Q&A With WriteByNight Consultant Brian Nicolet
Brian Nicolet (Austin, Texas) holds an MFA from the University of Houston and has received scholarships to Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His work has appeared in Gulf Coast, Colorado Review, New South, and Subtropics, among other places. In addition to WriteByNight, he works for UT and ACC. He writes and sleeps in South Austin.
Where are you from?
Marshalltown, Iowa, is where I spent my first 10 years of life, but beyond that I’ve lived in Central Texas for the bulk of the last 20 years. Texas is home. But I also have lingering feelings for Seoul, South Korea.
Where did you study?
I hold a BA in English with a minor in Philosophy from Texas State University and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Houston.
Who are some of your influences?
Off the top of my head? Sonic Youth, Lightnin’ Hopkins, entropy, House, Tom Waits, corn on the cob, chaos theory, Jim Jarmusch, Existentialism, Surrealism, steak, convertibles, grunge, Krakow, Satie and/or Debussy, ripped jeans, the car accident that put a metal rod in my leg, breakfast tacos, Rebel without a Cause, post-punk, self-diagnosed OCD, Beckett, self-diagnosed ADD, running, scotch, scuba diving, The Fall (the band), fall (the season), The Smiths, those little propeller seeds that fall like helicopters and then never move again, eating live octopus, fixing lawnmowers, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” trying to jump an ’88 Ford Tempo and other dumb ideas, kimchi, the Seoul subway system, and sucking at sports. Or did you mean writers?
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
These days? Finding time for it. I find my writing usually comes at the expense of something else, like sleep or, today, filing taxes. There’s still time for that, right? There are, like, at least 4 days left.
What is your strangest writing experience?
I would have to say my strangest–or at least most unique–writing experience was writing song lyrics for a very small production put on by the Houston Grand Opera’s Song of Houston project entitled Now and Then. In order to write the lyrics, poet Hayan Charara and myself made weekly visits to Houston Hobby House in Houston’s Third Ward to document the stories of its elderly, primarily African American visitors. As the production was also a celebration of Houston’s blues history, there was that much added pressure. I’ve long loved the blues, and I had, ahem, “written” songs before, but it goes without saying that the stakes here were a bit higher than banging out improvised songs that no one would ever hear on my guitar in my bedroom.
What is your favorite word and why?
Tough one. I’m told my first word was “bubbles,” but I can’t say I’d claim that. I can say I draw a lot of parallels between language and music, and I write with my ear as a permanent outside consultant, so I like words that have a certain sound sense in the context. But I’m also pretty dark. So words that sound nice but have darker implications perhaps, like the way that Shins song “New Slang” sounds perfectly joyous but is actually fantastically depressing. “Bubonic” strikes me as a great word (maybe I haven’t come so far from “bubbles as I like to think?) though I can’t think of a single occasion I’ve had to use it. Maybe: “I was hanging out with the buboes the other day and….” You know. Then again, “Gretsch” is a great brand name for a guitar due to just how nicely it aligns sound with referent. It sounds like the intersection of growl and stretch, or a contraction of great retch. I think all guitars, regardless of their brand, should gretsch, and a good number of words should too. I am in fact gretsching this very second.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Write often, revise remarkably moreso. I’d say a good 77. 83% of my writing process is revision. Maybe 82.51%. And you can’t hone your craft if you don’t show up. My first creative writing professor (who I didn’t much care for at the time, in part for this comment), when we started in on poetry (it was a mixed genre workshop), said “Consider that you might need to write 100 poems to get to one good poem. That’s the ratio you work with.” What an asshole, I thought. I thought like the Beats: “First thought, best thought.”
But that professor’s words stuck with me, and it turns out it’s kind of true, though fortunately I can say the ratio improves over time. The hard part is that you have to do these obscenely absurd mental gymnastics each time you arrive at the page. You have to convince yourself what you’re writing is quite possibly fantastic. Then, later, you have to be able to have the critical intelligence to see that you were way wrong, but that it could be really great if you’re willing to get nipple-deep in the revision process. And when you finally abandon the thing, the way Giacometti never felt he finished a work but just knew when he’d exhausted every possibility, then it may turn out to be good or it may not be good, but by then hopefully you’ve got something new on the front burner and a possible lasagna in the oven.