Aaron Landsman is an artist-in-residence at Abrons Arts Center on New York City’s Lower East Side. Upcoming and recent publication credits include poetry in The Wax Paper, Ghost City Review, and Evergreen Review, and prose in River Teeth, Hinterlands, Theater Magazine, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Hobart. His new book about democracy and performance, called The City We Make Together, co-authored with Mallory Catlett, comes out with the University of Iowa Press in 2022. His live performance works have been seen on stages, in homes, on buses and in offices, in New York City where he lives, and in other U.S. and foreign cities.
What’s the best bit of craft advice you’ve been given? Are there any craft books you’d recommend?
Craft advice: You’ll know what it means much later. Just get it down for now.
Books: Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life, Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and many others.
Okay, now what’s the worst?
Any absolute, such as “Always____________” or “Definitely, never______________”.
One last advice-focused question: do you have any advice for writers who are just starting out?
Make writing into a practice that you can do as regularly as possible. We all have lives, obligations, and distractions; there’s never a moment when that stops. So the earlier you make writing part of your day or your week, the more likely you’ll be able to keep it up through any and all phases of your life. What I find is that by making a regular—for me weekly—word count I want to keep to, a regular habit of asking myself where I’m at word-wise, my body automatically starts the day by watching and listening for things I can write down. I also found these amazing blue chemistry notebooks that are perfect. So I recommend finding your perfect vessel. If you write a lot, forgo the Moleskines because you have to be able to afford to write!
In your writing, where does truth comingle with imagination?
The truth commingles in sound. On a good day I am listening to words compose inside me at first. Then there is this funny moment where my writing hands start to act as editors: “You can’t say that like that,” “What will people think?!!” etc. And actually, on a good day, the tension between those two forces—the bodily experience of language, and the bodily experience of resistance to the truth—is where things start to really pop.
Do you write from experience? From familial memory? From daydreams or fantasies?
All of the above. And like with the last question, I hear a thing begin to compose inside me and then follow it. I don’t know at first if it will be a poem, story, essay, performance text, or recipe, but I know I can sort that out later.
If you have a regular writing practice, what do you do to protect your writing time?
Get up way earlier than I might normally do.
Where do you seek inspiration?
Music, memory, other writers who are generally braver than I am, overheard conversations, landscapes.
How do you honor silence, blank space, or simplicity in your writing?
I try to remind myself to breathe. I try to let the words come in fits, dribs, verses, reverses.
When things have you feeling low, what’s one way you seek joy or build hope?
Walking in whatever landscape I find myself. Talking to someone who knows a lot about, me so I don’t have to explain. Listening to specific albums.
Who is one writer you wish more people would read?
Cea/Constantine Jones (https://www.storiesandnoise.com/)
Picture this: you’ve just finished a long writing session and are between the world of the page and the reality around you. What’s one action you take to root yourself back in your non-writer identity? Maybe it’s making a cup of coffee or tea, perhaps it’s a walk with a loved one or pet, or even some time reading another writer’s work.
What are you currently reading? Books, magazines, the back of the cereal box, CVS receipts . . . it all counts!
Rachel Cusk, Amia Srinivasan, Jordan Franklin, J. G. Ballard, the weird welcome letter from this Dutch hotel I’m staying at while writing this.
Where do you write? Do you have any rituals you follow before turning to the page?
In the kitchen, actually any kitchen, often while the coffee is brewing, after meditating. So I get real calm and centered, then write then get too peppy with caffeine. Right now I am fixing up an old house upstate, and the kitchen is frickin’ dynamite for writing in the A.M.
Any good news you’d like to share?
I mostly write performance texts, which you can find out about at http://www.thinaar.com/. Also the piece in Longleaf is drawn from my experience working on this long-term project called Perfect City: perfectcity.org/@perfectcitynyc. Shout out to the working group.