Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Peter Selgin

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Today, I welcome Peter Selgin to Writerhead Wednesday. Peter and his memoir, Confessions of a Left-Handed Man: An Artist’s Memoir, caught my eye on Facebook because he is both artist and writer, and I’m insatiably curious about the intersection and overlap of those creative paths.

Let’s go…

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Well, let’s be honest, inspiration doesn’t strike all the time. It’s not like knitting or doing a crossword puzzle, either, where there’s a consistent rhythm or where the problems have all been worked out in advance. Every sentence, every word of a good piece of writing is charting some sort of new territory, is both raising and answering its own questions. If words come to us too easily, we really should suspect them. Most writing that’s done with great facility and ease is suspect. If and when we get into the “zone” we do so, must of us, usually, through great effort. As for where and when it happens—for me, anyway, it’s not predictable, although I love those wide-open days when everything else has been put aside and I can do nothing but write for hours. In that case I write in my studio, which lately occupies the loft of an A-frame on Lake Sinclair in Georgia, and faces out through one of two very large triangular windows facing the lake, with the dock from which I periodically swim centered in the view under a tree. It’s one of those views you can get lost in, that inspires daydreams. At times I have to remind myself that it’s not one of those rear-projector fakes like the ones Hitchcock used to use all the time in his movies, that I really can go jump in the lake any time I want. The view is distracting but it’s also comforting. In some ways I think it mirrors an ideal internal state, the state of tranquility in which emotions are recaptured.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

Since I live alone here out by the lake there are very few interruptions. My neighbors are mostly weekend and summer residents; often their homes are empty, and if I wanted to I could walk out naked to my dock for a skinny dip and get away with it (I don’t). I keep the music (usually opera or classical) very quiet and even then sometimes I have to turn it off completely. There are several dogs in the neighborhood, but they don’t seem to bark, thank goodness, although there is also a red fox who makes a hideous sound, a sort of half-howl, half-bark, but he does it deep into the night when I’m usually asleep. Since I do 99% of my corresponding my email the phone seldom rings. On summer weekends the powerboats and jet-skis all come out on the lake. The jet-skis in particular bother me, not just because of the noise, but because they’re such disgusting, infernal nuisances. I really detest them and have these terribly uncharitable fantasies about their drivers colliding (they also scare me since I’m a swimmer and like to swim across the inlet and back, and so the greater likelihood is that one day one of those morons will collide with ME). As for other kinds of interruptions, usually they’re self-engineered. I stand up, I stretch, I look out the window, I make a pot of espresso, I do some push-ups, I jump in the lake. It’s good to move the body now and then. Sometimes, if things aren’t going well, I find other things to do. Writing is the most avoidable of all endeavors.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

I’m afraid I may be the least romantic of all your respondents to this question. No, for me inspiration isn’t at all like eating a bowl of warm pudding or rolling down a fur-lined embankment or anything like that. It’s more like snuggling up to someone in bed—the someone (if I’m writing narrative) being a story, its setting, its characters. Mostly, though, it’s snuggling up to words, caressing and exploring them, finding new ways to put them together. In that sense it is sort of like a jigsaw puzzle, except that first you cut out and shape the pieces, then you discover how to put them together. But there’s always effort involved. At the very least there’s the effort to surpass and challenge oneself. If someone tells me that writing is easy, that it’s pure joy for them, my first thought is always, “Well, maybe it should be a little harder.”

BIO: Peter Selgin is the author of Drowning Lessons, winner of the 2007 Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction, Life Goes to the Movies, a novel, two books on the craft of fiction, and two children’s books. His memoir, Confessions of a Left-Handed Man: An Artist’s Memoir, was short-listed for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. His latest novel, The Water Master, won the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Prize, and his essay, The Kuhreihen Melody, won both the Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize and the Dana Award for the Essay. Selgin’s full-length drama, A God in the House, was a National Playwright’s Conference winner. He teaches at Georgia College and State University.

CONTACT: Visit Peter’s website at peterselgin.com.

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