Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Ned Stuckey-French

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.


Back in February, I featured fiction writer Elizabeth Stuckey-French here on Writerhead Wednesday. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome the other half of that brilliant writerly equation: Elizabeth’s husband, Ned Stuckey-French. I’ve been a fan of Ned’s work for a good while, but recently I’ve also become a fan of his insightful (and funny ha ha) commentary about nonfiction / creative nonfiction / essays / truth / etc. (You can often find him over at Brevity magazine…)

So kick back, my writerhead fans, and enjoy…because as I suspected, Ned’s description of his writerhead is like everything else he writes: addictive.

Now, shush!

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

When she answered this question for you, my wife, Elizabeth, said her writerhead never turned off. The same is true for me, but mine is different. Mine is less purely imaginative and more relentlessly interpretive. She’s a fiction writer; I’m a nonfiction writer, an essayist, and cultural historian. I’m also more of an analyzer and an arguer than she is. Which is not to say I don’t imagine. I do and much of what I love about the cultural history I write is that I get to spend long afternoons with Thurber and E. B. White in their little office at the New Yorker, smelling cigarette smoke and listening to the paper wads hit the metal trash can, or drinking with Dottie Parker and Bob Benchley at the Algonquin as we try to ignore the oogling tourists.

Much of the time, however, my writerhead is trying to think about what I really think, what I really believe. I am an essayist and so skepticism is where I live. I turn things over constantly. I am constantly watching myself, listening to myself. A part of me is always sitting in the press box of my own game, doing play-by-play and color commentary. It started when I was a kid shooting baskets in the driveway. 3 – 2 – 1… French stops, pops. It’s good!

But if am skeptical and questioning, I am also hopeful. I’m a very political person and believe in possibility of progress. Elizabeth teases me constantly about how earnest I am. I am the son of Stevensonian Democrats. My family vacationed in Concord and Lexington, Valley Forge, and DC. We saw Sunrise at Campobello at the drive-in movie. My mom was a poll watcher for the League of Women Voters and as a toddler I sat with her on Election Day and colored pictures. Later, I was a Student Council nerd, shook Bobby Kennedy’s hand a month before he was shot, and then, transformed by the Sixties, became a communist trade union organizer for ten years. So, in my writerhead, I’m constantly refining my position, questioning myself, and others, and trying to figure out what makes sense and is convincing. Is that fair? Is this what I think? I am always, always turning such questions over in my head. They are my version of Montaigne’s Que sais-je?, or What do I know?

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.)

Life is all interruptions, or as John Lennon so nicely put it, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Life is about adjustment and so is writing. Or maybe revision is the better word. You make a plan and head off this way and then you’re interrupted by a grammatical error, some faulty logic, a limp and silly adjective, and you want to fix it. But, you’ve got to keep going to the end, knowing all the while that your first draft is mostly potholes and speed bumps. But, if you’ve got to keep the editor out of the room till you get a first draft (which Anne Lamott has so helpfully reminded us is always shitty), you must eventually let them back in. I’ve got two editors, by the way, a male and a female. She looks like a 7th grade English teacher. Her hair is up in a bun, where she keeps an extra pencil. He wears a green visor and looks like Bartleby. And while both are scolds, they are also part of my writerhead team.

So, writing is writing, but it is also revision. Montaigne did three editions of his essays, never cutting, only adding. An essay is a conversation, with your reader and yourself. It’s a fireside chat, a late night bull session that solves the world’s problems. In this conversation, you say something, then interrupt yourself or ask a question and then follow that digression. The talk eddies and curls and maybe it circles back and maybe it doesn’t, but it always keeps rollin’ along.

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

Well, I guess I’ve already offered a few—time travel, press box and game, conversation with self, river—but here’s another. Borges said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Writerhead is Paradise. It’s where I like to be, and it’s kind of a library where I’m a kid again. I wander the aisles looking for one book, another catches my eye, I pull it down and begin reading, and soon find myself somewhere else, perhaps back at the Algonquin where everyone is a writer and so I start writing too.

BIO: Ned Stuckey-French teaches at Florida State University and is book review editor of Fourth Genre. He is the author of The American Essay in the American Century (Missouri, 2011), co-editor (with Carl Klaus) of Essayists on the Essay: Four Centuries of Commentary (Iowa, 2012), and coauthor (with Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French) of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (Longman, 8th edition). His articles and essays have appeared in journals and magazines such as In These Times, Missouri Review, Iowa Review, culturefront, Pinch, and Guernica, and have been listed three times among the notable essays of the year in Best American Essays.

To learn more, visit Ned’s website. You can also give him a nod at his Facebook page or the Facebook page for his most recent book The American Essay in the American Century.

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring the Fantabulous Elizabeth Stuckey-French

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.


Titles led me to Elizabeth Stuckey-French. She’s got some of the best: The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Mermaids on the Moon, and The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. Her prose and storytelling style got me addicted. I’m so excited to be able to share her writerhead today.

Now, listen up! And no fidgeting. As Elizabeth says, she lives in writerhead. We do not want to interrupt her.

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

I live in writerhead. It never goes away. I’m always experiencing my life and simultaneously evaluating things that happen to me and around me as possible material. Sometimes it’s annoying—like when I’m having fun with my family and I just want to be in the moment already. As James Thurber put it, “Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’” But other times it can be useful when one bad thing happens after another. Then, no matter how bad things get, and how sad I might be, part of me is standing back thinking, pay attention to how this feels so you can use it later! Now you know what it feels like to have someone you love die. Grist for the mill!

Writerhead gets most intense for me when I’m revising something. My fictional world can start to feel more urgent than the rest of my life. This happened to me the first time when I started graduate school at Purdue and had enrolled in my initial graduate fiction-writing workshop. This was also the first time I’d ever been required to revise a piece of fiction—previously I just banged out a first draft, an only draft, and stuck it in a drawer. My husband was teaching high school at the time and, since we didn’t own a computer, I tagged along with him to Benton Central High School one blizzardy day to use one of the Apple IIs in their library. I started to revise my story, and before I knew it, hours had passed. I had to tear myself away when it was time to go home that afternoon. I’d never been transported like that before, and that’s when I knew that I had found my calling.

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.)

Because I’m constantly in writerhead, I’m constantly being interrupted. Tending to my kids has taught me that the creative process is not fragile. Well, interruptions bother me some, but in a perverse way, being bothered about being interrupted makes me happy, because if I’m bothered I must be writing something I care about, which makes me happier than anything. And I’ve learned that what I’m working on will be there waiting, like a loyal friend, till I can get back to it. I do go on a writing retreat for two weeks every summer when I can wallow in writerhead to my heart’s content. I dream of those two weeks during the rest of the year. My husband always tells the story of how, when I was finishing my first novel on Sept. 11, 2001, while he was glued to the television watching the towers fall over and over again, I tuned out the news and sat at the kitchen table banging away at my revision. It was the best antidote I could find for the helplessness I was feeling.

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

Writerhead feels like playing on a Ouija board with my characters. We’ve got our fingers on the pointer, which takes us to another world, the world of the story.

BIO: Elizabeth Stuckey-French is the author of two novels, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady and Mermaids on the Moon, as well as a collection of short stories, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. She is a co-author, along with Janet Burroway and Ned Stuckey-French, of Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft. Her short stories have appeared in The Normal School, Narrative Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Five Points, and The O’Henry Prize Stories 2005. She was awarded a James Michener Fellowship and has won grants from the Howard Foundation, the Indiana Arts Foundation, and the Florida Arts Foundation. She teaches fiction writing at Florida State University.

If you’d like to know more about Elizabeth, pop on over to her web site or say hello on Facebook.