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Work in Joyland, Hobart, and The Offing. Winner of a PEN Prison Writing Award. Working on a novel. //
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“It was good!” My girlfriend lied. “I really liked it!”

How could she keep a straight face, telling me this? She’d read my most recent piece of writing and I knew it was bad, knew she was just being nice.

I waved my hand in the air. “Eh,” I grunted. “It sucked.”

“Oh, I thought it was good,” her eyes dropped. “I’m sorry, I guess.”

She was being serious. Because of course she was. Why would she lie to me and why, after more than a decade of creative writing — getting publishes, fellowships, grants, and awards — would I…

For a couple years now I’ve been working on a novel about train hoppers. It’s been a constant project in the sense that it’s the only thing I’m working on, but it’s only been worked on in fits and starts. I have a few chapters. I can say they’re fairly strong based on the reactions of others. Anyone in the publishing world I’ve shown them to has wanted more; I’ve yet to have this project rejected by anyone. You’d think that’d put my ass on a fast-track to finish the thing, but that’s not what’s happened.

Beyond the impostor syndrome…

It’s like a radio stuck between stations. Static and half-thoughts. I’m nervous all of the time. I can’t stop picking and chewing at my skin. Yesterday I hung something on a wall and spent hours thinking about the fact that I didn’t center it properly. I try to unwind with video games. Listen to music. Drink tea. Take everything from fish oil and vitamins to ayurvedic herbal supplements. None of this is helping, is it?

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You can always come back

but you can’t come back all the way

— Bob Dylan, “Mississippi”

I’m walking along with Summer Lee, a progressive democrat running for state representative of District 34 of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh. Lee and I are walking through Homestead, an area I’ve lived in or around and worked in or around most of my life. We are collecting signatures to get Lee on the ballot for the upcoming primary; people are generally supportive, though having worked the Homestead field office for Obama ’08, I know that many of the residents here are rightfully wary…

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I stare at the little bubble on Facebook Messenger. It does not move. The bubble does not descend. The messages I’m sending will not be seen. At least not on a phone or laptop or any other device.

Messenger is the only reason I keep Facebook. It’s been the only reason for years. I am bad at social media. I don’t feel like I have many interesting thoughts or experiences to share with people and, when I do, I want to turn them into creative work. If something isn’t interesting enough for me to mold into an essay or a…

photo by the author ©MMXXI

How many pandemic novels do you think anyone actually finished? I would bet surprisingly few. Once it was clear I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while — that my job wasn’t reopening anytime soon and everything was shutting down— I knew for sure I’d finish my train hopping novel. It’d be easy. That’s what I thought anyway.

I’ve said before that the hardest part about writing fiction, for me, is that I need to feel authoritative on the subject matter. Turns out there are theories related to the human imagination which suggest it is directly related to past experience

A look at the ways I’ve tricked myself into writing (or not)

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I can’t write for shit. I don’t mean that the things I do write are bad but that, as a practice, I am horrible at this. Writing agonizes me in a way that, if I passed Kafka on the street, we’d high-five in recognition of each other’s inabilities, then we’d both continue to not write. Sometimes I sit at this device and it feels like I am wringing sweat from a rag. Drips and drops, if anything at all. It can be awful. Waiting for nothing, hoping for something. Anything.

To counteract this foolishly voluntary pain I do everything possible…

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The cycle continues. I, of course, am going to miss a— let’s be real — somewhat self-imposed deadline for submitting a novel draft. For the past four months I’ve been trying to work on a project that an agent I greatly respect wanted to see, and I’ll still try to finish it, but not anywhere near when I should have. I feel a great guilt over this, then I feel guilty for wallowing in any kind of personal disappointment in the face of a global pandemic.

I got more important things to be depressed about. My back has been messed…

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I feel like I am experiencing life without my body for the first time, and it scares me.

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As a kid I used to count down things in my head. I would stare out the window of my second-floor bedroom and wait for people. We lives on a dead end street so I would watch the fork in the road; someone could either go up the hill or to our house. I would watch out the window for anybody. It could be my parents coming back from work or the store, it could be a buddy or a girlfriend; it was often just me waiting for a car to drive by. Just anyone at all. “10, 9, 8…

Eric Boyd

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