Matt Jorgenson is the author of Extraordinary Ostriches, Possible Particles and the Bifurcated Homunculus, The Hermaphroditic Shaman and the Missing Bottle of Ketchup, and Coagulation —A Clot of Stories. He earned a BFA in studio art glass from Illinois State University, Normal and has worked as an independent contractor for a glass art gallery. Matt has also dabbled in computer animation. He has always been driven by the need to create and the desire to share his creativity with others. This month, he talks to Indyfest about his writing process, inspirations, goals, and motivations.
IM: Where do you write?
MJ: I do the bulk of my writing at home with my laptop. There’s a chair in the den/dining room I use when settling in for a long session. There’s a pub table in the kitchen I switch to when I’m on a roll and family obligations need to be juggled. It’s good to switch back and forth between the two, as it’s easy to stand up and work at the pub table. I do little isometric exercises to stave off the aches and pains of prolonged sitting and get my blood pumping.
When traveling or trying to break through a tough plot point, I will break out a legal pad and a pen and write longhand. Cars, hotels, the basements of extended family members, and bars are some of my favorite places for this approach.
IM: Do you have any special rituals when you sit down to write?
MJ: Big glass of ice water. Hot coffee. Wordless music, typically EDM or House. Since I tend to write fast-paced, intense stories, I find that a high level of beats-per-minute in the ambient music of my writing area keeps the energy flowing. Lyrics interfere with the emerging flow of words.
Aside from that, I have this thing I do just before I actually write. I don’t really have a name for what it is. Essentially it’s “getting out of the way.” It’s not a trance or suspension of thought as such, because I’m definitely involved in teasing out word choices and revising sentence structures along the way. Perhaps it’s entering into a partnership with my muse? Whatever it is, I can definitely feel it “click” into place as I’m about to write. Some sort of psychic gearshift, I suppose.
If you’ve ever run a custom computer where you can load and toggle between several different operating systems, it’s kind of like that. My day-to-day consciousness is still there, but when I boot up the writer OS, I have to toggle back and forth between that and the day-to-day stuff.
IM: Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?
MJ: I have an MBA in technology management. I worked in a tech support role for a group of technical writers who used an SGML based publishing system that offered output to a variety of formats (e.g. paper, pdf, online help) in multiple languages.
The company actually paid for me to get my MBA. I got the job initially with “just” my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I remember being at either an information mapping class or an SGML class, and there was this guy in the class who worked in IT for the Military and he was livid that Lucent Technologies had hired someone like me, with only a BFA, into the job I had at the time. I got a kick out of it.
IM: Do you have a set time each day to write, or do you write only when you are feeling creative?
MJ: As far as I can tell, I have three basic modes: burn, churn, and incubate. I’m good at writing thousands of words per day when I’m off and running on a new project. I’ll work three to five hours per day when I’m burning. I start early, because I have to make time for family obligations during the day. And, when I’m burning, I will stay up as late as it takes to hit whatever daily word count I’ve set for myself. Staying up late makes the next day HARD, which is why I try to start early. It also kicks the creative process in gear and it’s easier to drop a few hundred words here and there if my creativity is already up and running, just idling patiently as I do dishes or help a kid with homework.
Incubation is a mode I inhabit either between projects or when I’m letting a project with some serious meat on it “cook” for a bit. I do very little project-oriented writing when I’m in this mode. I’ll draft clever bits for social media or play with words in my journal, just to keep a handle on my craft. However, when I’m incubating, I become a voracious consumer of content and information produced by others. I’ll binge watch Netflix, re-watch favorite movies, read both fiction and non-fiction books, listen to dozens of podcasts while out walking the dog, find new situations to get involved in, or go on adventures. Modify my meditation routines. Clean the house. Host parties. Organize. I basically try to cram as much novel information and experience into my psyche as it can handle. This serves as great preparation for…
The churn. All of this new stuff spins around in my imagination like laundry in a tumble dryer. There’s an abundance of kaleidoscopic juxtapositions of all these experiential and informational treasures that begin to form exciting alliances, teams, or partnerships. This is a thrilling and exhausting process. I really red-line it until my mind, body, and soul all begin to reject opportunities to take in new stuff. I know the process is getting close to completion when I start returning unfinished library books to the library and don’t excitedly download the new episodes of my favorite podcasts. When watching Jeopardy, napping, and neighborhood walks with my dog and my sweetie seem like all the excitement I can handle, I know I’ve hit the mark. I’ll typically rest then for at least two or three days, sometimes a week. Then either I come to a new project, or back to an existing one with a freshness and aliveness that just oozes out onto the page.
IM: What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?
MJ: For me, it depends on why I’m procrastinating. Different reasons require different solutions. So, I’d say, start with why? There are four main calls to dilly-dallying that I run into including; the “blank page standoff,” the “this is getting good and I don’t want to break it,” the “I love the world I’ve created and don’t want it to end,” and editing.
I’m pretty good at addressing the blank page. It’s a zone I’ve learned to slip into quite well. Just sit, hands on keyboard, stop thinking, and start typing. If I’m coming back to a “stale” manuscript and feeling a little rusty, I’ll just start a few random writing projects to loosen up. Ones with no goal, no point, no agenda.
Next to editing, feeling like I’ve created something good and don’t want to ruin it is probably the most powerful motivator I have to finally sort out my stamp collection, or clean out my tackle box. I have to take a very disciplined approach. What works best for me is to start asking the story questions. What about this? When did that happen? Why does she act that way? This allows me to focus my attention on the unwritten meat of the text. I can always add a few veggies and garnishes during the editing process.
When I’ve fallen in love with the world I’ve created in a story and don’t want it to end, there is only one failsafe mechanism that I’ve discovered to move forward. Start another story. I typically have at least two to three story projects/manuscripts going at a time. It’s a trick I play on myself. Instead of dreading the end of the one I’m polishing, I started telling myself how exciting it’s going to be to finally get back to that other project.
Editing for me is really hard. Fortunately, my sweetie helps out with that. When I edit I have to break it down into five-to-ten-page chunks and reward myself with something small, like half a beer or a pickle, then onto the next chunk. Repeat until done. Eventually, the momentum will start to take over, usually once I’m past the halfway mark of an editing session.
IM: Where/when do you first discover your characters?
MJ: Initially I don’t think of them as characters. It’s kind of like arranging furniture. I need something tall here, wide there, elegant there. I often just plop them in for the energy they lend to the development of the story. When I’m unable to sit at my laptop and write, I will often sketch out backstories for some of the characters with pen and paper, based on what seems reasonable according to how they act/function in the story, and then weave those details back in later.
IM: What inspires your story/stories?
MJ: I suppose, most of my stories are inspired by a frustration with the status quo and comfort zones. Particularly, when there is needless pain or discomfort. A little orderliness and predictability can be nice, sure. What breaks my heart is watching and listening to people take a rote approach to life that’s making them miserable. Whether it’s their job, their relationship, their sexuality, drug of choice, inherited system of morality, or favorite hockey team… hanging on to some inherited or cultural obligation that blocks a person off from experiencing all that’s great with the world as they tick closer to death is truly tragic.
Recently, I’ve been learning about the Toltec concept of Mitote, which is basically an inner demon made up of all the baggage a person has accumulated in life about how they are supposed to live. Maybe I’m simultaneously exorcising my inner demons and forging a tool or weapon out of my personal experience that others can use to confront theirs. A tool or weapon in the form of a book.
IM: Do you get “lost” in your writing?
MJ: Yes. I know method acting is a thing. Sometimes I think I get really close to method writing, to the point where I might try to ape the patter or idiosyncrasies of a character in real life. I’ve used social media to create a sort of mock-up of an idea or scenario I’m developing.
IM: Who or what is your “muse” at the moment?
MJ: Clinically, it’s always been adrenaline. Let’s use thrill-seeking or excitement and see how that works. I think there’s something redemptive about well-choreographed intense experiences. Making it through a haunted house or scary movie might steal power from traumatizing nightmares.
I love to go fast and fly high. To push my limits. With that, it’s important to know what they are, and not exceed them too much at once. I’m becoming more technical about this, because I like helping others find their thrills.
The thing is, it’s way more than just extreme sports/physical peril that gets me going. Comparative philosophy, trying to stay abreast of developments in quantum mechanics, social justice activism, experimenting with different chemicals or spiritual/religious practices, lucid dreaming, watching babies take in the world around them for the first time, cooking, going to large arena concerts with impressive light shows, long walks in the woods where I’m tuned in to the dense hush of the forest, an hour and half in the hot tub.
It’s anything that forces me into—or allows me to be fully present in—the moment.
See, I thought thrill-seeking and excitement sounded too small.
IM: When did you begin to write seriously?
MJ: Writing, and reading before that, has always been a coping mechanism of sorts, imaginative escapism. First with reading, I used books as social shields to deal with being shy and somewhat intimidated at school, both in high school and college. I quickly realized the power of stories to alleviate uncomfortable feelings and wanted to try my hand at the magic-making power of words. So, seriously, as a coping mechanism, I began to write in middle school.
Now, seriously, as in publishing, the adventure began in 2003. I had never forgotten the power of words and stories. I was in a tough spot personally and financially… just a ridiculous amount of fear and uncertainty in my life. I had discovered the user forum on the Fangoria website in my desire to track down buzz about the release of Rob Zombie’s movie House of 1,000 Corpses. There was a section of the forum called “Self Mutilation,” where users would post and discuss their own creative projects. I was up late one night with a painful urinary tract infection, waiting for the pain meds to kick in, and I decided to write a story exploring the pain as a way to cope. That story, “Urethra,” which I basically wrote live on the forum, a chunk at a time, became the catalyst for a number of us to band together and self-publish a book. My first time self-publishing. We even got a mention in Fangoria magazine.
IM: How long after that were you published?
MJ: That book was titled Self Mutilation as a nod to the forum section in which it gelled. The book was released in fall of 2003. This was back when CreateSpace was still BookSurge and hadn’t yet been acquired by Amazon. A couple of us started doing horror conventions to promote the book. We partied hard, met really cool people, and had a lot of fun.
IM: What makes a writer great?
MJ: I’m not sure I can answer this question. Great at what? Pulp, drama, sci-fi, literature, westerns, journaling, ad copy? What age group? For what audience… to what end? I think writing can be a marketable skill that an individual sells in many different types of marketplaces or it can be an intensely personal undertaking. A passionate act that doesn’t need a reader, aside from the originator, to have value. I think, maybe, if someone has a desire to write, and they do, that’s great.
IM: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?
MJ: First, an intense flurry of writing. Immersion in the developing story. Long daily sessions of virtually unedited writing. Until I hit a wall. Not a barrier or an obstacle. A wall. There’s this sense that the ending is near. Then I mothball it for a while. Do other stuff.
A week or six months later, I will print it out, do a full read, and edit what I have. This reacquaints me with the story. Ideas about how to finish start to percolate and I begin looking for a cover artist. I look for someone whose creative strength is visual art. Someone willing to read the manuscript and go with it. I love the collaboration, the surprise, seeing what they pick out from the story for cover art.
I typically hand off a revised draft to my wife at this point for additional editing and then hunker down, finishing it up and polishing the final draft. It helps if I’ve booked a show or festival or other event and have time pressure at this point.
My wife and I will iterate through the story several times, trying to tweak it and catch stuff we missed while the cover artist is finishing up the artwork. Then I just upload everything to CreateSpace, clear any errors and, if time permits, I’ll order a hardcopy proof before finalizing everything. Then it’s off to the next show with the latest book.
IM: How has your life experience influenced your writing/stories?
MJ: If I hadn’t found such solace in books as a teenager and young man, I doubt I’d have written much. I have such gratitude for the authors who helped me cope, or hide, or escape. Big thick books to get lost in… short stories to snack on… fascinating infographics to puzzle over. Books have always been a haven a sorts, a safe place for me. A lair.
If I could provide, for a few dozen or a few hundred pages, that solace to someone else… I’d call that success.
IM: Have you? Or do you want to write in another genre?
MJ: From this point in time, I feel like I always want my writing to be intense; each story or novella more like a ride at an amusement park than acres of prose. I think this would work in several different genres. I do naturally gravitate to horror and sci-fi, because these have been my biggest influences over the years. I wouldn’t hesitate to let a story take me into a different genre if that were what was called for… I like to let the story drive. I want to be as surprised as the reader.
IM: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
MJ: As a highly creative risk taker, it’s been so hard to realize that some people just aren’t. And many of those people are okay with that. I think, in order to keep going in my creative pursuits, I’ve had to wrestle off urgings from others to “conform”— get a job, be an adult, visit a therapist, etc. This may have a sparked a defensiveness… an us/them dichotomy in me that just isn’t necessary. Realizing this has opened me up to a much greater love of humanity, in all its diverse shapes and forms, that’s capable of transcending petty misunderstandings… most of the time.