7 For Seven: Seven Questions For ... Dan Ozzi
"I allowed myself to use the phrase 'angular guitars' exactly one time in my book."
Greetings, all, to the first 7 for Seven of 2021! To all the new subscribers: welcome! Heads up that starting this Wednesday, my normal newsletters will resume. For now, enjoy this week’s talk with Dan.
Onward, as always,
Every second and fourth Friday of each month, Brady Gerber’s “7 For Seven” interviews writers talking about writing. This week’s guest is Dan Ozzi. Dan helped Laura Jane Grace write her 2016 book, TRANNY, and is currently writing a forthcoming book with no help from anyone, and it shows. He once received a salary and health insurance writing for a music website called Noisey and now writes an email newsletter called REPLY ALT alone in his bedroom. And Dan wants you to check out … REPLY ALT. Read this interview on your browser.
Tell us: What (all) do you do? Bonus points if you show us how you got to where you are today.
I am a writer of little acclaim, a troublemaker of mild renown, and a corporeal mass of 200 lbs.
The way I got here was that in every single choice I was presented with in life, I took the path that seemed more adventurous but was actually very stupid.
Walk us through a typical day.
The alarm goes off early and I go outside to swing a kettlebell around for 30 minutes while simultaneously resisting the urge to cave my own skull in with it. Then I shower, make my bed, drink coffee, start a crossword puzzle I won't finish, and sit down at my laptop to work on the book I’ve been writing for almost two years. I work in 90-minute, uninterrupted, distraction-free blocks interspersed with short breaks. So, if I can get two blocks in by lunch, I will have had a productive morning. I assign myself daily word counts—usually between 800 and 1,500 words, depending on how far along I am in the chapter, and try to hit those. After lunch, I will read a book for a while and then get back to my blocks. At night I wind down by watching a French movie about love and saying to myself, “That seems nice.”
Describe more about how you work; how do you do what you do?
For this book, my approach has involved constantly asking myself: What are the most offensive cliches I’ve found in books and articles about rock ‘n’ roll and how can I do the opposite? I will often circle hacky phrases I spot in books and write a note to myself in the margin that says: “NO. If you ever do this, quit writing and open a souvenir store on the highway.” I allowed myself to use the phrase “angular guitars” exactly one time in my book and told my editor that if she catches me using it again she is welcome to shoot me with a crossbow.
What’s your trick for when you’re feeling stuck?
I don’t ever really feel “stuck.” I only feel thrown off my rhythm. Routine is the nail on which all of my productivity hangs. If I fall off track, it is incredibly hard to get myself back on it. So I have to wake up knowing what I’m doing that day or my mind will wander and I will spend five hours watching YouTube videos about how to take a camera apart and put it back together.
List some of your notable influences, past and present: writers, books, works of art, anything and anyone that has inspired you. Also: The best article you read recently?
I am inspired by people who march to the beat of their own drum, in whatever discipline that may be. People who would create things even if there were no audience for them, people who have a compulsion to make the pictures they see in their head. Writers and artists whose work runs counter to this guiding principle sicken me.
My friend Mark McCoy runs a cult record label called Youth Attack and his approach to his art is very inspiring to me. He understands that the only “reward” for your work is more work.
I’ve also recently become very interested in obsessive documentarians—those who have a compulsion to capture the scene around them that is not rooted in any external forces beyond their own interest. I’ve been reading a lot about Aaron Cometbus lately and his documenting of the early East Bay scene, although he doesn’t give many interviews which I respect. There’s also a doc about the late New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who had a monastic approach to his work, that I think about a lot. And Didion’s capturing of California to an extent as well. She of course received acclaim for her work but her genuine interest and skepticism bleeds through.
As far as writers go, I read a lot of rock books but actually enjoy very few of them. I thought Sam McPheeters’s new book, Mutations, was an overall fun look through the jaundiced eyes of a punk elder statesman. My aforementioned friend Mark is engaged to another terrific writer named Chelsea Hodson, who recently recommended me the work of Scott McClanahan and I’ve been obsessed with his style. I read his entire body of work this year and my favorite was The Sarah Book, a look at divorce that is both hilarious and heartbreaking.
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Advice time: What’s a piece of wisdom that you wish you first heard when you were starting out?
Build a body of work that you alone own. I have put thousands of hours of work and literally millions of words into various websites and magazines over the years that I have no claim to. No regrets, I guess, because I needed the money, but when I look back at it as a whole, I realize how much work I’ve done for others when I should’ve been doing more for myself.
“Art”: What the heck is it?
Whenever I hear this question I think of that sketch from The State wherein there’s a panel of esteemed art experts who spend five full minutes reading off their impressive bona fides. Then the host poses the question: “Gentlemen, what … is … art?” They all mull it over for a while before someone finally answers, “Just like … paintings and stuff?” And the host says, “Yes, goodnight,” and the credits roll.
BONUS: Cats or dogs?
BONUS BONUS: Money time! What's a specific piece of financial advice that you wish to pass along to a writer just starting out?
Ah, but if I shared my approach to my finances, then everyone would know my secrets for assuring I stay destitute for the rest of my life!
BONUS BONUS BONUS: Pick a piece of writing that you’re proud of and walk us through how it was done: How you got the idea, how you confirmed it was going to happen, drafting the piece, editing it, and publishing it?
I recently released a limited-run zine, an experience that was both terrifying and rewarding. Terrifying in that it had nothing to do with music and was all personal writings, photos, and short stories. Rewarding in that all 200 of them sold in a couple of hours and people had given me positive feedback on it even though I’m sure they’re just humoring me. The way I executed it was: I spent a year thoroughly and meticulously ruining my entire life. Then once I’d done that I sat down at a computer and all the words were there waiting for me.
But I think the reason I’m proud of it is that the medium of the internet has deluded us into believing that the largest and widest audience equals the greatest artistic worth. This of course could not be farther from the truth. Many people smarter than I have written about the warped standards Likes and Follower counts have drilled into our heads, but as someone who had primarily been releasing work via the internet for many years, it was very refreshing to create something that is inherently not available to everyone. I like that idea. It actually made me feel slightly uneasy to see people posting photos of their copies on Instagram because it doesn’t belong there. People have been yelling at me to reprint it, and maybe I will if I need extra cash, but my heart is telling me not to. I feel like I got away with something like I told a few people a secret and it’s ours. So instead of reprinting it, I just started working on a follow-up. Rip it up and start again, etc.