Name one author or book that has significantly influenced your writing. What about the writing influenced you?
Cheryl Strayed influenced me most as an undergraduate at UCF—from her outlook on life itself to the badassery in her prose. Of course, Wild was a game changer for her career, but she also ran an advice column on The Rumpus called “Dear Sugar.” Her not-as-popular book, Tiny Beautiful Things (which is also the name of her most popular piece ever published on the website) is a compilation of advice essays. I remember reading this book during a time when I was conflicted on whether or not to pursue fiction or nonfiction. After taking workshops and classes in both genres, I felt myself stuck as a writer. The advice in her book, as cliché as this is about to get, really did change my outlook of not only my prose, but of myself as a writer. I thought that if she can take her everyday, seemingly mundane life and turn it into beautifully written work of nonfiction, then I could give it a shot, too.
What style or form are you interested in as a writer? Why?
I am drawn to nonfiction because of its blurriness regarding genre. Hybridity is something that pushes me as an artist, and I am constantly thinking of how to tie in multiple genres to my voice. I love Autobiography of My Hungers by Rigoberto González. In this book, González presents short, flash chapters that are intertwined with poems that reflect some aspect regarding his past or content in the book. I find myself writing poems and then, after some time, I realize that those poems are really meant to be essays. And the other way around, too. One critique I often have in my workshop is that I focus a lot on image and scene, and I find myself taking this commentary and running with it. If I have a piece with strong imagery, I can easily turn it into a poem and see how it feels. This freedom is what I love about alternative forms and it allows for some play during the writing process.
What is your writing routine? Do you do anything quirky or weird during your writing process?
I have one hard-and-fast rule when it comes to writing: I have to be alone. Whether that is locking myself in my room for hours on end or sitting at Starbucks in the back corner, facing away from the door. I find I do my best writing in a solitary environment, usually in a colder setting, with a drink nearby, my phone set to “Do Not Disturb,” and an instrumental playlist from Spotify blasting. Spotify has changed my life. I used to believe that nothing could be better than Pandora. But then, I tried Spotify, and I looked through the countless playlists for focus and writing, and I never went back.
Where does your idea begin? With a place/setting? A person/character? An event/scene? An emotion? An image? What about this helps you write?
My writing is usually about things I don’t quite understand. Being a primarily nonfiction writer, I find myself questioning things from my past and write to discover what it all meant, why it happened, and how has it affected who I am now, as the author writing the piece. Usually, these ideas are sparked by specific events from my life, and then I will write pure description of everything I remember. Later, I go in with the details (i.e. how might the others around me felt at the time, why I reacted that way, what traces do I see in my life now from those important moments, why did I write about it and why can I not stop thinking about it, etc.). The more I write, the more I realize that I want to be a writer with questions, not answers. And perhaps, from my writing, those who read my work will examine their own lives and do the same.
What book or collection have you read recently? What did you learn from it?
I’ve been reading New American Stories edited by Ben Marcus. This anthology of short stories has opened my mind to what fiction has to offer. I want to have a grasp and understanding of all genres by the time I finish with the MFA, so I make sure to include some fiction on my reading list. All of the stories are beautiful, strange, complicated, and tonally engaging. Ben Marcus writes the following in the introduction, which beautifully sums up the power of a story, and I have no choice but to share it here:
“Language is a drug, but a short story cannot be smoked. You can’t inject it. Stories don’t come bottled as cream. You cannot have a story massaged into you by a bearish old man. You have to stare down a story until it wobbles, yields, then catapults into your face. But as squirrely as they are to capture, stories are the ideal deranger. If they are well made, and you submit to them, they go in clean. Stories deliver their chemical disruption without the ashy hangover, the blacking out, the poison. They trigger pleasure, fear, fascination, love, confusion, desire, repulsion. Drugs get flushed from our systems, but not the best stories. Once they take hold, you couldn’t scrape them out with a knife. While working on this book, I started thinking of it as a medicine chest, filled with beguiling, volatile material, designed by the most gifted technicians. The potent story writers, to me, are the ones who deploy language as a kind of contraband, pumping it into us until we collapse on the floor, writhing, overwhelmed with feeling.”
I love this quote because it goes below the surface, and even the craft, of writing. Marcus talks about “power,” a word that I keep referring to because it is so prominent in the collection. The stories really do stick with you long after you close the book. It makes me want to write better and dig deeper with my prose, even on a line level, and explore the possibilities of how writing can allow the reader to challenge themselves and their notions of what stories do.
Can we find you in the world of social media and do you have an author website?
Ryan Skaryd is a second year MFA candidate in nonfiction. His poetry has recently appeared in Ink in Thirds and he hopes to continue publishing across genres. When he is not writing, you can find him running, drinking too much coffee, drinking too little water, and buying too many books.