October 11th, 2014 / 6:24 pm
Craft Notes


I’m very happy with my decision to maintain that silence even while working in the publishing industry. I know a lot of people say that networking is as important for writers as it is for anyone else, but I think that’s crap. Writing should stand on its own. Period. I’d hate for friendship to muddy the waters of a publisher’s decision to take on my work, even if — especially if — that muddying effect were to work in my favour.”

Jason Hrivnak in conversation with Beth Follett, 2009

Hrivnak has written a single book, The Plight House, which came out in 2009. It’s one of my favorites. There is hardly any presence of him on the internet. The quote above pushes an idea that I think is true, and wish that everyone could realize it. It’s taken me five years, and sometimes I still doubt its veracity.

Ideally, I’d like to be invisible to my imagined audience. Yes, we live in a world where it’s important for the writer to take part in the publicity effort, but I think that The Plight House (and other books like it) work best when the author remains somewhat faceless. In terms of the work itself, I’m reasonably satisfied by the extent to which my desire to disappear has soaked down into the deepest levels of the book. Yes, much of the story is very personal, but that material is so intermixed with pure invention that even readers who know me well won’t be able to “find” me there. I’m not invisible, but I’m next-best-thing-to-invisible.

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  1. M. Kitchell

      I could extrapolate from the first quote my thoughts on the rise & decline of “Alt Lit” (which, of course, is predicated entirely on worshiping “networking” or coughcoughbullshit “community” over writing), but I can’t see the point. The end is always present. Indie Lit & Alt Lit have become biproducts of mediocre installations of late capital. I’ll save my apocalypse for the night.

  2. deadgod

      1. Writing is evidence of a will to being visible. Controlling one’s visibility is a mode of that will.

      2. There are good writers who network well, good writers who network clumsily (and even self-destructively), and good writers who flee the networks that are natural products of other people. An explicit relationship to ‘networking’: straight out of the networking toolkit.

      3. How does anyone (except Hrivnak and the NSA) know the extent of Hrivnak’s presence on the internet?

      4. Creative people who want audiences but also invisibility aren’t common, exactly, but there are well-known names: B. Traven, Pynchon, Chris Marker, the Residents. In my view, a writer who wanted to be really invisible wouldn’t show anyone her or his writing. A person who wanted invisibility would communicate as little as they interfered with photons others then saw.

  3. M. Kitchell

      re 3. : Perhaps I should of said “There is hardly any presence of him on the internet via Googling his name

  4. MFBomb

      I only read writers who write left-leaning click bait articles and Tweet about pop culture incessantly. Quality of prose is, like, third on my list, and that’s if I read the writer’s books. Some of my favorite writers are writers I’ve never read.

  5. Rauan Klassnik

      Blake and Tao have produced really good writing AND are really well known on the internet. So I guess there’s more than one way to skin a cat, eh???

  6. MFBomb

      Yeah, but the point seems to be that you are required to be visible on the Internet. You are expected to dump every thought floating in your head into cyberspace to build your brand. Before social media, writers were visible yet still allowed to maintain a semblance of mystery. The relative distance between a writer’s real life and his work allowed the work to be the star.

      We now have younger readers weaned on social media who don’t know what it’s like to wonder about a mysterious writer because of the words on the page. They just go to Twitter and read the writer Tweeting about the slab of meat he slapped on his grill, or that he’s stuck in traffic. Publishers come to expect writers to brand themselves like reality TV stars. Some writers get book deals only after they become Internet stars. How is this not a problem for writers who need more space between their public personas and the imaginative work they produce? Tao Lin’s thinly veiled autobiographical aesthetic also works well for both.

  7. Rauan Klassnik

      I hear ya

  8. Brooks Sterritt

      I sometimes suspect that people who complain about “sandwich tweets” on twitter have never used twitter.

  9. Daniel Bailey

      social media, for the most part, has allowed writers to show the world how boring their minds truly are. this applies to writers who post “i’m stuck in traffic here is a picture of my food” posts. there are exceptions who make this seem grotesque or something beyond simply common events.

      writers who brand themselves via social media, to me, reveal the intent behind the pursuit: to make people like them. to boost their own signal in a superficial way. writing is a cosmetic applied to the boringness of the writer’s life. (maybe we should be applying the equivalent of clown makeup)

      i very much enjoyed this post. i’ve struggled with my own visibility to potential and current readers. i often desire nothing more than invisibility. yet, here i am blabbing on and making assessments outside my own writing. i’ve been struggling toward irrelevance lately, which seems to parallel the idea of invisibility. honestly, there is no point in reading, until the writing has changed both the reader’s and the writer’s internal wiring. i don’t know where i’m going with this. i highly recommend that everyone post less, move away from writerly cities, reject all scenes. we are not doing the world any favors right now.

  10. MFBomb

      I use Twitter. I also unfollow people who Tweet about food and Live Tweet TV shows. I have cable. I can watch the show on my own TV without your commentary.

  11. deadgod

      Not that Hrivnak is telling anyone else what to do or to copy him at all, but what’s the difference between advising writers (contradictorily) just to shut up and write, and, say, telling citizens just to shut up and work and consume?

      Yes, self-promotion is gross, as are feuds and infatuations and tantrums and weak moments altogether as gross as they are entertaining, but real invisibility and silence… how is that not death?

      Almost everybody wants their masterpieces to be regarded – and effective – apart from their personalities.

      Okay! —albeit maybe quixotic. But as Rauan suggests, there are plenty of writers who use, say, twitter in non-egregious, unembarrassing – even literary – ways.

  12. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      deadgod, curious about your own decision to remain anonymous in light of your views on this subject.

  13. mimi

      because his masterpieces (comments) are regarded – and effective – apart from his personality?

  14. deadgod

      As mimi suggests, anonymity is one tactic for expressing oneself a) without one’s identity constantly being crowded to the front of every opinion (NOT that everyone not anonymous egregiously does this), and b) without those expressions (in one voice in one arena on one set of engagements) collapsed into whatever else one does.

      You can, if it pleases and suits you, ‘name’ everything you do with the same name your family calls you – why not.

      But there’s got to be people of accomplishment — that rules me out — who hang out on the internet anonymously, not sock-puppeteering, not advertising anything other than their points of view, making up and inhabiting the hermit shell of a blogonym (as I do) or, more creatively, making up a different ‘person’. Also why not.

      Of course, “personality” (or style) will out. But if, like Marker and Pynchon, you don’t want people looking at your ‘face’ when they’re ostensibly viewing/reading your work, then don’t show them it. Anonymity – facelessness – , too, is drag.