Guernica Magazine

Miscellaneous Files: Olivia Laing

In the first installment of our multimedia interview series, Olivia Laing uses screenshots to explain how the secretarial parts of writing can be both pleasurable and productive. The post Miscellaneous Files: Olivia Laing appeared first on Guernica.
Olivia Laing author photo

Miscellaneous Files is a series of virtual studio visits that uses screenshots from writers’s digital devices to understand their practice.

When I asked Olivia Laing to send me screenshots as part of this interview, she told me she only started using her iPhone a few weeks before. She’d primarily relied on “old-school” methods like notebooks and travel itineraries for her nonfiction books, three thorough and moving meditations on place, art, and the weight of our inner lives. For To The River, she walked along the Ouse, a river that attracts those who have “lost faith” and the one in which Virginia Woolf drowned herself. The Trip to Echo Spring involved a cross-country journey through America, on which she explored alcoholism through six writers who struggled to put down the bottle. In Lonely City, Laing used the work of four artists, including Andy Warhol and David Wojnarowicz, to examine the loneliness that plagued her in New York and seemed to have laid its grip on society at large. In between, she played hours of Tetris at a time—a game she later realized was an exercise in “how to assemble objects in empty space.”

Laing’s methods changed when she, somewhat unintentionally, started writing a novel in the summer of 2017. It was a moment when our political reality became stranger than fiction, and one in which Laing found it no longer possible to stick to the stable point of view she’d employed before. Written in seven weeks—and incorporating tweets from that time—Crudo follows its protagonist, a character based on both experimental novelist Kathy Acker and Laing herself, as she tries to make sense of the relentless news cycle. Laing admits to finding comfort in the “secretarial” parts of the work, and she sent me screenshots of her obsessively organized research folders as well as the presidential tweets that anchor Crudo. I met up with her at the Standard hotel in the East Village, the neighborhood that housed the ’70s punk scene Acker emerged from and one whose own certitude, following brutal gentrification, has become fuzzy.

Mary Wang for Guernica

Olivia Laing notebooks

1. “Writing from lots of different pens in probably horrible handwriting”

Guernica: What do we see here?

This is a set of travel and archive notebooks. My first two nonfiction books are journeys that

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