Saturday, January 22, 2022

A Writing Inspiration Twofer: George Saunders's Writing Practice AND his Writing House

 I was recently scrolling through Shedworking (, a UK* site for hopes and dreams about writing houses, when I saw this two-parter about the novelist, short-story writer, and critic George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo is his award-winning novel).

Here, from Shedworking, is a picture of his writing house in California. 

(Insert pause here while you sigh with delight.)

And here, from the New York Times* via Shedworking, is a bit about his writing practice:

"Saunders writes in a shed across the driveway from his house, where we sat for a couple hours one morning while his two yellow labs nosed around outside the door. There’s the desk and a sofa and a table stacked with books that he has been researching for his next project."

And this from The Guardian: 

"His first newsletter includes a photograph of his solitary writing shed in the woods behind the house in Corralitos. His wife, Paula, bought it for him a few years ago, and it’s a writer’s dream. No fences or distant rooftops. Just the shed surrounded by trees and the shadows of trees. Writers’ rooms are usually reclusive. But Saunders is using his to host a writing community. Why does he care? “I suppose one of the things that a person worries about along the way is, ‘Does this really matter?’”

  “To go up in that shed every day was so helpful.” It was, he says, a way of saying: “‘I can’t control the world.’"

And finally, from his new substack at, which sounds very much worth the $6 a month:  

"I’d come flying/stumbling down at the end of the day from a little writing shed I have up on the hillside in Corralitos, California, feeling, not that I’d “taken a break from” the current difficulties, but that I’d, well, girded up my loins for a deeper, less fearful engagement with the world."  

I am tempted to join the Story Club substack, not only for the pleasure of learning about writing short stories from a contemporary master at the top of his game but also in hopes that we will see interiors of the writing house.

Digression 1:  The Brits take their garden sheds/writing houses very seriously and even have an award for them.

Digression 2: From the New York Times piece, I learned that Saunders has the same guilty pleasure that I do--reading Vanity Fair on a plane. Famous genius writers and obscure bloggers--they're so alike!




Saturday, January 08, 2022

Random Bullets of MLA 2022

 It's become a (semi? quasi?) annual tradition to post from MLA, and although I skipped last year, here's what it looks like in this Year of Our Covid 2022.

  • MLA was not virtual for a long time, but then the MLA gods started seeing the same astronomical COVID omicron spikes as the rest of us and relented: in-person panels could go virtual if they announced this by December XX. When my panel chair announced this and asked us our opinion, it took me less than 4 minutes to blast a reply-all saying "Please, let's do virtual, I beg of you, because there is a major pandemic" or words to that effect. We went virtual, and hooray! 
  • I have been grateful about this every single day, and seeing 1700 to 2500 flights a day canceled because of terrible weather has increased my gratitude exponentially. I've spent enough time sitting on floors or scrabbling for outlets or eating stale sandwiches in SLC or MSP or DTW, or sitting on hold with airlines, in the best of times and felt I could skip that level of misery and anxiety this year once we went virtual.
  • Unofficially, I've heard that about 80% of the panels are now virtual. Some are in person, and some have chosen to defer their panels until next year.
  • What's the experience like? Fantastic! I'm attending lots of sessions, hearing smart people talk about interesting research, and really enjoying it. It's shaking up my brain, in a good way, and giving me lots to think about--and isn't that the point? And I'm buying more panelists' books now that I don't have to spend the money on travel--which Northern Clime doesn't reimburse.
  • Better still, since we're all used to Zoom now, we know enough to mute sound and video, to do the little applause hands at the end, to share screen, and all the rest. And with Zoom, I can get up and pace around the room rather than sitting in an overheated conference room pinching myself to stay awake; it's much easier to listen, learn, and take notes when you have freedom of movement. 
  • How can I say this? People are . . . better speakers, somehow, with Zoom. Everyone can hear the speaker--there's no harrumphing about being too good to need the microphone--and the transitions between speakers are really smooth, with no "my PowerPoint won't load" drama during which the audience kills time. And people are really prepared to keep within the time limits. Conversation is lively in the Q & A, and the rambling and posturing that sometimes mars sessions is kept to a minimum.
  • There's always a bit of performative mourning about not being in person, not being able to spill out into the hall and continue the conversation there. Yet those conversations aren't always as inclusive as the conversations in the sessions, since only a few would be invited to join those hallway conversations. You can find community at a conference, they say, but there's also the isolation of being excluded from a group, of eating that sad, overpriced room service salad at the end of the day if you couldn't find dinner companions. At home, that clubbiness isn't being played out before your eyes. 
  • At the end of the conference (tomorrow), there won't be a solid day of travel with the inevitable cold that I always catch; in 2022, that would come with added excitement--flight delays! omicron! swords and fisticuffs on planes!--that I can also do without. Instead, I can take a deep breath and get ready for spring semester.

We'll go back to in-person conferences, surely, so this little golden age of virtual conference attendance won't last. But for now, I'll enjoy virtual MLA to the fullest and try to look downcast as everyone laments the loss of the in-person version. 

Edited to add: 

  • There seems to be less session-hopping on Zoom, and people are on time—but if you’re a couple minutes late, you can still get into the Zoom room without fuss and embarrassment. There’s no knocking on a locked door, or turning up at a session only to find the room full so you can’t get in to hear the speaker. This happens especially at celebrity panels—there was an Adrienne Rich panel at which she appeared years ago where there was an impressive overflow into the hall and no way to hear her—but it happens at other ones, too.
  • I do like in-person conferences and being able to talk to people, go out to dinner, see the book exhibit, etc., but virtual is just fine, too.

Previous MLA posts: 

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