How I Write with Steven Stam



STEVEN STAM is an English Teacher, writer, and runner from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his wife Adriana and two small children. His work can be found in Fiction Southeast, Kudzu House Quarterly, and the Rappahannock Review, among others.


Where do you work?


Anywhere I can. I teach, coach, and parent, so finding adequate writing time can be difficult. During the academic year, I will try to squeeze a session in every day, even if it is 15 minutes. This could be in a coffee shop, at the kitchen table, in my classroom before lunch. Wherever I can eek out the time. Work may not come at a keyboard though, and that is something I have come to understand over time. I plan everywhere, often while running and driving.


How do you get started?


If I am working on a new piece, I just try to write and see what comes time mind. Sometimes this is a fruitless activity that leads to frequent deletions and mostly empty documents. Other times, ideas come to me. I have recited entire sections throughout a run before in order to record it once I reach home. I have used Siri to text myself an idea. That said, on an established piece, I edit a lot. I might edit the whole piece, then only find a few minutes to add on. Essay writing taught me this method, always trying to make sure things are nice and tight. This method works great for flash fiction, but for the novel I’m working on, it is arduous.


What kind of headspace do you need to be in in order to write?


Free of anger. Introspective is great, but frustration and or anger can squash creativity. I try to write before putting on parenting hat. I often find mornings are the best creative—late evenings are my other spot, but this can be a harder as the day weighs on you.


Do you have a daily routine?


I wish. I really do. It holds me back, but my life is very full. Two kids, full-time job, additional work on top of that. When not working, I aim for early mornings, but when writing doesn’t pay the bills it is hard.


What does it feel like when you are on a roll and things are flowing nicely?


Pure flow, very introspective. I truly focus on little else. People are a hindrance at these points. If I am at a coffee shop, those around me are a hurdle—they speak, gossip. When I am on a roll, I need to tap the well, because it will go away.


Do you have a favourite literary form that you like to write, and what do you like about it?


Flash fiction: it is single serving. I love reading the novel, but I recognize that society is more into instant gratification. Flash hits this spot, solves the gratification need.


Whose work have you been influenced by?


I am really digging Matt Bell as of late, some great ideas there, lots of creativity. His two novels are killer. I adore Flannery O’Connor and go back to her whenever I can. She is so honest, so real, so Gothic. She writes how everyone should and wishes they could. Álvaro Enrigue’s novel Sudden Death changed me as well. I just wrote a review on it for the Tishman Review. He pushes the envelope and spits in the face on convention. Then there is Borges…


Was there a transformative moment for you as a writer?


I am still waiting for it. I often feel like a pretender here. Even the story you guys published – a few days before it was accepted I received a personalised rejection that said that they despised the end and that they thought it was sick. I think perhaps it was taken in a sexual manner when it is just a dad checking on his kid, a dad who wants her to be great, and a girl who loves being loved. So here, I feel like a failure, but I’m glad you guys love it. Another acceptance hit a few days later on the same piece, which I declined. I think I will feel transformed when a few of my good stories, ones that mean something to me, find a home.