Sometimes after seeing a particular type of movie, I become quite quiet and pull into myself.  Last night, after seeing ShopGirl, I went to a small food market to watch someone else shop.  I wasn’t hungry anymore; instead of food, I devoured details.  If only I always felt that cerebral, I could shop at Scoop again and listen to waifs try to sell me this month’s "it" jeans in a size too small.  "Oh, but they stretch."  Yeah, so does my ass, Lady!  Except she’s not a lady; she’s a twelve-year-old boy with better skin and chemically straightened hair. 

At the market, the texture of a cantaloupe smeared past me, as if it were the inside lip of dress, up in a twirl, the whip of hair across a shoulder.  A blurred slow-motion, as if I were seeing everything through an unfocused lens.  Maybe depressed is the wrong word.  Withdrawn, in my own square space.  The sheen of eggplant, aborigine cauliflower with wilted green leaves. Noticing these things made me feel like I was in a movie, my eyes the camera angle, my squint the texture and grain of the film.  I like this feeling: withdrawn. When I’m quiet like that it almost feels as if I’m concentrating.  I picked up the melon and inhaled with my entire face; the bouquet was more fragrant than the gray brainy fruit hinted.  I was happy in that moment, at a market, smelling a melon.  And I hated the movie, but I was glad it created a withdrawal.

A plum tomato sat alone, in a cardboard box, awaiting, like a puppy in a window.  It looked lonesome there beside the half-price bruised apples.  I wondered when the last time was that I cooked a tomato.  I missed the season completely this year.  I used to make fresh tomato sauce at least once a week, pressing sauce through my food mill, removing glossy strips of tomato skin and beady seeds.  I do and I don’t miss cooking.  All I want to make are soups, but no one is excited about soup for dinner, in a pot with a floating crostini.  No one but me.  They always want something else, something that bleeds. 

I was going to bake a sheppard’s pie this weekend, but I couldn’t find the meshy drain bit to my potato ricer.  (Some nescient pawn just emailed to say how dumb I am because of how I chose to spell “sheppard.”  Then she waxed on about my lack of attention to Katrina.  What’s that?  Wax on, wax off?  Bye now.) Ahem, as I was saying…I was going to meet my friends for drinks, but I had too much reading to do for my Monday night writing class.  I was going to take a vacation, but I had too many appointments and obligations.  I was going to see Little Manhattan today, but I still had too much reading to do for class. "I was going to" is just another way of saying, "I didn’t."   It’s as bad as soon, and "you have so much potential."

I learned a profound worry of mine is that my writing isn’t any good.  That’s what came of my yesterday at a writer’s conference.  "They spoke so eloquently; I will never sound like that."
"Well they’ve had more practice."
"No, I will never, ever, be that fluid and graceful."
"You mean you’ll never be that smart?"
"Exactly!"  I will never be that eloquent, learn to seamlessly use the words "jejune" and "lionize" as if they were pronouns.  "Blithe" isn’t a word you say; it’s something you write. 

A friend sent me a line today, "There are no facts in a marriage."  Why couldn’t I have written that?  Honesty and sincerity should not be confused with quality.   I don’t know how to recognize my good writing from the bad, from the easy.  I don’t have a problem with honesty, with hanging it all out there, but I need to become aware of where I fall into easy, where I know how to cheat myself out of my writing with a clever turn of phrase.  I want to improve, and I imagine the only way to do it is to read more.  I’ve heard so many writers speak of their love of reading. I haven’t felt that in a while, which I suspect is my tourniquet.  I am a slow as fcuk reader.  When I was in fourth grade, I was in the group with the really dumb kids.  I mean, the really slow ones who still had problems with their motor skills. Throughout college, I mostly slogged through a mire of monarch notes in lieu of the text.  I learned more from poetry and Ibsen plays that Proust.  Strindberg and Chekhov.  Plays and poets appealed to me.  Chaucer and Homer (not that kind of poetry), not so much. I hated having to read anything I was told to read, save for Jane Austen.  I didn’t have an intrinsic love of reading or books; doesn’t that make me less of a storyteller?  I’m still tragically slow, and I cannot spell (and I don’t always bother to pass everything I write through spellcheck… it’s a journal!)  But I can correct my mistakes and delete whatever I want.  I need a nap and someone to read to me until I fall asleep.



  1. Well…the hating reading thing is easily solved!!

    http://www.audible.com – Books on mp3! Hurrah for laziness!

    As for your writing, you're bound to be your own harshest critic. I think you have a wonderful way with words. I found myself walking home this evening thinking "God I wish I could write like that…"

    That said – the minute you start thinking "Yep..I rule" things will go downhill. So keep questioning – its better for those of us who stop by here every day (sometimes twice!) to read!


  2. some unsolicited advice/reactions to withdrawn . . . go see Little Manhattan. I think you will feel less depressed, and maybe even a bit warm and fuzzy as you watch the closing credits role . . . as for being a slow reader, or a slow anything, remember slow and steady wins the race (I remind myself that often) . . . and if you could get Phil to read to you before you go to sleep one night . . . pure heaven. and for what it is worth, you are a good writer. a little self doubt every now and again isn't such a bad thing. it probably makes you a better writer. and a better you.

  3. if you weren't a good writer, you wouldn't be where you are. we wouldn't be here.

    storytelling has a lot to do with hanging it all out there, without holding back. so many people are afraid of that pure honesty.

    keep questioning. keep thinking. keep writing.

  4. Hi Stephanie
    Was at your panel yesterday. So nice to see you in person. I agree with you on reading. After the afternoon panel I had a whole new list of inadequacies. Really wish they wouldn't have booked you in with, "it's my Editor", like totally! Made me happy to realize that, staggering achievments aside, a 19 year-old will always act like a 19 year-old. Could have asked you a million questions and thought Julie got the shaft, too. Still so happy to have made it and learned a lot. Thank you for being there, being yourself and for not shamelessly plugging. I am a slow reader, too, but perhaps you should remember why you like turtles so much.

  5. I haven't had that feeling in so long… when I used to live in Montreal, there were mornings when I woke up and looked out at the city and I knew it would be one of those days – filled with moments where everything was so tangible and fresh and rich and far away and fascinating. I would call in to work and walk for miles, watching the city move… reading your post today made me miss that. It makes me want to see a movie alone and take the long way home on the subway, listening to the loud teenagers chattering in French on their way home from school and smelling the butter on my fingertips and not for a moment feeling lonely.

  6. I'm feeling the same way after seeing The Weather Man. I, too, enjoy this feeling…I never looked at it the same way, like I'm concentrating…I don't think I'll ever forget that remark. Have a fabulous evening, SK!

  7. You are as smart as any woman who was at that writer's conference and as funny and as talented. And most of all, you are you and they're not.

  8. Hey Stephanie, to put it in a nutshell, if you weren't a good writer, we wouldn't be here. Honestly, your following is a fairly educated bunch (except the morons of course), and we don't have time to read something that isn't captivating, interesting, funny or just off-the-wall. The point is, I love reading your musings. I've said it before, but it's like sitting down for a morning cup of coffee with a close friend and catching up. A guilty pleasure – like Baileys in that morning coffee. Keep up the good work – I think you're amazing. Have a splendid day – oh, and the pictures were fantastic!

  9. I agree with what Beth said, you're own harshest critic. I keep telling myself not to worry about what others think about my writing and to just do it for myself. I suppose now, though, you're writing for a living so that fear that no one likes what you write may grow, but try your damndest not to think about it.

  10. You cliff-noted your way through college? And you were a humanities major? You might not want to admit to that, for the sake of your professional reputation if not for your dignity.

  11. I became an English major because I knew I wanted to be a writer. Of course many successful writers majored in other areas of study, but for me English was a subject that allowed for writing, a lot of it. That's what I enjoyed. Multiple choice questions? No. Multiple page papers? Bring it. Perhaps I'll post some of my old papers?

  12. I'd worry too if I couldn't spell.

    The word is "seamlessly." And it's "shepherd's" (one p, no capital). You can call me a nescient pawn too – although you wouldn't if you knew what the words really meant – but creative spelling went out in the third grade, sugar.

  13. ouch. nicole (comment above me), get off your high horse. your biting sarcasm and bitchiness shows your lack of self-esteem and is a way of making yourself feel better about yourself. don't hate sister. there is a lot more to writing than spelling, sugar.

  14. Ironic– I'm a creative writing major and I hate writing English papers.

    Stephanie, the way you felt in the grocery store– I feel that way. All. The. Time.

    And I also worry that my writing blows.

  15. Sorry I had to comment again, but I've been watching this post evolve during the day, and girl, you are a riot! Better and better…

  16. Stephanie,

    Movies take me to that place, too. I imagine that this is how Papa Hemingway felt in a Paris cafe or bar. Or as close as I'll ever get to feeling that way.

    Lone tomatoes as puppies. Stephanie, your writing is wonderfully visual, with or without its seams.


  17. Two things-

    I hated to read, and I was a very slow reader. But, much later in life, when I read Red Strom Rising, Barbarians at the Gate, and Den of Thieves, I really enjoyed it, and I got through them extremely quickly. Perhaps it is because I don't really care for Hemingway and Faulkner, and perhaps war games and financial reading is more interesting, at least to me.

    On the writing, perhaps what you are doing is classifying all writers as the same thing. What I'm thinking is that all writers are different. Clancy, for example, has a way of describing military hardware. Thomas Friedman has a keen insight into the middle east. King has an ability to know what scares people. All good writers, just different.

    Perhaps you're not as poetic as some, but perhaps they are not able to convey the emotions of a young woman in NYC. But it doesn't really matter.

    It's like music. The only thing that matters is whether or not someone buys and reads it. There are people that can write lyrics, or write music, or sing, or play instruments, etc. And there is no standard for what is good. Snoop, .50c, Beatles, Jimmy Dorsey, Jimi Hendrix, Bach?

    The point is that, whomever you compare yourself to, you can always find someone better. But as long as there is a market for what you write, then you're a successful writer.

  18. Finding a spelling error in someone's blog is like pointing out the one lump in your Thanksgiving host's mashed potatoes.

    The veraciousness with which some people devour others' spelling and grammatical flubs is laughable. It's trying to look clever while not seeing the forest through the trees.

    I know. I'm a copy editor.

  19. This was a fine post. I really enjoyed it. *You ought uh appreciate real evaluation not only through a red eye apple lens. Writing really invokes the everyday reader.* – especially when it's good, which this is. But I enjoy it all even when it's just a lowly acronym or pun.

  20. As much as I mostly dislike his writing, Stephen King, in the preface to "Night Shift," discloses how, in his travels, he usually encounters people at cocktail parties who advise him "I've always wanted to be a writer." His response: "I've always wanted to be a brain surgeon."

    He follows the cryptic interchange by explaining — simply — a writer writes. It's that simple. What we do with our lives is up to us, economic/financial factors aside. We opt to do — hopefully — that which we enjoy doing and that at which we excel. Of course, writing — whether technical manuals, movie scripts or pornographic letters — is a lot less precarious than, say, self-dentistry, knife-juggling, or the aforementioned brain surgery. But more to the point: a writer, whether his/her material is favorably received or exemplary and notable, writes. And yours is both — so spend time worrying less about what you're not and focus on what you are, what you want to do with your writing, and how you can get from here to there.

    A writer writes.

  21. I agree with everything Lynn said, and though I hadn't read your blog before, I enjoyed hearing you speak at the panel yesterday.

    I was told to read /Mansfield Park/ for a high school European History class, then told not to read the book and instead to watch the movie. I kept reading anyways and I'm still rabidly obsessed with everything Austen. Maybe it was a rebellion thing.

  22. I think pointing out others' spelling mistakes in a "you are SOOOOOO dumb" kind of way also went out in the third grade. That comment made me conjure images of the character Summer and her gold stars from the (completely annoying and ridiculous) movie School of Rock.

    However, there is a point there. If you are serious about being a good writer, I think knowing the language is important. I don't mean that as a criticism at all. I rarely notice your misspellings, because I'm just not that concerned about those kinds of mistakes in a blog. But bad spelling in carefully crafted literature would seem to me to be a liability for a serious writer.

    Every writer has a given talent that brings them to the "writers' table" to begin with. For you, that talent is, in my opinion, that you have a gift for creating imagery, making metaphors, bringing feelings to the page. You can make a reader feel like they are right there with you. That is no small feat. But beyond creating writing that maximizes their one special gift, I think a good writer has to labor – A LOT – to produce those elements of their writing that don't come so easily. Many "eloquent" writers are only really good at making beautiful use of the language. They have to work and struggle to make the stories they tell with their beautiful language interesting and captivating. You are the opposite, I think.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment. Also sorry you didn't like Shopgirl. I haven't seen it yet, but I read the novella when it first came out and it remains one of my favorite things to read. It doesn't surprise me that they've ruined it with a movie. :)

  23. Don't forget the parsnips. Shepherd's Pie is all about the parsnips, some garlic, and carrots, too! Hope you got the recipe I sent.

  24. A college professor, after reading one of my freshman papers, pointed out that I had used a word that was not a word. To assuage my humiliation, he kindly said that it showed great creativity. (And then went on to tell me what a mess the paper was – and it was.)"Good writing" comes from a source that has nothing to do with spell check or the use of million-dollar words. Good writing wraps around a reader the way the netting on that canteloupe wrapped around it's luscious, juicy core. Read the type of writing that turns your writing on, and the rest will follow.

  25. Stephanie, you are a good writer, even a great one, and anyone who sniffs around your site will tell you as much. But you bring more to the party than "a gift for words" and I think it has to do with what strikes me as your interest in finding ways to connect with people and also to make sense of your own experiences. Your stories, your photography and drawings, and, yes, your unchecked honesty and sincerity, are part of your tremendous talent. No one needs to read your college papers of years-old textual analysis to understand that you deserve to be called a writer.

    But if you're looking for a book? I just read Elisabeth Robinson's novel, The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, and parts of it reminded me of your blog. It really is that good (both of them)…

  26. I used to dread when my mom wouuld make soup for dinner. But, soup is heaven. It is every food group in one bowl. Chicken Noodle. Beef barley. It's nearly all I've been eating for three weeks. I almost love them all. Did you know that people who eat soup at least three times a week lose weight more quickly than those who don't? It works. If you ever feel the need to make soup, send some my way please!

  27. Stephanie,
    Have you ever done a reader survey? I'd be curious to know what your readers do, who they are. Bet you are, too, sometimes…


  28. Stephanie,
    I agree with everything you said above about your writing abilities…

  29. Hi Stephanie
    i think joey b. made a very spot-on comment. there is always someone out there who will be better than you at something (in reality or in your head). the fact is, you have found a niche and have a hearty, loyal audience so you must be doing something right.
    by the way, you mentioned a writing class that you are taking. i have been looking to take one – can you recommend one for me?

  30. I forgot to say that I think your photography is lovely. I've gone back to the archives to look at those pepper photos a dozen times, at least. The more recent Brooklyn Bridge shots are also very well done.

  31. Joey B, I always enjoy your comments, and find myself searching for a blue link to click on afterwards! If you started up a blog, I would read it!

    Steph, after reading this entry, I went to my son's school for a meeting. The office walls were papered with Albert Einstein posters and appropriate quotes:

    "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

    "If you are out there to describe truth, leave elegance to the tailor"

    "Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds."

    Keep it real. And don't lament the haters.

  32. you mentioned a writing clase you are taking. i would love to take one also but don't know where to start. could your recommend one?

  33. It seems to me that you can't know if you're a good writer unless you read a lot.

    If you ran 26 miles in 8 hours and all your friends said "good job", you wouldn't know if it actually WAS a good job unless you compared yourself to other marathon runners.

    Just my opinion, of course.

  34. I think pointing out others' spelling mistakes in a "you are SOOOOOO dumb" kind of way also went out in the third grade. That comment made me conjure images of the character Summer and her gold stars from the (completely annoying and ridiculous) movie School of Rock.

    However, there is a point there. If you are serious about being a good writer, I think knowing the language is important. I don't mean that as a criticism at all. I rarely notice your misspellings, because I'm just not that concerned about those kinds of mistakes in a blog. But bad spelling in carefully crafted literature would seem to me to be a liability for a serious writer.

    "amanda b" makes a very good point. Is Nicole's snottiness necessary? No. Is there some validity to the underlying principle that good spelling and grammar are imperative in good writing? In my opinion, yes.

    Good spelling and grammar are basics, like knowledge of plays is basic to a wide receiver's success in the NFL. He may have the best hands in football, but if he – like any of his teammates – doesn't have an encyclopedic understanding of the team's playbook he won't be around for very long.

    To use a somewhat silly analogy…say you need to have brain surgery, and a friend recommends a surgeon with a good reputation. When you go see him (or her), they explain to you the procedure. Instead of using the term "cerebellum", though, they say, "…you know, that thingie". That surgeon may know exactly what they're talking about. You may know exactly what they're talking about. If questioned, the surgeon may ask, "What does it matter whether or not I know the name of the different parts of the brain, as long as I know where to cut?" They may have a point, but I'd be looking for another surgeon.

    As far as your reading goes, Stephanie…I once had the same problem. I hated reading, because I was a slow reader. I did the Cliff's Notes thing all throughout high school. When I got to college, though, I decided it was time for a change. I read a LOT! It was very slow and tedious at first, but I quickly learned (though my parents had been telling me for years) that the more you read the faster you get. As cliche as it may sound, practice really does make "perfect".

    Good luck to you, Stephanie!

  35. I love to read – and write – but detest writing classes because I hate to be told what to write and when. It comes to me on whimsy – not on direction. Don't bemoan your writing or your ability to convey – with words or otherwise – a story. It's all there and your love of it is evident, regardless of struggle.

  36. It doesn’t take someone to speak rhetorically in order to get a huge audience. Sometimes when someone uses words they normally don’t when they speak to you in person, it takes away from their style of writing. It’s simply not their own words.

    When I read a book, and I see that the author is just way over my head—speaking too eloquently, I tune out. Who speaks like that in person? Think about it—people will write eloquently, but once you meet them in person, are they still using the same ‘big words’ they were when you read their book—or blog?

    Can I be totally honest with you, Stephanie?

    “Sure you can Deb!”

    Okay… I’ve noticed your writing has improved a great deal, as far as ‘the correct way to write’… That’s a given. I’m not a professional writer by any means, however, I was more entertained when you first started this blog. It was ‘raw’, and more real. It gave people a sense of ‘relating’ to the author, instead of reading a blog, when they can go out and buy a book full of ‘big words’. Does that make any sense at all?

    I’m not saying give up on your education of writing and learning all you can—I’m just trying to say—don’t lose yourself with what other people think. Don’t become ‘them’. I miss the old blogs—I admit it.

    I know your agents and other people who are advising you probably tell you to ‘clean it up a tad’…and that’s fine…but I’m afraid they are also advising you to change your style of writing.

    I’m still a fan! You’re an amazing writer!

  37. It may not mean much coming from a random stranger in Oklahoma, but your writing inspires me. Please keep it up.

  38. PS. I am reading a book right now that talks a lot about the mysteries of writing, you might enjoy. And its really short. Its called The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and its fantastic.

  39. Ms. Klein – When I want to read structured, coherent, critical commentary on intellectual issues, I visit the NYTimes OpEd section. When I want my heart and soul to be stimulated, and be reminded that I'm not alone when it comes to dealing with various challenges and emotions in life, I come to your blog. Should you be concerned with coherency? Yes, of course. It's part of ensuring that the thoughts you are trying to convey are clearly communicated. Should you compare your writing to the genre of Thomas Friedman? Nope.

  40. So how did you like ShopGirl? I also sometimes feel that I read very slow. Then I realize–oh wait, that's my secret. ;)

  41. To be a writer, and not read others works is something that I cannot even comprehend. To write you have to be an observer. An observer of the world you live in and the literary world. We learn from others, we draw inspiration, and we learn to model our own work after familiar patterns. We learn what works best, and what should be avoided at all costs. I am a creative writing student, and I am assigned poems, and novellas, short fictions, and plays to be read each week – on top of writing my own stories and poems. Slow reader or not, there is no excuse for a writer to not read.

    "As Michael Johnson points out, “…reading of others’ work is crucial to [ones success in creative writing.” To remove the research component from the creative writer’s program of study is to remove a critical source of nourishment for his/her own writing." (www.ku.edu – MFA Program)

  42. DON'T CHANGE A THING! The style of your writing draws us in and makes us a part of your life, even though we are not a part of yours. You inspire us to be unique, original, and to blaze our own trails if need be. DON'T CHANGE A THING!

  43. I worry about that, too, not being a real writer. I think all writers worry about what they're not writing, and how much they don't read. Also, using a word like "lionize," doesn't mean as much as telling the truth.

  44. I've had great writing experiences at the NY JCC and 92nd Street Y. My 92nd Street Y experience was good because the class students were mostly published authors or MFA Writing graduates. I like to surround myself with writers I believe are better than I am, so I challenge myself to rise to the occasion. So I always try to get into the most advanced class I can. I don't always get in, but I keep trying.

  45. You go on and on way too much, and you repeat yourself.
    And to say you don't really like to read, yet want to write, is bizarre.
    The photos are good though.

  46. Hi Stephanie,

    I was also at your panel. I thought I had posted last weekend, but I guess it didn't go through. I enjoyed hearing you speak and was very interested in what you had to say. I had previously seen your blog when it was referenced in The New York Times, and I checked it out when I realized you went to Barnard. At first glance, I thought I wouldn't be able to relate to much in your blog.

    After seeing you at the panel the other weekend, I really admired how your words were honest, yet thoughtful. I also was amazed at how gracefully you handled the behavior of your fellow panelist, who answered her cell phone AND continued to talk to it in front of the whole panel. (I did not say hello, when she begged her audience to say "hi!!") It felt cheap.

    You felt genuine. (And gutzy, and real.)

    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.