How I Write – Vincent Scarpa

When/How/Where do you write?

I wish I could say I was one of those types who has mastered some routinized practice of writing— five a.m each morning, specific desk, word count goal, unplugged from WiFi—but that has never once been the case for me. I seem to write in spurts. Deadlines help. There will be weeks where I don’t write anything beyond little iPhone notes, fragments. I get far more pleasure out of reading than I do out of writing, and that’s probably my biggest procrastination tool. (Though if you’re procrastinating writing, reading is certainly the most nourishing way to do it.) That being said, I’m a firm believer in this killer line from Joy Williams, my own personal Jesus. She says, “The messenger comes when you’re sitting at the table.” Just that simple. So I try not to wait around too long for inspiration to strike—though it’s happy-making and consuming and exciting when it does—and at least force myself to open up a blank document when it’s been too long since I’ve written.

I usually tend to write at night, but that’s likely because I’m mostly nocturnal. As far as where I write: almost exclusively in bed, on my stomach, with a pillow propped under my chest. It’s not especially comfortable—or at all, really—and my fingers and elbows get tingly with lack of blood flow I guess it is every time. No idea why that’s the position. Maybe I should invest in a desk; an expensive one, so I’d feel like shit if I didn’t use it.

Do you eat while you write? If so, what?

I chain-smoke. It’s really terrible and you shouldn’t try it at home. Everyone seems to have quit smoking, seemingly all of a sudden and without tribulation, and bully for them but I am a completely addicted hanger-on, for good or bad. (Well, for bad. Obviously. But I also firmly believe we’re going to be Hunger Games’ing it in like 20 years, half underwater, and I don’t really care to be around for that, anyway. I lack the survival instinct. Clearly.) When I’m in the writing mindset, I’m burning through a pack, sometimes two if I’m editing. Which is not at all glamorous: it’s expensive, it’s smelly, I never get my security deposits back, and so and so forth. But the smoking gives me something to do with my hands so I don’t, you know, self-flaggelate because I can’t nail the rhythm of a sentence I’ve written and erased forty times. Now I just give myself little burns, and that’s a time-saver. (Joke.)

Do people eat while they write? I’m picturing a disgusting keyboard with Doritos fingerprints all over the keys. And now I want Doritos. Fuck.

Do you play music while you write?

Never, and I can’t understand how anyone does. I’d just keep typing the lyrics. Even if it were something instrumental, I’d be so distracted.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading a bunch of stuff, because if I’m not reading twelve things at a time I feel like a failure. I also try to be reading a little of each genre at once—a poetry collection, a book of nonfiction, and then a novel or short stories. At the present moment it’s a trio of LaDivine by Marie NDiaye, which is phenomenal, and which I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about; Proxies by Brian Blanchfield, which is brilliant, one of the greatest essay collections I’ve come across in quite some time; and re-reading Alice Notley’s Disobedience, because I love the way she fucks with language and I hope just some of that magic will rub off on me the more I read and reread her. And because how often do you get a figurative mic in your hand: I’ve also recently loved Good Sex Illustrated by Tony Duvert, Little Labors by Rivka Galchen, The Girls by Emma Cline, The Mausoleum of Lovers by Hervé Guibert, and Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón.

Vincent Scarpa is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the Michener Center for Writers. His stories and essays have appeared in Electric Literature, Indiana Review, StoryQuarterly, and other journals. He tweets at @vincentscarpa.