Cover Photo: This header is a headshot of author R. O. Kwon on the left and her book cover on the right. The cover of her book has scattered lines in it, which have been added to her headshot to mimic the book cover.
Photograph courtesy of R. O. Kwon/Photo Illustration by Eliza Harris

How’s the Writing Going, R. O. Kwon?

“I know that when I’m really writing, when I’m really, really lost in a sentence, I forget I have a body, I forget what time is. I forget to eat.”

The IncendiariesThe IncendiariesKinkNew York Times

Sari Botton: Shortly after the 2020 election, I noticed one of your tweets. I think this was after it was finally determined that Biden had won. You tweeted, “somehow writing remains difficult even now, seems rude.” It was very relatable to me, and I’m sure to many other writers, because so many of us had been freaking out through the entire Trump administration and even before then—through the election leading up to that. It put us in this anxious state that made it hard to concentrate. Then, even after Biden was elected, there was this right-wing campaign to overturn the result. What was it like for you to focus and be productive through all the recent political turmoil?

SB: One of the hardest things for me about the pandemic was that it forced me to close a small coworking space I had developed for writers in Kingston. We had ten writers, and we would leave our houses and go and work together. Then we would go get a drink together and we would talk shop. That was eliminated at the end of March 2020. I was suddenly just in my house by myself, well, with my husband, who’s wonderful and we get along wonderfully, but there were no writers around. I like that idea of the accountability group that functions over email and texts. I might try that myself because losing my writers’ community was one of the hardest things for me.

Where did the one-sentence-a-day thing emerge from? I’ve never heard of anybody, especially someone who’s a published novelist, doing that.

The Incendiaries

SB: So you set the bar low for yourself. Then it’s easy to succeed and not be disappointed in yourself and not feel like you’ve betrayed this lover, which is your novel.

New York TimesThis is genius

Am I just going to sit there and just feel sad at the end of it because I wasn’t able to do a damn thing?

SB: That’s brilliant. You set these conditions that your brain then learns to associate with writing, and the writing gets done.

SB: That’s so good that you got him on board.

I know that you’ve been very active with an organization called Field Team 6, through which you’ve organized textbanking parties with other writers. I was inspired to join you several times. It really helped me feel less hopeless—or more hopeful, to put it more positively. I think we might’ve really helped get out the vote! Can you talk about how you got involved and what that’s been like for you?

SB: Honestly, I needed it.

Yes, I want to do this

Oh, wait, this is actually something writers can be good at. We like texting. We like making fun of rude Republicans.

SB: Those textbanking parties were the best. I’ve volunteered a couple more times and I will continue to. Did it help you to get your work done? Did it help calm the anxiety and let you go into that ritual of yours?

Okay, well, we did this thing for others. Please, for the love of God, can we focus on writing for two hours now?

SB: Yeah, I had the biggest deadline of my life looming, and textbanking helped. I turned in my memoir in June. I had been working on it through the run-up to the 2020 election, and then through the first half of 2021.

SB: Thank you. It was very anxiety provoking. It’s something that’s taken me a really long time to do because I never felt I had permission. It’s been this lifelong challenge and I finally got the opportunity—during the most fraught time in the world. I was in a . My body felt like it was on constant high alert through the entire Trump administration. And then when the pandemic came along, my body started literally shaking all the time.

I would try to sleep at night but my limbs wouldn’t stop twitching. Then I would have to write during the day, and aside from being in a state, and exhausted, I also had to grapple with this feeling of why bother, who cares about my story?

It was very helpful to do something concrete, like textbanking. Especially when you texted someone who wrote back, “Thank you so much for reminding me that I need to register by this time,” etc. That helped ground me.

Sari Botton is a writer and editor living in Kingston, NY. She is a contributing editor at Catapult, and the former Essays Editor for Longreads. She edited the anthologies Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving & Leaving NY and Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for NY. She teaches creative nonfiction at Wilkes University, Catapult and Bay Path University. She publishes three newsletters: Oldster Magazine, Adventures in "Journalism,"  and Memoir Monday. Her memoir-in-essays, And You May Find Yourself... will be published by Heliotrope in June, 2022.

Photo credit to Sylvie Rosokoff