On his new book Every Word You Cannot Say, he said, “I achieved a degree of success with my blog and my first book, I Wrote This For You, and I wanted to do something different. I Wrote This For You felt new and fresh when it came out in 2007, but I feel as if the formula for success in the online poetry and prose space is so familiar now, whereby writers post fragments daily of what they’re working on, then compile that into a book.”
He continued, “It was leading to a lot of books that looked and felt the same, with these modular pieces of writing that don’t really engage with each other or follow a theme – that’s because all those pieces of writing had to exist in isolation to each other on different social media posts.”
“A lot of these books are all basically a collection of social media posts that did well,” he said. “My concern with that is that a bunch of good social media posts doesn’t always translate into a cohesive, solid book. So I set out to write a book that spoke to itself and was aware of everything in it. So in some ways, the entire book is one long epic poem.”
When asked what inspired him to write it, he said, “In 2013, I had a mental health crisis where I felt like my depression was a fundamental part of who I was. I felt that it was what made my writing interesting and that it would always be that way with me.”
“One day, I drove out in my car, not sure if I was ever going to drive back,” he said. I eventually pulled over by the side of the road and started to write. It was then, that I discovered there was this voice inside me that I’d been ignoring, that desperately cared about me and wanted me to live.”
“A lot of what I wrote that day, and on other similar days since then made it into the book. I want more people to discover that kind, gentle voice inside them because I think it’s inside everyone, we just often choose to ignore it,” he added.
On his plans for 2019, he said, “My second child, Finn, has just been born, and between him and his two-year-old sister, Evelyn, I think they’re going to keep me really busy after I finish this current book tour.”
“In the few moments I’ll have, I want to look at revisiting the I Wrote This For You project and what that looks like now,” he said. “It started as a blog, and no one reads blogs anymore. If something doesn’t exist on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit or Facebook, it doesn’t exist, and so I’m trying to work out what that means and how to move forward with that as a project. I also want to work on a non-fiction book about accessing your creativity, which I feel I can speak to.”
Each day, he is motivated as an actor by “doing something new.” “My greatest fear is becoming a one trick pony, and just making the same book over and over again with a slightly different cover. I’ve always admired artists and writers who you couldn’t pin down, who were known for their innovation rather than their style, and that’s what I aspire to,” he said.
Digital transformation of the book publishing industry
On the impact of technology on book publishing, he said, “The industry is completely different, and a few years ago, I think I would’ve said that it’s different in a really good way but I’m not sure anymore. When I was growing up, we were very idealistic about the Internet, that it was going to be this incredibly force for good, where freedom of speech and truth would be sacrosanct, that it would be a democracy of ideas.”
He continued, “I don’t know if that’s true anymore. Social media algorithms are the new gatekeepers, and they’re creating a generation of writers who slavishly obey them, which they have to if they want their work to be seen by an audience. Which means the writer isn’t writing for themselves, or even an audience, the writer is writing for a machine.”
“So I am seeing a lot of cookie-cutter writers online with massive followings who are occasionally getting book deals or self-publishing, who all sound exactly the same because they’re all trying to satisfy the unknown and arbitrary rules of a machine,” he said.
Regarding his use of technology in his daily routine, he said, “I love technology and I always have but I try to balance it. I try to be present whenever I’m with my family or when I’m focusing on something.”
He elaborated, “I have a wallpaper on my screen that says, ‘What for? Why now? What else?’ Unless I have good answers for those questions, I put the phone back down. I had a dumb phone for a while, a phone that could only make phone calls, handle email and messages, but I ended up just taking two phones with me everywhere I went. I have a fitness tracker with the notifications turned off, not a smart watch.”
“I had the original Pebble smartwatch when it first came out and I loved it, but I learned really quickly that it’s too easy to be distracted by it, and any good work requires focus. There’s a great book called Deep Work that goes over this really well,” he said.
“The notes app on my iPhone/iPad and MacBook has been a lifesaver,” he said. “For a poet, your main job is just listening, to other people to and your own inner monologue. When you hear something that could become a poem, your job is to write it down as fast as possible, or else it’ll go away.”
“Being able to sit up at 3:00 a.m., write something down on my phone, and find it waiting for me on my MacBook in the morning, has made that act of always listening a lot easier. The more you listen, the more you hear,” he added.
He shared that he also uses technology to unwind. “I have an Oculus Rift, a Nintendo Switch, a PlayStation 4, and pretty much every console going back to the Atari,” he said.
Advice for authors
His advice for aspiring authors is to “keep writing.” “The first things you write won’t be good, so write them quickly and get them out of the way. Then, start writing the good things, and then the better things,” he said.
The author continued, “Don’t look at the horizon, or at a publishing deal, or the life you’ll think you’ll have someday as a writer. Look in front of you, and just keep taking the next step. I’ve sold hundreds of thousands of books and I still don’t feel like a writer somedays. I just look at the next step.”
For his readers, he said, “I hope people understand it but I think they do. People have been sending me pictures of handwritten notes that they’re leaving in copies of the book at bookstores, about things they feel like they can’t share, for other people to find, and I think that says that they do.”
“If you decide to read it, I hope that it makes you feel a little less alone. I hope it reminds you that you’re part of something so much bigger than you. I hope it gives you a starting point for a powerful conversation with yourself,” he added.
Every Word You Cannot Say is available on Amazon.