I very much consider myself a method writer: I feel like in order to embody my own work and to tell a story in a proper way, I have to constantly be “doing” the thing that I am writing about. Joan Didion talks about how she does not know what she thinks until she writes it down & I find this to be true as well–while I am surrounded in the moment of research, I am already questioning what it will mean & how I can parse it out when I decide it is time to sit down and write.
When I wrote “So You Know It’s Me,” a series of missed connections, I went to the places where I was writing about & observed as much as possible–I took note of every person that I saw; I ascribed my own projections to them. I immediately went home & started writing in order to capture the freshness & to exist in that moment. For “Leave Luck to Heaven,” a collection of lyric essays about 8-bit Nintendo games, I played each & every game until its completion, often taking notes and various blips of text that would later expand & sprawl into a larger concept & essay. For “Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping,” a series of essays about basketball & the arcade game NBA Jam, I played basketball every single day: sometimes just shooting baskets by myself in an empty gymnasium, other times inserting myself into a random pickup game where I would inevitably be overwhelmed by talent; a theme that permeates through the book–this “never enoughness”.
My current project, a memoir about translating my grandfather’s book on long distance running, involved me losing over 100 lbs & taking up long distance running, despite my disdain for exercise & not being able to run more than 4 minutes at a time. I completed my first marathon this past month & while I wish I could quit running forever, the book is not completed, and thus I continue to run. This allows me to think of writing as a collaboration: something that you can base your work off of so that the whole process seems less alone–there will always be a “text” to fall back on when the words just don’t come.
Set aside about twenty minutes of your day with the intention of “doing research” for a piece. Do not allow yourself to write about anything that you do not experience firsthand: if you are writing about the feel of water, or the taste of an orange, run your hand underneath the sink or get to the supermarket as soon as possible. Allow yourself to be immersed in your project & only trust “first hand research” instead of cobbling things together from various sources/the Internet–it will be there later for second drafts. If you are writing about a scene in a movie, watch that scene. If you are writing about a trip that you took, try your best to replicate that trip to the best of your abilities. Take notes, but don’t let the notes dictate your experience. After you have concluded your “research” begin writing immediately & without prejudice–don’t stop, don’t worry about linebreaks or punctuation, or word choice: capture whatever fleeting magic you have conjured until the feeling is gone.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks and four full-length collections, So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections, Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games, Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping (Cobalt Press, 2015), essays on NBA Jam, and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. He is at work on a memoir about translating his grandfather’s book on long distance running.