Guest Post: There’s Fire Between Your Toes by Nathaniel Sverlow

I don’t know what I’m going to talk about. I never know what I’m going to talk about. Though, this hasn’t stopped me before. I just get going, writing down words until it finally comes, and, if it doesn’t, I go to bed and hope for better luck the next day. You see, the thing that always perplexed me is that writing appears as this romantic process of self-inquiry and spiritual fulfillment. This is not the case… has never been the case. For me, writing has always been the chronic constipation between concept and creation. It is painful, sometimes grueling. And, more often than not, the words that manage to fall out of you are shit.

I remember reading a quote from Hemingway that shared the same sentiment. It said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” How true. How true. Though, my words were never as vital as blood, Papa. Forgive me.

Nathaniel Sverlow
Now, before I get rolling, I’ll state for the record I know very little about the literary world or even my own process… So, if you’re looking for a debate, you’re already a ten-to-one favorite, okay? Just take it easy on me. The best I can do is give two or three points that’s helped me along. If they help you… well, hot shit, I guess we all go home winners. If they don’t, we’re right back where we started. That isn’t so bad, is it?

So, alonzi

  • This first thing is, I realized I wasn’t special. This was a difficult concept for me to stomach at first. I was raised Presbyterian, and the church had me believing at a very young age that I was the warm, shiny center of the universe. My dad would also smack me around from time to time to make sure I lived as such. But after a few dozen rejection slips, another few evictions, and some visits from the repo men (and women?), I finally understood that this was bottom-level bullshit. Now, how does my revelation translate to your writing? Let me tell you. When you think you are a genius… when you think you are the tits… you try to be clever rather than write the simple line. You get so balled up in metaphor, diction, rhythm, meter, plot, etc., it takes a goddamn yogi to suss out what the hell you are trying to say. Some publishers, critics, and writers eat this indecipherable mess up with a spoon. Nom nom nom… I’ll just say there’s a reason why most people would rather binge-watch Netflix than read a line of poetry…
  • I eventually asked myself: What the hell are you writing, and why the hell are you writing it? This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. Ideally, you want to write something that means something to you. And, if it means something to you, you have a better chance of it meaning something to somebody else. If the damn thing, whether story or poem, is just picturesque or clever, and it doesn’t twist your heart one way or the other, then forget it. It isn’t worth writing, and it’s especially not worth reading. People can just as easily stick their heads out the window to contemplate the flowers and the clouds and the warm August sun. You dig me? Kurt Vonnegut said it best when he said, “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” Yes. Yes. I think the old chap was on to something.
  • I got drunk, watched Aladdin on Blu-ray, and the Genie reminded me to… Beeeeeeeee yourself. It’s corny, but goddamnit, it’s the best chance you have as a writer. All that cleverness I mentioned before, that superficial polishing of metaphor, diction, and the like… There’s always going to be someone who does it better than you. You are not the best, will never be the best, no matter how dedicated you are. I learned this gradually while trying to write like my literary idols: Hemingway, Salinger, Twain, Bukowski, Fante, Brautigan. No matter how clever my lines came out, they read as second-rate trash. Soulless imitations. What the hell was I supposed to do? How was I gonna carve my little niche in the literary world? Half a bottle of rum later, I heard it. Beeeeeeeeeee yourself. Ah, epiphany! Thanks, Genie! I think I wrote a crappy poem to commemorate the occasion, though I can’t quite remember. So you see, you may never be as clever as the greats, but they are not you. Only you are you. And, that is as clever and as polished as you’ll ever need to be.

I figure I’ll leave it there. I’ve been fighting pneumonia with rum, and it hasn’t been working out all that well. I hope I was of some assistance, or at least somewhat of a spectacle you could point and laugh at while continuing your splendiferous writing careers. Before we part ways, though, I’d like to say that even though, in my case, the romance of writing and the personal and social fulfillment thereafter have been debunked, I still can’t get enough of it. I’m an addict. This thankless grind, this maddening constipation, this exorcism of balls and brains… it reminds me that I’m alive and that I have a voice… not a clever voice, but a voice all my own. And, that’s enough to keep me right on going.


Nathaniel SverlowNathaniel Sverlow is a freelance writer of poetry and prose. He was born in 1983 in San Diego, California and has since spent most of his time hunched over a laptop randomly pressing keys. He currently resides in the Sacramento area with four cats, two roommates, and one incredibly supportive wife. His previous publishing credits include Typehouse Literary Magazine, Literary Orphans, Map Literary, Marathon Literary Review, and Black Fox Literary Magazine.


You can find Nathaniel’s poetry in Black Fox Issue 11.

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