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But I Digress: How Writers Make it Work

But I Digress: How Writers Make it Work

By Michael Hickins

Michael Hickins is a former editor at The Wall Street Journal, published fiction writer, and noted columnist.
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But I Digress... With Lincoln Michel

But I Digress: How Writers Make it WorkSep 28, 2021

Digressing with Rick Whitaker

Digressing with Rick Whitaker

Rick Whitaker, an author and editor, has been a part of the New York artistic community for more than two decades, and talks about the current publishing scene, the state of the human project, how to find a publisher, and what it's like to judge books for literary prizes. 

Rick is the author of "Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling" (1999), as well as "The First Time I Met Frank O'Hara: Reading Gay American Writers" (2004), and "An Honest Ghost," published by Jaded Ibis Press in 2013, which is a novel consisting entirely of sentences recycled from other books (a literary first which members of the Oulipo praised and John Ashbery chose as a book of the year). 

He is Theater and Concerts Manager at Columbia University's Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in New York City and creator and editor of, a free online literary arts journal now archived at He’s also been a judge for the LA Times Book Prizes since 2017. He's finishing his fourth book -- "On Sketchy Sex and Hardcore Recreational Drugs."  

Sep 06, 202242:56
Digressing with Len Kunz

Digressing with Len Kunz

Len Kuntz is the author of five books, most recently the personal essay collection, THIS IS ME, BEING BRAVE, out now from Everytime Press. He won’t want me to say this because he’ll thinks it sounds “braggy” [using air quotes] but he’s written more than 1,200 stories, along with five novels and most recently, THIS IS ME, BEING BRAVE. You can find more of his writing on his blog.  

Having grown up poor, Len worked and saved obsessively until, at the age of 46, he was able to retire to the country and become a full-time writer. This is his story. 

Jul 19, 202253:07
Digressing with Whitney Durmick

Digressing with Whitney Durmick

Whitney Durmick -- startup whisperer by day, genre-bending existentialist writer by night -- talks to me about her formerly itinerant existence, and how she has confounded the expectations of the traditional publishing industry by striking out on her own. Her first book, HALF WILD: A prayer for a generation of roaming malcontents, came out in June 2022. Having once-upon-a-time dreamt of becoming an investigative reporter (inspired in part by her ongoing love of trench coats), Whitney investigated the options of the self-published writer, plumbed the heights of social networking (in-person as well as digital), and now shares her experiences and the excitement of a new book (which you can order here). 

Jul 05, 202248:08
Digressing with Robert Vaughan

Digressing with Robert Vaughan

Robert Vaughan is an indie publisher and writer whose most recent book, Askew, can be ordered here. If found a lot of his opinions fascinating, especially coming from someone who sits on both sides of the table. Among his bits of advice: to figure out where to pitch your stuff, find three or four writers you like and with whom you feel some commonality, and pitch the places that are publishing them. (This seems obvious, but most people go about it exactly the other way around -- they find publishers or agents they like and then try to figure out which writers they work with.) He also said something great about genres -- that they're great for bookstores (but not necessarily for writers!) 

Jun 21, 202244:48
Digressing With Meg Tuite
Jun 07, 202239:46
Digressing with Davis Schneiderman

Digressing with Davis Schneiderman

You've probably never heard of Davis Schneiderman, and that's fine with him. As he says during this podcast, "it all ends in anonymity and obsolescence, and we have to come to terms with that." 

His forthcoming story collection There's No Appropriate Emoji (MadHat Press) came out in May 2022, and can be ordered here. Throughout this podcast, he offers a number of important insights about the life of a contemporary writer (such as that if you engage in too many different types of things "people don't know what to do with you" which makes it harder to sell your work). He is "against earnestness and nostalgia" and isn't writing in order to get laid. ("It's words on a page -- it's not me.")

There's a bracing quality to his point of view, and it's also reassuring -- if you can convince yourself to let go of the romantic fantasy of the "successful writer." Comparing the thriving indie press scene to a radio dial, he says, "I'm glad those other channels exist on the lower end of the dial because those are the channels I really like to listen to." Schneiderman invites us to write for the pleasure of writing, and in collaboration with other likeminded artists, because the work in the moment is really all we can aspire to. 

Schneiderman is a multimedia artist and writer and the author and editor of eight books, including the novels Drain (TriQuarterly/Northwestern), Abecedarium (Chiasmus), BLANK: A Novel, [SIC], and INK. (Jaded Ibis); the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: Williams S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization (Pluto) and The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game (Nebraska); as well as the audiocollage Memorials to Future Catastrophes (Jaded Ibis). His creative work has appeared in numerous publications including Fiction International, The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, and Exquisite Corpse. He is Associate Dean of Faculty at Lake Forest College.

May 24, 202259:04
Digressing with Alan Murray
May 10, 202239:48
Digressing with Colin Dodds

Digressing with Colin Dodds

Colin Dodds has several books to his name, including Ms. Never and Windfall. He’s made his living as a journalist, editor, copywriter and video producer. His work has appeared in Gothamist, The Washington Post and more than three hundred other publications. Colin’s poetry collection Spokes of an Uneven Wheel was published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company in 2018. He has also produced what I call writing-as-an-app -- his Forget This Good Thing I Just Said is a collection of aphorisms served up randomly by an app of the same name, and just might be the unwritten future of writing. 

In this podcast, Dodds talks about balancing family and financial responsibilities with the need to write, how his life matches up to his youthful fantasies of what it would be like to become a writer, and the place of self-publishing. He's well-placed to talk about that, having been published by independent publishers as well as having run a publishing company and having self-published as well. 

He offers interesting insights into book marketing and publicity -- "a book is exciting because it's new," he says at one point, explaining the lengthy publicity ramp-up for his forthcoming book, Pharoni. You can find all his books here.

Apr 26, 202252:16
Digressing with TJ Beitelman

Digressing with TJ Beitelman

TJ Beitelman is a writer and teacher who most recent books have been published by the prestigious Black Lawrence Press. We talk about the relationship he's developed with his publisher, the way he thinks of his audience, and how he makes a living. One of my favorite takeaways from this talk is TJ's assertion that, "everybody lucks into everything," which says a lot about his humility but also puts our efforts at getting published and making a living as writers into very good perspective.

Apr 11, 202201:18:00
Digressing with Jenna Banks

Digressing with Jenna Banks

Jenna Banks has written a book called I Love Me More: How to Find Happiness and Success through Self-Love, which she published through Braintrust Ink. Jenna walks us through the creation and marketing of this book, from how she decided to go the route of "hybrid" publishing, to how she chose this publisher over, to hiring a developmental editor and then a publicist, to how she uses social media to build her brand (and her audience), and how she intends to use this book as part of a business based on public speaking and workshops. 

Jenna offers us a clear-eyed view of the role book publishing can play in a broader marketing strategy, and the perspective not of someone who always wanted to be a writer, but rather of someone who sees the value of writing in that larger context, and is attuned to its financial aspects.

Mar 29, 202241:39
Digressing With Abi Ishola
Mar 15, 202201:00:15
Digressing with Whit Andrews

Digressing with Whit Andrews

Whit Andrews is a vice president at Gartner, the IT research firm, and has a forthcoming book about the role that running a Minecraft server had in parenting his young son. He talks about how he found an agent and a publisher, and we talk a lot about the writing process and how a writer can be seen as either the CEO of their own artisanry,  or as "an independent developer of a product."

We also talk about how our jobs bleed into our writing -- and vice versa -- as well as the sin of writing in books, the benefits of e-readers, and other peculiarities of mind.

Mar 01, 202254:59
Digressing with Ravi Shankar
Feb 15, 202201:21:09
Digressing with Vince Passaro

Digressing with Vince Passaro

Vince Passaro is the author of the novel Crazy Sorrow, which you can order here. During this podcast we talk about the rare dinosaur that is Gordon Lish, when and if to pursue an MFA, the shallowness of most editors, his hatred of doing anything except writing, and how smaller presses are going to save literature. A few noteworthy bon mots:

  • Most writers don't believe in the stature and the power of literature that [Lish] perceived and proclaimed and made vivid;
  • Editors would rather have something easy and familiar than something challenging and new;
  • Submitting books via Submittable is like sending your work into a shredder
  • As a freelancer, whenever you get paid, it brings you back to broke.

Vince's criticism and essays have appeared in many prominent publications, including Harper’s Magazine, where he is a contributing editor, The Nation, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Elle, Salon, and others, along with short fiction in such national magazines and literary journals as Esquire, GQ, Open City, Agni, Story, Boulevard, and Quarterly West. His first novel, Violence, Nudity, Adult Content, was published in 2002. He lives a few miles north of New York City in an old Huguenot town with his wife, son, and a smattering of film cameras, fountain pens, and other fellow-traveling refuse from the mid-20th century.   

Feb 01, 202201:17:08
Digressing with Dawn Raffel
Jan 25, 202258:28
Digressing with Marcus Pactor

Digressing with Marcus Pactor

Marcus Pactor’s new book is Begat Who Begat Who Begat (Astrophil Press). His first book, Vs. Death Noises, won the 2011 Subito Press Prize for Fiction. His story, “Megaberry Crunch” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2021. His work has most recently appeared in 3:AM Magazine and Juked. He lives and works in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Marcus has had a "day job" since the age of 15 -- now, his day job is as a university professor, but it's still a job-job. He says he's not doing the writing thing for the money -- "a job is for money. This is for something else," he says during our podcast. 

He doesn't seem to miss the ideal of a writer's community -- and notes that with the Internet and social media, you shouldn't have a hard time connecting with your favorite writer. 

Jan 18, 202243:32
Digressing with Jeff Pearlman

Digressing with Jeff Pearlman

Sportswriter Jeff Pearlman has moved on from journalism (his last gig was at Sports Illustrated) to writing books about sports, but always with an unusual angle -- such as "The Bad Guys Won," which was about the 1986 New York Mets championship team. Jeff is also an outspoken liberal, and one of things he seems to love about his "new" career is the ability to sound off about anything he likes without having to deal with the repercussions from a company like ESPN or Sports Illustrated. In this podcast, he talks about the rhythm of writing books (versus articles), the publishing landscape, and how writing about sports has changed his view of sports. 

Jan 11, 202228:00
Digressing With Grace Williams

Digressing With Grace Williams

Grace Williams has been a reporter at The Wall Street Journal and Barron's, and freelanced at places like Forbes and the Today Show. She was also a contributor to WSJ's Speakeasy culture blog. We talk about how she worked her way up from an internship to an admin job at WSJ to finally writing for the august publication before going out on her own. Writer, editor, wife, and mother, Grace is an inspiration and her voice crackles with humor and intelligence.  

Her first book, An Account of Her Own, about a group of women who fought back against sexist financial institutions and came together in 1978, just years after women earned the right to hold a line of credit without the signature of a man, to establish and operate the Women's Bank of Denver, is coming out with Little A, a publishing imprint of Amazon. 

Jan 04, 202244:58
Digressing with Michael Seidlinger
Dec 27, 202153:40
Digressing with Ming Holden
Dec 20, 202101:17:38
Digressing with C.J. Farley
Dec 14, 202151:43
Digressing with Laura Zam
Dec 07, 202154:57
Digressing with Lance Olsen

Digressing with Lance Olsen

Lance Olsen is a professor of English and writing at the University of Utah. He is also the author of fifteen novels, one hypermedia text, five nonfiction books, five short-story collections, a poetry chapbook, and two anti-textbooks about experimental writing, and most recently the novels My Red Heaven (Dzanc, 2020) and Skin Elegies (Dzanc, 2021). In other words, he's no dabbler.

We talk about small presses versus the New York publishing ecology, the fallacy of self-publishing, changes in the world of publishing, the role of literary agents, his former role with Fiction Collective 2 (FC2), and the function of universities and foundations as replacement for the medieval or Renaissance patron of the arts.    

We also talk about how writing is different from other art forms, and why we write (versus doing those other things). 

Nov 30, 202101:09:08
Digressions with Sarah Kornfeld

Digressions with Sarah Kornfeld

Sarah Kornfeld is the author of What Stella Sees, and the just-released The True, a narrative non-fiction that is being published in English, Romanian and French – each with its own ending (as we discuss during this podcast). She is also the founder of Rising Media Research, a research and consulting company that serves the ecosystem of the Creative Economy (museums, policymakers, guilds, and cultural institutions) – which Sarah notes is a $2.2 trillion ecosystem. 

In other words, Sarah is in a great position to talk about the ways in which writers can make it work, especially using new technology platforms that are easy to use and within anyone's reach. A couple of other notes from our discussion: 

  • we need art to explain trauma, and we need trauma in order to create art. 
  • the idea that artists have to live in poverty is a dangerous American concept that is all about controlling the artist; it is based on the premise that we are to be punished for being who we are and having an authentic take on life.
  • artists are very susceptible to being conned, perhaps because they have a high degree of empathy, and perhaps because on some level we want to be conned. We want to believe the unbelievable.

Nov 22, 202146:35
Digressions with Alice LaPlante
Nov 16, 202139:56
Digressing with Nick Kolakowski

Digressing with Nick Kolakowski

Nick Kolakowski is an influential technology journalist and fiction writer, with a particular (but not exclusive) emphasis on crime genre fiction. I've followed his career very closely over the past decade or so, partly because his career path is similar to mine, and also because he's so very different. 

From his early work for a magazine intended as a manifestation of US "soft diplomacy" to his very recent novel, Absolute Unit, Nick Kolakowski knows a thing or two about publishing. Our discussion covers the use of blogging and other social media for marketing purposes, how small and independent presses punch above their weight, using Amazon reviews and Goodreads, and what the growing market share for e-books portends for writers.

Nov 09, 202101:12:31
Digressions With Rick Moody

Digressions With Rick Moody

Rick Moody is a prolific and important American writer, most well-known for his novel The Ice Storm, which was turned into a movie of the same name starring my absolute heartthrob Sigourney Weaver and my man-crush, Kevin Kline. He is also the author of numerous other novels, story collections, novellas, and memoirs. His most recent book is The Long Accomplishment: A Memoir of Hope and Struggle in Matrimony; published by Henry Holt

Rick and I spent a semester together in graduate school and managed to stay in touch over many, many years, although our lives took us in different directions and we haven’t actually seen each other in decades. During this podcast, we talk about the importance of developing writing habits to thwart the tendency of everything and everyone in the world to put stuff between the writer and her work; we talk about the idea of writers and audiences, social networks, avoiding intrusive literary influences, and the manifestation of spirituality in work that isn't overtly spiritual. 

Nov 02, 202101:11:20
Digressions with Sam Apple
Oct 26, 202142:33
Digressing With Sheila Kohler: Honest About Life

Digressing With Sheila Kohler: Honest About Life

This podcast includes excerpts of my discussion with award-winning author Sheila Kohler, whose work as been anthologized by Best American Short Stories, been translated into myriad languages from Dutch and French to Japanese and Hebrew, and whose essays have been published in magazines as disparate as O Magazine, American Scholar and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. She has been teaching creative writing at Princeton since 2008. Her most recent novel, Open Secrets, was published by Penguin a year ago, and is her 13th book.

The podcast includes only excerpts because we lost quite a bit of the recording to technical difficulties! In a perfect world, we'd do a second take, but this isn't a perfect world. One thing Sheila said that resonates has to do with finding an audience -- and that speaks to the issue of helping your agent and/or publisher identify your audience: "being honest about life -- that will resonate with the reader."

I hope you enjoy this episode of "But I Digress." 

Oct 19, 202125:56
Digressing With Michele Herman

Digressing With Michele Herman

Michele Herman is a poet, novelist, short story writer and adopted New Yorker. She has been gracious enough to share how she has managed to live in one of the most expensive cities on earth without either a trust fund, a Wall Street salary or a sugar daddy -- all while raising a family, being active in the various communities she calls her own, and living, through dint of resolve and discipline, a creative life of the mind. 

A couple of things stand out to me from our conversation: she is a born craftsperson, and if she hadn't been a writer, she might just have become a cobbler; and she says "there's no getting around" the long apprenticeship involved in becoming a writer. We also discuss the travails of finding/not finding an agent, and working with an independent publisher (and all the grunt work that entails). She's inspiring in her pragmatism and living proof that you can make your own way in the world of writing literature.

She has two books coming out in early 2022: Save the Village, from Regal House Publishing, and Just Another Jack, a chapbook of poetry from Finishing Line Press. 

Oct 12, 202146:17
I Digress With Annie DeWitt

I Digress With Annie DeWitt

Annie DeWitt is a writer, connector, former host of a literary salon, and, now, literary agent. We talk about the importance of a literary community, the rise of small presses and the symbiotic relationship they have with larger traditional publishers, and the importance for writers of developing a social media presence. Annie also explains the one thing about agents that writers probably don't know, but should. This episode is a bit longer than usual, but Annie is so generous with her advice and her experience that I think it's worth the longer listen.    

Oct 05, 202159:51
But I Digress... With Lincoln Michel
Sep 28, 202151:27
But I Digress... With Sayeeda Copeland
Sep 21, 202138:17
Self-Delusion Required: A Discussion with Adam Wilson

Self-Delusion Required: A Discussion with Adam Wilson

Critically acclaimed fiction writer Adam Wilson discusses his process for writing Sensation Machines, his second novel, writing from a woman's perspective, the impact of influences on his writing versus playing to your own strengths, the disappointment that accompanies being published, and the role of art in his life.  

Sep 14, 202150:34
But I Digress... With Victoria Redel

But I Digress... With Victoria Redel

I'm joined by Victoria Redel, an award-winning poet and fiction writer. Her most recent novel, Before Everything, was published by Viking Penguin in June 2017. Loverboy (2001, Graywolf /2002, Harcourt), was widely acclaimed and was adapted for a feature film starring Kyra Sedgewick and directed by Kevin Bacon. We talk about the challenges she faced as a female writer (and parent), what getting a movie deal was like for her, her literary influences and heroes, and why she read poetry on Facebook throughout much of the Covid-19 pandemic. And of course, what she would have wanted to be if writing hadn't been in the cards. 

Sep 07, 202153:31
But I Digress with... Michael Gottlieb
Sep 02, 202140:37
But I Digress: An Introduction

But I Digress: An Introduction

Introducing "But I Digress," a podcast about writing, not writing, and everything in between. 

For more context, please check out my blog post:

Jul 08, 202100:51