It’s gratifying to publish without gatekeepers, and, because of this freedom, there’s a goldmine of scrappy, unique, and creative posts on TNB.

I enjoy reading the comments sometimes as much or more than the posts.Commenting is a skill, one that I haven’t developed.

TNB thrives on the intelligent, lively, supportive, and witty personalities of its core contributors.

On my TNB year anniversary, I list 20 aspirations and thoughts about my writing (sort of like a New Year’s resolutions list), with the hope that you offer some of yours:

1.I don’t want my work to be a psychological cleansing.

2.Intellectuality can be worse than sentimentality—another form of hiding.

3.I’d like my work to be accessible.

4.Not to say that I’m okay with my writing not being literary.

5.I don’t want my writing to be too careful.

6.I don’t want to lose perspective or humor.

7.I don’t want to ignore the banality of existence.

8.Empathy, empathy, empathy.

9.I want to speak about large ideas in small things.

10.I want my writing to be honest.

11.I don’t want my writing to be reactionary.

12.I want my writing to have a sense of the ridiculousness.

13.I want my work to have a life of its own, beyond my notions of meaning.

14.I want to see what’s beyond the surface, catch glimpses.

15.I want my work to be intuitive, not just observational.

16.I don’t want to write a book that is like someone else’s book.

17.My work must contain an element of risk.I hope to live with this more gracefully.

18.But I don’t want it to be the aforementioned psychological cleansing.It’s not clear to me how to keep my distance or detachment, but at the same time invoke all the honesty, humility, care, and vulnerability that make the writing worthwhile.

19.I don’t want my work to be an attempt at attention, an exploitation of self.I don’t want my writing to be personality-driven—though I do appreciate personality in the writing itself.

20.I want to be a good liar in my fiction, but I don’t want to employ fakery and ignorance.I want my lying to be authentic.

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Victoria Patterson is the author of the novel This Vacant Paradise, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Drift, her collection of interlinked short stories, was a finalist for the California Book Award and the 2009 Story Prize. The San Francisco Chronicle selected Drift as one of the best books of 2009. Her work has appeared in various publications and journals, including the Los Angeles Times, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. She lives with her family in Southern California and teaches through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Riverside.

43 responses to “Notes on Writing for TNB for a Year”

  1. Slade Ham says:

    “I want my lying to be authentic.


  2. Zara Potts says:

    Nice piece, Victoria – lots of your points echoed with me.

    As for me: I write to free the words that my mouth can’t speak…

  3. Gloria says:

    1. I want to write using pronouns other than “I” and “me”
    2. When I write using “I” and “me” I want it to be well-crafted and precise, rather than pretty sounding puke
    3. I want to try my hand at fiction
    4. I want to finish my damn manuscript! (which involves getting past myself long enough to really start writing it)
    5. I want to write the next child-wizard Roman-god shiny-vampire novel that will deliver unto me and my children a dumptruck full of money.

    Hrm. Some of these appear to contradict each other. Oh well, I’ll take any or all of the five.

    Nice list, Victoria. Thanks for opening this fun discussion.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      Writers are supposed to be full of contradictions, right? That helps make our work more complex. I dig your list. I can really relate to # 4–it seems like so much of the struggle is just getting it on the page. It’s can be this push/pull thing–in my head–that can paralyze me from working. It’s so frustrating at times.

  4. This is an EXCELLENT list! I’m going to print it out and read it to my students next semester.

    I particularly like numbers 2 and 9. Cool stuff!

  5. Becky Palapala says:

    I just want to be happy with one thing I write. Just one damn thing.

    And not just like, “Well, that’ll have to do” happy. Actually happy.

    Though if I ever get there, there would be no real reason to go on writing.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      I hear you, sister! Oh my god, the squirrel thing is killing me. What is that squirrel holding? Even with glasses on, I can’t tell. Love the squirrel hat.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        That is a red squirrel in a tinfoil hat (with chinstrap and chin cup, which you can’t really see) wielding a dual light trident. Like a light saber but not so played out.

        • Victoria Patterson says:

          Damn. That makes me incredibly happy.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Artwork courtesy of Richard Cox. You also can’t see the trident-matching pink stripe running down the center of the chin strap.

          Damn shame. It was a nice touch.

        • Victoria Patterson says:

          He’s a talented man. Although I can’t actually see the stripe, your description is firing my imagination–and it’s just as good as the real deal.

  6. Reno j. Romero says:

    Great list, Victoria. Number 12 is a keeper. Nice touch. Thanks for the list. I’m sending this story out to a few writers that I know will appreciate it. Thanks for the read and have a great weekend.


  7. This is a totally solid list, Victoria. I have to say I’m most partial to #20 for its Anti-JT Leroy pragmatism. Or support.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      I can’t believe I’d never heard of JT Leroy. I just looked her/him up–read about it. Are the books good? Have you read them?

      • Are they good? That’s a tough question. The short answer is no. I think the long answer is also no. I mean, when you read Sarah and you’re buying the idea that it was penned by a teenage hustler runaway, it sure does carry more weight than if you knew it was written by a crazy-arty-hoax woman in her fifties. And, also, I lived in SF at the heyday of it, and knew people who claimed to know JT. Amazing. We believe what we want to believe.

        Maybe # 21 should be: “I will not buy what comes easily or as a matter of convenience.”

        • Victoria Patterson says:

          Yes. #21 works.

          Why do these hoaxes seem to usually involve disenfranchised drug/gangster/person of color vicarious thrill reads, and then the inevitable exposure of the white suburban middle/upper class female writer behind it all?

  8. Great list, Victoria! Love #9 in particular. Trying to think of a few for myself … but I suspect if I make a list I won’t stick to it in the same way that if I make a rule I’ll break it. Maybe my list should begin with “stop being contrary.” 😉

  9. Ohhh! I hear you re: #9.

  10. Golf clap on one-year. Mine was 12/15 so we popped in around the same time. My favorite is #12 which is why I’m working on “In Search of the Man Chair: Part II” to post this week. TJ Maxx involved.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      Ok, what’s a golf clap? Is it a polite clap? I’m guessing… I’m learning so much here. If I’m not mistaken, I learned the term fupa from you as well.

      I’m looking forward to “In Search of the Man Chair: Part II”!

  11. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I feel like I have to write the ridiculous too, maybe it’s one way of finding the distance but keeping some kind of the intimacy at the same time.

    I think many of my reasons and aspirations for writing contradict one another, like Gloria says. But overall I write because I can’t give it up. As frustrating as it can be, and on multiple levels, I still can’t help returning to it. I imagine it’s due to some unchecked delusions of mine, but more recently because I can connect as a writer and a reader with writers like yourself.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      I know what you mean. The list is sort of an ideal thing–but the honest deal is I write because I’ve always had to write. It’s not like I’m thinking all these lofty things when I write. I’ve just always had to write. It’s a strange thing.

  12. J.M. Blaine says:

    We all need this.
    Concise & right.
    Righteous even.

    Amen, amen.

  13. tammy allen says:

    7 & 12

  14. Marni Grossman says:

    These are fantastic goals. I found myself nodding while reading this. Particularly on this one: “I want to speak about large ideas in small things.”

    But, honestly, I’d just like to write again. It’s been a long dry spell this fall and winter and I’m going a little stir-crazy. (Oy, mixed metaphors. See what I mean?)

  15. […] She appreciates moms on planes.  She made the most of her job waiting tables.  She has some strange keepsakes (This Chick’s Had It!).  She knows that hairdressers are part of the family.  And she’s been at TNB for over a year! […]

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