum that I think of as being the, living to write and writing to live continuum.

So like the work that you feel called to do on this earth, and then the work that you feel you can, that you can get paid for.

And, and it’s interesting to me, the ways in which I have, you know, both confused myself with some of my so-called calculations, like my first novel Edinburgh, for example, I thought, when I first started out with writing it, and I, I wrote about that in “Autobiography of My Novel,” which is an essay on the Suwanee Review that you can find online. I thought it was going to be a more commercial novel, hilariously enough.

Uh, And then, and then it wasn’t. It took two years to sell. It, I got paid $6,000 for it. Of which the publisher went bankrupt owing me $2,000. Plus, you know, like, we had sold the paperback rights to another publisher and because of the bankruptcy, when the first check came in, which was when I was going to supposedly finally see some money, that money just flowed straight through into the bankruptcy, which was not at all great for me.

And that’s where I had to learn to really fight for my rights as a writer, because, there was a chance that, with the bankruptcy that I was going to lose the ownership of my first novel, which I had worked so hard to publish. And also see no income from it. And so, you know, that was when I placed that phone call to the agent I had met at the Asian American Writers Workshop open-mic. And who just happened, by then, to be an agent at the Wylie Agency.

She doesn’t like me to talk about her online, so I’m, I’m going to try to restrain talking about this too much, but, her willingness to go to court to fight for my rights, because at the time I was looking at a group of agents that I might have transitioned to, and that was one of the qualities that I needed.

It’s all good and well to, to work with some people when everything is fine, but you need people who have a plan for when things go terribly sideways. And that’s why she’s still my agent.

Jessica Abel: That’s a good agent story.

So, I wanted to transition, to talking a little bit about the actual work itself and how, how you go about doing your work.

That one of the things I was struck by, in re-reading your work is how you clearly had lots of signs of being quote unquote talented, right? Very early on, winning awards and having people respond to work. You talk about being amnesiac about that and forgetting, next time you apply for something, that you had won something in the past, which I also can totally identify with. That feeling that like, there’s never a point at which you like I’ve made it. I’m fine.

And, and one of the things you talk about when you, when you delve into your education, both undergrad and also in your MFA, is this idea of learning the craft of writing, like learning actual writing craft. And that that is something that’s so… you wanted to work, like you wanted to feel like there was something you could dig your hands into and learn how to do as a craft. And I wonder, did that have something, like… you didn’t trust talent, it sounds like, basically the idea of talent, which, I mean totally reasonable to me. I’m just saying, it seems clear that like talent seemed like something ephemeral and unreal, but work, you could understand. Does that resonate at all?

Alexander Chee: Yes. Work and a skillset. And people would read my work and they would be very moved by it. And I, and as a young writer, and I would think like, How did I do that? How did I reach you? What worked and what didn’t work? And, and so, you know, a lot of what I wanted in my education as a writer was simply a way of talking about those things so that I could articulate it to myself and then to others.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. I would love to take your classes cause I never got that kind of instruction. That just sounds like so awesome.

I’ve thought of that when I was reading that writers writer’s block posts that you recently, the article you recently posted about getting over writer’s block. Cause there’s initial part of it is about fear and you know how this is about fears and so on. Throughout that, that sort of an echo.

But you’re also very tactical, you know, there’s tactics. It’s like maybe this specific thing in your writing is literally blocking you. And if you resolve this thing, then it’ll all come unblocked, you know? So go look for that. See if that’s there.

And I can imagine that just being almost a checklist, like you can just sit down and go like, all right, I’m blocked. Let me see this, this, this, this, or this, you know, and going through it. And that made me think back to when we first met, which was, we worked together in the pilot course of the Creative Focus Workshop, which was called the Creative Project Planning Course, I believe. Challenge something like that.

And, you right out of the blocks, you said, I really am interested in looking into creative project management as self-care. Which seems to be the same thing you’re talking about, basically with this block post.

Where, you know, I had come into teaching this thing thinking about, well, here’s how you break down tasks. Here’s how you put them on a calendar. Here’s how… You know, it was very much this kind of some stuff. Like the, the thing, the actions you take. But what I was missing is that self-care piece and how important that is until day two, when everybody talked about it. And then changed the entire course of how I teach from now on.

But I, I trace that back to you to that comment, actually that, that initial raising that issue of how self-care is intimately, intimately tied into the process of writing and the process of creation. And also there are tactics you can learn that can help you deal with that, take care of that.

Alexander Chee: Yes. I think, you know, the thing that I, I, you know, I was, that was a very haphazard student. I always had the feeling of, like that I was trying to sift through everything that was being offered to me to try to figure out what I actually was interested in and could make use of.

And, when I took your class. I think what I was aware of was how I had entered into the process of writing the second novel, and was still using many outdated methods for organizing how I was getting through, what at that point had become like an, a massive, you know, a 600 page draft that had all these different generations to it.

And, and I, there’s another blog post about when people write ‘final-final-version3-final-reallyfinal’ on their doc name, which is like a way of trying to convince yourself that you’re, that you’re really gonna finish.

And, what I actually needed to do was not to make those titles, but I needed to break down, and this is part of what came out of that class, was learning to break down like, okay, these are the tasks that are left.

You know, when you’re revising on a deadline, for publication and you’re revising a novel, for example, they would send it all back to me and say, okay, you have until X day to do it, can you get it done by then? And I would always just say yes without… Because was so anxious to please them, I would never think, like, what does that look like on, like, on my side, you know?

And so it would be inevitably be like, they’d send it to me like December 14th or something, as the, you know, it’s the end of the school year. All of my, student projects are coming in. I have to do all my grading. I have to write everybody’s letters of recommendation. There’s also grant deadlines to apply for in that same period. And, and it just felt like getting pinned by a car that was made out of my own words.

And, and what I learned to do was to, was to look at like, okay, how many, how many words per day can I do on that schedule? Is that reasonable?

If I started to fall behind, I would recalculate. So I would like, you know, you get like a 75,000 word manuscript back, copy edited, and you’re told to go through the copy edits and submit the changes. And they say, how does this day sound?

And I didn’t have a way for figuring out, like could I get that work done by then? It seemed like I could, but was I lying to myself and then lying to them also.

So then I would just divide like, you know, 75,000 words by say, like 60 days, and look at what that looked like, and see if that was manageable. And if it wasn’t manageable, then at the beginning of that conversation about deadlines, I could then reasonably write back and say, this, this deadline puts me on this schedule that I won’t be able to manage. Can I get more time?

And that is something that when you’re, you know, a new writer, it seems terrifying to ask for, because you’re like so grateful that you have this chance to publish. You know, you don’t think like how much time do I need, will I be able to survive the publishing schedule? You know?

Um, Will my will my family be mad at me cause I’m not at the holiday events with them, you know, that they’ve been waiting all year to see me and suddenly I have copy edits to attend to, you know.

You know, I’m very, I’m very aware now, as, as like my mom is older of how many holidays I was completely checked out of how many vacations with her, I was completely checked out of because I was working like overworking myself because I hadn’t actually calculated how much of my time it would take.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, I think probably everybody here can just absolutely resonate with that. That idea is just, it’s so easy to overestimate our ability to get work done.

And just something like, you know, revise a seventy-five thousand word draft. You can’t really get your brain all the way around that in some ways, or it’s very difficult to, it’s very difficult to get, sort of break it down into chunks and say, well, what does that look like on the ground? 75,000 is just such a big number. Like what does that, what does that look like? What does that mean? And then being very realistic about all the other things on your list. So applying for these grants or grading these papers or holidays, you know. And making sure those things are in there is just such a key piece.

And also this idea of then re when you are able to do that, when you do take the time, slow down and take the time to then be able to renegotiate, seems so, so important to be able to do that.

And that, then it gets back to what you’re talking about with money too, where it’s like, well, what does it mean for me if I’m going to take six weeks on this essay and I’m getting paid 150 bucks, you know, like how does that play out over the course of the year?

Alexander Chee: When you write an essay about something, you don’t really get it back, as an experience to write about. Unless you put it in an essay collection, in which case you can, you can re-monetize that, that initial low fee within the context of a book advance.

So in that case, there are certain, there are certain, you know, the 1989 essay in that collection. For example, it was a short essay about being at a police riot that I had originally written as an short story, an autobiographical short story that I submitted to Story magazine for a contest. It’s it won me some money and, and a typewriter that I then used to write for a long time. And that typewriter became like a, a talisman at th, at a time that I needed a talisman. You know, I wrote this typewriter into existence. I’m now using it to write more stories, you know.

And I still have that kind of sense of, the materiality that comes about as a result of my writing. You know, like, so this house that I live in is something that I bought and furnished with, writing, or from teaching writing. And that means a lot to me. And it means a lot to my sense of the work that I’ll then do next as a result of this, you know. And how the work I’ve already done. You know, now, now feeds into that.

That’s why I think of the creative process as self-care. Charging money as self-care. Price as an emotional boundary, for example, is one like knowing what your price is, and being able to stick to it, it’s it’s takes care of me. It takes care of the people in my life.

I think, you know, the last few years have definitely been for me, something where I’ve been seeing how the lack of self-care, isn’t just something that affects me. It affects, my family, my spouse, my, everyone I work with, you know?

um

Jessica Abel: And right?

Alexander Chee: And my writing, yeah.

Jessica Abel: It just comes right back around in a circle.

Jessica Abel: uh, Given all this, what would you want to tell your 1989 self, if you could?

Alexander Chee: Not to be so grateful anytime somebody wanted to publish me.

Jessica Abel: Less gratitude. That’s good. That’s a new one. Don’t be so grateful!

Alexander Chee: Don’t be so grateful that you let yourself down.

And to ask more questions.

Part of my teaching strategy is to try to offer up to students, and to underline in a, and give them emphasis on the things that I think, I let slide for myself when I was younger.

So I remember an editor from Knopf reading a story of mine and saying, if you can turn this into a novella, I’ll buy it.

Well, I didn’t really know what a novella was. And I was so embarrassed about not knowing that I didn’t ask, you know, so there was like this huge, ego issue that was partly like, even though I’ve been an English major at Wesleyan, I still didn’t feel like I knew what a novella was or how to write it. And I don’t know why I was so embarrassed to ask, but I was, I tried to sort of sneak around it. And then that became a different kind of shame, which became a different kind of obstacle to writing.

I also gave up on myself a lot, which may surprise people. But, you know, one of the essays in my collection, Girl , for example, is an essay that sat in my files for 20 years. And every so often I would pull out the manuscript, which I had printed on a dot matrix printer at the University of Iowa in 1994. I d look at it and think that’s pretty good and then I just wouldn’t revise it. And I, I just didn’t believe enough in the essay and in myself. And when I finally finished revising it, I was shocked at how close to done it was.

And then, and then it just kept shocking me, like Guernica had asked me about, did I have anything on the subject of gender, for example. And I had just finished looking at it and said, you know, I have this old essay I’ll revise and I’ll send it to you.

Guernica, at the time, was making a commitment to pay for work at a level that they had not previously been trying to pay it. still wasn’t very much. But I, when they said they wanted to publish it, I made an agreement with them, which is, I said, if you think this essay is, is, you know, of the caliber that you, you would feel comfortable submitting it for Best American Essays, please do. So that’s another thing that you can work out for yourself.

And so they did submit it to Best American Essays and then it was chosen for the 2016 Best American Essays. And then I felt like a huge dummy for having sat on it for 20 years. 20 years.

And there’s a lot of essays in that collection that are like that. “The Rosary” essay, for example, I thought was incredibly self-indulgent and possibly too long. That’s often remarked on by people as one of their favorite essays in the collection.

Jessica Abel: We can be such bad judges of our own work.

Alexander Chee: Yes. Even as I think it’s also incumbent on us to try to be the person with the final say, in a sense, as well, about so much.

So it’s, I guess I would say I have a, I have a writing process that’s informed by, by how much I don’t trust myself [laughs] But I’ve set up different like, ways to, to check those moments of mistrust. A kind of methodology as it were, for figuring out, am I right? Have I thought about this enough? if I doubt it, why do I doubt it? Is there anything to the doubt that’s in the work itself or is the doubt somewhere else? Is the doubt in me? Can I address it there?

Jessica Abel: We have a bunch of great um get there. And so we will switch gears now.

So, Tamara asks, how do you help writers resist the urge to keep going to school and taking courses, and just stop and get the work out there? And this kind of relates to what you were just talking about in some ways, right? Like trusting yourself in some, to some degree.

Alexander Chee: Yeah I think, it’s interesting– I want to keep taking classes. I took a class last year. I learned so much. I think the thing to do is not to let your sense of yourself as being someone who is still learning things to be some sort of obstacle to sending work out.

Jessica Abel: So both, both and, right? So you take the class, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to continue to learn. Obviously that’s what we all want all the time, but how do we make that something that doesn’t an obstacle to pass in order to be

Alexander Chee: Right. I have these wonderful, successful writing students. And so I like to teach their work to my newer students and then say, this is a student of mine, this is the standard. This is what’s possible, also.

So like, you know, Carmen Machado, Ayana Mathis, Angela Flournoy, Kaitlyn Greenidge, you know, those are just a couple of recent students of mine that I am happy to, like I share their work with my students and it’s exciting to talk about.

And then, and then to re-cast the conversation, you know, and to get them to think about possibility because a lot of them doing the work aren’t thinking past the classroom, they’re not thinking past, you know, these are undergraduates, of course.

And now there is a, a really solid tradition of teaching creative writing in a liberal arts context where you’re not, you’re not professionalizing quote unquote. Where your students are learning the things that you can learn from trying to write fiction, which are how hard it is to tell a story that you don’t, that you aren’t interested in, how hard it is to work with ideas that aren’t interesting to you. And thus how to commit to the ideas that actually are interesting to you. And how scary that then is once you do that, and yet how meaningful it is to push through that. And to get through, to writing what you actually want to be writing.

Jessica Abel: Back to trust,

Alexander Chee: Back to trust. Yeah.

So you know, the, question of how to know when to trust yourself. I think that’s, that’s something that I was definitely struggling with back when I was sitting on all those stories and essays.

I’m working now on a novel that I, it’s for a long time been a kind of grab bag of short stories. And I finally figured out how it can be a novel.

But many of the stories were written for my thesis at Iowa, like, at least three or four. And there’s, there’s many more now, but it’s interesting to go back to that old work, see what I was, the project that I was undertaking as a young writer and, and to see both what I believed in and what I was struggling to believe in.

Jessica Abel: So MC is a poet and wants to know about your poetic practice.

Alexander Chee: I just took all of these books downstairs. I usually have books of poetry nearby.

Franny Choi is a poet that I’ve been reading a lot of this year. Cameron Awkward-Rich is another poet I’ve been reading a lot of this year.

I like poems that are funny. Like Matthew Olzmann, for example, is one of my favorite poets, because he is he’s able to, make you laugh and also just like, reveal all these levels to what you’re thinking about.

I don’t really think of myself though, as a, as a quote unquote, working poet in the way that these poets are. Because I write poems, I started writing poems as a kind of love sick teen. And I still think of myself essentially as a love poet.

And I publish poems I have, I’ve published poems recently. They often seem to, to arrive when I’m between book projects, I experienced them differently from the other things that I try to write. It’s more something that I hear first, then, then say something that’s borne out of a specific idea.

There’s usually a kind of penny drop moment, something that I’ve been listening for without knowing that I’m listening for it. And then a possibility emerges out of that.

Poems where I learned, to take on fictional personae. So they taught me a lot about fiction writing. Poems are where I learned about how to work with theme.

Writing a pantoum in particular, is something that I did when I was a student at the University of Iowa. And I was, I had a, a poem that I was unhappy with and I, I, I worked with the pantoum form to turn it into a pantoum and, and the rigor of, of that formal demand introduced me to, I would say like a different experience of poetic voice, a voice on the page that still informs how I write.

I’ve, I think of of it a bit in the relationship that I guess Ocean Vuong has described. He and I did a, an interview that’s online, that, he talks about how, when he was in Iceland, he learned that in Iceland, literary tradition is that all writers learn to be poets first, before they write anything else. Which I think is a really interesting idea of how, how one has a relationship to poetry as essential, you know, as a writer. And not as like a kind of fringe experience or, you know.

But it, if I ever publish a book of poems, it will probably be something that comes like five to 10 years from now, when I feel like I have enough poems that they could possibly be a book, You know? but it’s not something where

Jessica Abel: I—

I I I’m going to just, I’m just going to question that, because I think you probably have files bulging full of them that you’re… (laughs)

Alexander Chee: Maybe. It’s possible.

Jessica Abel: D asks about advice for someone starting out with essays.

You likely can’t command a large fee from the start or perhaps any fee if they can’t drive traffic.

Which relates to question that I didn’t get to earlier, which is, what advice did you give to this person? Like what, you know, when you were trying to help this food writer convert, like how did you build your own online audience? Like what, what would you say to somebody who’s just starting out?

Alexander Chee: There’s no, there’s no reason to think that just because you’re an unknown writer you can’t somehow get a decent fee for your work.

The, the, the thing you do is to look at the places that do pay. And do pay well. Or at least respectably, even if it’s not lavishly. And to, and to submit your work there. And to work on getting the attention of those editors.

You know, magazines like VQR for example, or literary magazines, or the Sewanee Review, are places that if, if your story or essay is accepted, you, you will get offered a little more than $150. Um Sorry, I’m laughing. It’s just, it’s, bitter laughter at myself.

You’re looking for people who will edit you, people who will copyedit you, people who will illustrate the work. If an if an illustration is something that’s needed, and, and do well by it.

You’re looking in some ways, not just to take care of yourself, but it’s that thing that I was also talking about, you’re looking for them to take care of it too. And if they pay for it, they will take care of it.

Jessica Abel: Yes, they’ll value it.

Well and one thing I, I thought you sort of glanced on various different ways, but this thing about negotiation, and do you have to get paid? Is it absolutely essential to get paid for all of your work all the time? And I think you’ve said, also, that there are times that you want to donate your work. You don’t necessarily need to get paid in dollars for something that you really care about.

But maybe but not everybody doesn’t have to get paid in dollars, but you need some, some value exchange where they’re going to be…

You know, I say something like if I want to donate to some, like a nonprofit or something like that, my time, then I want them to do something you know, with it. And commit to certain kinds of promotion or commit to certain kinds of…

I wrote the foreword to the new Graphic Artist Guild Pricing and Ethical guidelines. And they can’t pay me. They didn’t– well, they could probably pay me. They didn’t pay me. But asked for them to publish the essay on their website and to promote it.

And that, that was my negotiation. was like, okay, you know, I’ll do it for free because I really believe in this. But there are things you have the power to give me in exchange. And I think there’s ways of thinking about that.

Alexander Chee: Yeah. I think one thing that I learned to do as a freelancer was to come up with income targets. I came up with like, how much money do I need to make a year?

How many pieces do I need to write to make that amount of money?

What sort of schedule do I need to be pitching?

What day of the month do I invoice? What day of the month do I follow up? And it had to be on a schedule or I would just forget about it, because I never liked to think about it and…

Jessica Abel: There are people in this chat I’m looking at right now. I’m looking at you.

Alexander Chee: I would come up with, I had to have to would have a pitch file that was all just ideas that I wanted to, to pitch.

You know, and once I came up with an income target for myself, I would ask myself, can I do better than that? Can I make more, more money for myself than just what I think I need, you know?

And so, there’s learning the places that would pay me for a book review more than say, $500. Learning to write for, for travel, for example. That turned out to be quite lucrative. Learning to do different kinds of journalism, which pays more than memoir, at the magazine level, but it’s also just like incredibly difficult and demanding, but that’s why you asked to be paid more for it. Because you it’s doing journalism on a shoestring is excruciating, excruciating. With all the like amount of, fact checking and the work that you have to put into it. So those are all the calculations that I had to go through at that time.

…I’m trying to remember, where did I start this question? What was the question that I was answering? Is it,

Jessica Abel: Well, we were talking, we were just talking about the idea of how to get started and know, how to negotiate, and then this question of having a fearful voice that what if nobody wants to pay?

Well, you don’t know until you ask obviously, and if they don’t want to, then maybe you go somewhere else.

Alexander Chee: I think something that I had to learn was how– I had to find the people who were excited about my work and willing to pay me well for it and it might not have been the place that I dreamed of, but it turns out my dreams may have been a little small.

You have to look forward to when you have moved past what you dreamed of into what you didn’t let yourself even dream of. And, and how to be prepared for that also, you know?

So yeah, that’s where submission comes in.

If you can commit to submitting work without committing to a specific publication goal. Where you’re just like, okay, I’m going to send out these, this finished work. I’m going to send out these pitches. When I get a no I’m just gonna put it back in and keep going. You have to be really, not in, not impersonal exactly, but you can’t let your feelings stop you.

You have to do it whether you feel like it or not.

Jessica Abel: Yes, I am with you there!

And I think that is a great place to leave this.

But before we do, in is there some specific place you’d like people to look for you?

Alexander Chee: I do have a Substack. I have been on Tiny Letter and I’m moving to this Substack. It’s free to sign up and it’ll be a mix of like free updates about what I’m doing, and then occasional, once I figure out what I’m going to do with the paid content, there’ll be an update about that also, but for now it’s a free sign-up, yeah.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. So new newsletter.

Alexander Chee: Yeah

Jessica Abel: Awesome.

This has been so amazing to get to talk to you about these things and the audience has been amazing so thank you all for being here. Thank you

once again, thank you, Alex. And thank you everybody for being here today.

Alexander Chee: Thank you! Thanks, Jessica.

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