Words by: Chelsea Green
Photos courtesy of: Ryan O’Connell
I don’t know about you, but Thought Catalog has become a part of my daily routine. It’s up there with Gmail, The Hundreds website, The Huffington Post, and Twitter. Basically, it’s a website that consists of short creative writing pieces, published all day, every day. It’s heaven on earth in Internet form for writers across the board – experienced or aspiring. So, I decided to interview one of Thought Catalog’s editors Ryan O’Connell. He’s easily one of my favorite writers on the site, and not to mention an old college classmate. Even though we are on completely opposite ends of the country, we were able to have a nice little chat via email about what it means to be a writer in today’s society, being a twenty-something, our California love, and of course the one and only Joan Didion.
It’s nice to get a little perspective from someone who’s in the same field as myself, doing completely different things, but ultimately sharing a big picture goal. It’s also kind of like a giant HAHA to some of those college professors that kept telling us, “Journalism is dead” and that pursuing a career in writing was pointless. With that being said, I’d like to take a minute to thank those fine educators for scaring the shit out of me, and making me think I was going to be an eternal restaurant hostess with outlandish career aspirations… to write.
Where did you get your start as a writer?
I would say Thought Catalog. I was hired full-time after a year of being unemployed and out of school. I had done some freelancing for BlackBook and Street Carnage, and been published on Jezebel and Interview.com but none of those gigs were paid.
I think Thought Catalog provides a great space for creative writers. It’s for us, by us. The writers aren’t talking down to the readers or pandering to the audience. It feels very democratic.
How did your involvement with Thought Catalog come to fruition?What do you think the site is providing for readers and creative writers?
I started submitting to them because one of my favorite writers Lesley Arfin was writing for them and I just thought, “What the hell?” I had never heard of it before because it was a brand new site but I liked the schizophrenic editorial. Anyway, the pieces I submitted were getting a great response from readers so they brought me on as an editor in January. I think Thought Catalog provides a great space for creative writers. We’ll publish ANYONE so long as it’s good, which is something I don’t think a lot of sites do. It’s for us, by us. The writers aren’t talking down to the readers or pandering to the audience. It feels very democratic.
Tell me about the common “twenty-somethings” theme that often appears in your Thought Catalog articles.
I wrote a piece called ‘How to be a 20-Something’ nearly a year ago and the response was overwhelming. In the beginning, TC had less of a slant but I think publishing that piece showed that this could be a real place for twenty-somethings to go to and commiserate about their boyfriends, jobs, or whatever. I think we’re capturing the plights of our generation in a raw honest way. Also, like most 20-somethings, I’m just OBSESSED with myself. JK?
How has the Internet changed the writing game as a whole, in your opinion?I mean, grammar is definitely out the window – but what about accessibility and style?
I think it’s definitely made writing more personal, which is a good and bad thing. The writing people seem to gravitate to the most is something that has personal anecdotes from the writer. You’re sort of required to expose certain parts of yourself because the Internet is all about having a personality or whatever. You can’t really be anonymous.
How does being a California transplant living in NYC affect your writing, if at all?
Oh my god, it affects everything. In college, I took a non-fiction class with my friend Beth, who later dropped out to start Best Coast, and all we would do was write about how much we missed California. Our pieces would get work-shopped together and our classmates would just roll our eyes like, “Here we go again with the California shit.” But the way I view New York has so much to do with my roots in California, so it’s impossible not to write about the two together.
So, what made you stay in NYC? If you did end up moving west, do you think all you’d write about is how you miss NYC?
I stayed in NYC because this city has me by the damn balls. I know that I always can move back to California because that’s where my support system is, but I think that after I graduated it was important for me to be uncomfortable, if that makes any sense. Because I know when I move back to California, that’s it. I’m staying put. I guess I just wanted to challenge myself. I learn a lot about myself by living here. It pushes me to succeed, lights a fire in my ass, and California doesn’t. If I had moved back after graduation, I think I would’ve gotten too comfortable when I know I should be hustling.
When I move back to California, I’ll miss it but I think I will have been at my breaking point with the city. I’ve gone back to California for as long as three months while living in NYC, and it’s kind of remarkable how quickly I can forget about it. It feels like I’m breaking free from an abusive lover who treats me like shit but gives me amazing orgasms. Sure, I’ll miss the sex, but the bruises will keep me away.
The writing people seem to gravitate to the most is something that has personal anecdotes from the writer. You’re sort of required to expose certain parts of yourself because the Internet is all about having a personality or whatever.
What were your thoughts on pursuing a career in writing after being told by all your college professors that ‘print is dead’? …Or was that just me…?Any advice for future freelancers?
Oh my god, that happened to me too. Anyone that says shit like that is just old and doesn’t get it. I don’t mean to sound like a dick, but it’s true. Their career has changed completely because of technology and they’re unable to adapt. But guess what? We are. Print might be dying but writing will never die. People will always want to read and there will always be money to be made. To future freelancers, I would just tell them to not be a Luddite and embrace Twitter and the Internet. A lot of writers have an ego and they want to be at their fucking typewriter and drinking their whiskey, but it’s not like that anymore. Move on. Don’t resist the change. Find a way to make it work for you.
If you had the opportunity to sit down with Joan Didion, who I am assuming is an idol of yours, what would you talk to her about?
I wouldn’t even know what to say to her! She’s so remarkable, it frightens me. Maybe I’d ask about her writing process some and then just be like “Okay, can we go to The Polo Lounge, drink martinis, and talk shit now?”
Is there anyone else, dead or alive, that you would want to sit down with and interview?
Mary-Kate Olsen because she’s chic and on so many drugs. I spend my days YouTubing interviews with her and I’m OBSESSED. She can barely talk. She has that weird stoner valley girl drawl, which I love.
Tell me about your Twitter profile @BeinggGayIsGay.How did it start?What is it all about?
Being Gay Is Gay started as a joke about a year and a half ago. It was right after I graduated college and my friends had started White Girl Problems. Before that, I didn’t really get Twitter, didn’t really know how to make it work for me. But with White Girl Problems, I was like, “Oh, okay. I can just make jokes. Cool.” So I did. I started Being Gay Is Gay as sort of a reaction to the mindfuck that IS being a gay man in 2011. There’s such a duality of pride, of ‘I’m Here, I’m Queer,’ and then just utter self-loathing. It’s confusing. We get fucked up messages from the media about what it means to be gay. Being Gay Is Gay satirizes the stereotypes that have been perpetuated by the media and sometimes it can get pretty dark. Luckily for me though, people responded to it and it sort of took off. I stopped doing it though when I started TC. I don’t have the time or the interest anymore. It has been pretty much orphaned in the last few months.
I want people to stop feeling so guilty about fucking up, or getting too drunk, or not landing their dream job yet. Because in the end, everything will be okay.
What are you reading right now?What work has influenced you as a writer?
I just read Blue Nights by Joan Didion and now I’m reading Mindy Kaling’s new book. Anything Joan Didion has written has influenced me, and I also felt super inspired after reading Self Help by Lorrie Moore. I read that book and immediately wrote what became my first piece for TC. I should send her a thank you note.
Years from now, when people read your work, what do you want them to say and feel about it?
Gosh, I’m not sure. The Internet is so ephemeral. Does anything ever stick? I guess I would want them to think that I captured a feeling, a moment in time, about our generation. And that hopefully by reading my stuff, they felt more secure in their neuroses. My stuff can be very self help-y sometimes and I like that. I want people to stop feeling so guilty about fucking up, or getting too drunk, or not landing their dream job yet. Because in the end, everything will be okay. (I’m telling myself this too. I’m my own therapist these days.)
Any future projects in the works?
I contributed to The World’s First Perfect Zine, along with Lena Dunham, jj, Vampire Weekend, Tao Lin, Das Racist, etc. It’s a great roster of writers and I feel honored to be included. That’s out on November 16th. I’m also speaking at some colleges in the next few months but nothing’s been official yet so I can’t say anything! And there might be some other cool stuff too but it’s all in the beginning stages so I must keep mum.