Very Fine Day #13: Lyz Lenz

Brad Esposito

Lyz Lenz is a writer, editor, former managing editor of The Rumpus, and author of two books: “God Land” (2019) and “Belabored” (2020). Truly, Lyz has an innate ability to speak to, and write about, people from all sides of politics (and culture) with care and wit. I recommend checking out her profile of Tucker Carlson, her profile of Seth Abramson, and her newsletter: “Men Yell at Me”. Follow her on Twitter, enjoy her words, and enjoy this interview.

VFD: Sorry, we're recording now.

I didn't want to talk about the Substack stuff too much, or any of that. But it seems like it's everywhere.

Lyz Lenz: Well, I I thought we were done, but then the old New York Times had to jump in...we do not have to talk about it ‘cause I just don't know what else there is to say, right?

VFD: I don't get it? It feels like America is bored and you just need a story. Like, you need something to talk about.

Lyz Lenz: Well, it's like this: media is imploding, right? And so we have to eat each other to survive. And it's like the Donner Party out there. There's no jobs, nothing's going on, so we have to self cannibalise. That, to me, is the essence.

VFD: That's fun. That sounds like a nice environment.

Lyz Lenz:  Well, that's America. That's how we were founded. Pioneers beating the crap out of each other.

VFD: So where are you right now?

Lyz Lenz: I'm in Iowa.

VFD: What's that like?

Lyz Lenz: Well, it’s a red state in the middle of the country. So we decided we were done with the pandemic back in... May. Like, last May. Not like this upcoming May, but the last one. And so it's been real fun. And by fun, I mean, exasperating and exhausting.

VFD: Why Iowa?

Lyz Lenz: Well, more a victim of life than I think anything.

I grew up in Texas and then moved around a lot as a kid, and then ended up in the Midwest for college, and then kind of just did the “get married and move” thing. That didn't work out, but now I'm here with my kids just making a career.

And now I kind of feel like it's a little bit of… people keep asking me: why are you still here? Which is kind of offensive. It’s like: I own a home, you can see my house, my dining room. It's...yeah it's nice. And I have friends, at least a couple, and y’know it’s the logic of: if you live in a place that is perhaps a little hostile, why don't you just move? And that makes me feel so angry sometimes because it's like: why should I move? I'm not the one who sucks. Maybe the bad people should move, and we should change things.

I like living in a place where there isn't a lot of large media representation. Every four years, with the Primaries, people roll through Iowa and then write really long stories about our corn and our fields, and then they get the fuck out again. So I think there's value in having a writer who stays in a place and then writes about it, and then has to deal with the repercussions.

I volunteer for my local Meals on Wheels and the other day I was leaving and a woman was like: oh, are you The Writer? And I was like: yeah. And she was like: I read your book… I recognised five of the people in the book, even though you gave them pseudonyms. And she starts rattling off their names. And I was like, oh God, I gave them pseudonyms for a reason, Michelle!

VFD: Is it that much of a small town? I thought Iowa was... big.

Lyz Lenz: Cedar Rapids, where I live, is the second largest city in Iowa, and it has 300,000 people.

VFD: Oh right, okay.

Lyz Lenz: But Australia, y'all don't have super large cities, right?

VFD: We have pretty decent sized cities and then nothing. We're like if America didn’t move. If they just got to the coast and they're like: California, New York, this is cool. Let's keep it this way!

Not to say that there aren’t people that live in rural parts of Australia, but it's like 5 million in Sydney, and then it very quickly trickles to 1 million and lower.

Lyz Lenz: Right.

VFD: That's cause it's hot as hell. I don’t blame them.

Lyz Lenz: Yeah. And there’s also – I’ve never been – but there's always something in Australia that's trying to destroy you like a spider or a snake or some sort of blob poison fish in the ocean right? In America, we destroy ourselves, but I feel like in Australia it's nature trying to destroy you.

VFD: I mean, that is the reputation we have and we've definitely leaned into it. We have the deadliest spider, the deadliest snake, we have all those things, but you have to work pretty hard to find them. The sun, actually, for real – something like 50% of people have melanoma in their life in Australia. Which is a significant portion. So getting your skin checked and all that is very conditioned as part of life. But yeah, I've seen a red bellied black snake, which is I think the third or fourth most deadly snake. I've seen one of those in the wild and nothing else. I haven't seen a crocodile.

Lyz Lenz: What's the point? Why do you live there? Just move!

VFD: Yeah, well... probably not at the moment. But yeah. Where'd you go to college?

Lyz Lenz: I went to college in St. Peter, Minnesota, which is where Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran College is. I went to a small Lutheran liberal arts school in southwestern Minnesota.

So I was homeschooled until high school, and then going to college was a very daunting task and my parents were trying to get me to go to all those conservative schools, like Oral Roberts and Bob Jones and Wheaton and I refused. I tanked my applications on purpose. I wrote essays about how I thought the church was terrible and people should reform it from the inside. I was like: they won't like this! But then I told my parents I applied.

I just had no idea, and I had nobody helping me through the process. And so when a small school was like: here, we'll give you some money to go here… it felt safe. And I mean, Lutherans are nice. They’re real nice.

I know five Björns and I'm not even kidding. And they're all great. Like in my book, if your name is Björn, you're a good person. But yeah, ‘cause I grew up Southern Baptist from Texas. I remember telling my mom, she was like: we hoped you go to a religious school. I was like: it's Lutheran! And she was like: yeah, that's what we mean…

And so then you end up going and they're all like: oh, we just love Jesus and doughnuts and coffee. Would you like cheesy potatoes? And it's just like: this is so nice. So it was great. I had a good four years there and got into a lot of trouble on campus.

VFD: What did you do there?

Lyz Lenz: Well, that's when I started writing for the college newspaper. There was this tradition, I think a lot of school newspapers maybe had this – A calendar on the back where you'd kind of make fun of people. It was supposed to be satire.

And under my guidance not only did the articles get me in trouble, but I wrote articles and opinion pieces that kind of got similar responses to my writing gets today, and the calendar was what really got me hauled into the Dean of Students office.

I remember one time joking that a religious group on campus made the baby Jesus cry.

VFD: Sounds like that’d be frowned upon.

Lyz Lenz: Yeah. And one of the young women involved also lived on my floor and she got very upset and I got hauled into a meeting in the Dean's office with her and she was crying.

She's sitting in the chair crying and the Dean of Students is like: Did you say that they made the baby Jesus cry? And I laughed… And then at my senior year banquet, he said that he “eschewed my writing”, and I'm such a dumb ass I didn't know what eschew meant, so I turned to my friend next to me. And I was like: What did he say? He was like: it means he hates you.

I must have gotten a great education because I didn't know what the word meant.

VFD: Did you do English then, or writing?

Lyz Lenz: I went in with an English major thinking I would become a lawyer. My dad is a lawyer. Y’know, I come from a family of fighters. We fight with our words, not with our fists, which is far more brutal. And people like to ask: how do you handle online comments? Well, far worse than a Twitter reply guy is sitting at a Thanksgiving dinner with my sisters. They're so mean to me.

VFD: A lot of arguments?

Lyz Lenz: Oh, yeah. It's just like: oh, you're gonna wear that? You're gonna look like that? Oh, you think that’s so smart, you think you're so special? And I’m like: kind of! I'm 38 and now I'm gonna go cry in a corner. Happy Thanksgiving!

But yeah, so I went in doing English thinking I was gonna do pre-law. And then by my senior year one of my younger sisters told us she had been abused by a family member for many years, and that kind of imploded my life in a lot of ways. I ended up just not showing up to LSATs, and then sobbed through my GRE’s. And that closes a lot of doors: when your really bad scores can't get you into grad school.

And so that's when I got married and moved and I had a lot of professors in my life saying “you should consider writing”. So when I was 22 I moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I've said this before, but I did not want to move here. I was crying, and then I'd spend my days applying for jobs, and then in the afternoon I'd Google “How do you become a writer?”. Like: :How do you send a pitch?”.

VFD: I think that’s what most people do, to be honest. No one talks about it.

Lyz Lenz: Yeah, nobody does talk about it. But yes, everybody wants to be all smooth, like: I just figured it out.

VFD: Instead of desperately begging a stranger over email. Like: this is really up your alley.

Lyz Lenz: Sometimes people ask me to teach, and I like to teach “How To Pitch” classes because I like to go back and find some of my early pitches and just show them to people so they can see how embarrassing they are.

I think I wrote a newsletter once, a couple of months ago, or I think it was over a year ago, but how somebody had told me: Oh, just ask other writers for advice. Which is actually terrible advice. And so I was like: well, I want to be a columnist when I grow up. So I was just googling women who were columnists and then emailing every single one. And then the only one who replied was this ultra conservative lady who hates gay people and she just sent this really nice response that was really worthless, it was abso-fucking-lutely worthless, but at least she tried. She was like: you just have to find your choir and preach to it.

VFD:  Well, I think you kind of have, in a way.

Lyz Lenz: Yes. Well, it is about audience and voice if we're going to be generous to her advice. So those were those early days. I was just desperate and eventually I got a job working for a love and relationships website. And that kind of got me set on the right path.

VFD: So what were you doing there?

Lyz Lenz: In the beginning they were converting their print magazine, so this was 2008, and they were converting their print magazine to online and they just needed people who could manage a CMS and, y’know, copy and paste.

So they had these verticals and they were just like: we need basic Google-hit articles. You need to handle freelancers who will write articles, like “How to Kiss”, “How to find a Boyfriend’. And so I did that.

And then I eventually became their community manager, so managing all their Facebook and Twitter. And this was back in the wild wild west, where you could code on Facebook. So I was coding little things in there. It was fun.

VFD: Think about all the people who learnt how to kiss based on your wonderful editing.

Lyz Lenz: There are a lot of things I wrote for them that's un-bylined and still haunt me in the middle of the night. I'll just wake up and be like: Oh, God, I remember that I wrote that thing. It’s so embarrassing.

VFD: I'll make it my mission to try and find something,

Lyz Lenz: Well, for a while the most embarrassing thing – and I've written about this and these videos are kind of hard to find so I don't mind talking about them – but they had me do a video segment for a while called “Lyz on Love” where I would do a YouTube series recapping stories on love and relationships in the news for the week.

So like: which celebrities are breaking up, what the new scandal is. It’s truly horrifying. Like, I don't think we should all be proud of all the things that we’ve done.

VFD: Yeah, that's why it's so great that they exist online forever. Especially when you do them for your employer, and they get to keep them up there.

Lyz Lenz: Forever!

VFD: I think a significant part of working online, and maybe it'll get written into employee contracts, is just having a lot of embarrassing things out there that you can't get taken down.

Lyz Lenz: I would say that certainly there should be some exceptions for some overtly racist things, maybe some death threats, but then there's all that cringy stuff that lies in the middle where you're just like: yeah, I was 25 and you asked me to talk about Britney Spears in a two-minute video, and I regret everything I said out loud. I also regret my hair, I regret my make-up.

VFD: Yeah, yeah. How would you describe what you write about? Because it's like: well, it starts with relationship stuff, but you now you also write about marriage and pregnancy, and you write about religion and politics. Not quite alt-right, but conservative lifestyle living,

Lyz Lenz: Yeah, I like to say that my writing sits at that intersection of politics and faith and feminism. It's the embodied realities of the political life of America. So that's kind of the quickest way that I describe it. But obviously, sometimes I also just write about whatever the fuck I want to.

VFD: How did you get to that point and comfort of knowing what you enjoy writing about?

Lyz Lenz: Well, being a homeschooled person I'm just always reading about different things. I get really excited about things. In the pandemic, I've had a lot of different, very intense research holes that I've gone down, and I'll probably never write about them because, like, one was volcanoes.

VFD: Pretty interesting.

Lyz Lenz: They're so interesting!

VFD: Here we go...

Lyz Lenz: Oh god. I'm gonna be like a verbal Mount Vesuvius and just nothing, nothing, nothing… but then explode on the topic of volcanoes. No, I won't, I promise, I'll stay dormant.

But I just think, y’know: there is a difference between things you're interested in and then things that are worth writing about, obviously. And I think it's nice, right? It's nice to be older. It's nice to be 38 and be able to have a little bit more agency in what I get to write about because I think, especially in those early days when I just wanted a career, that's all I wanted. I would write about anything.

I worked for the Daily Dot for a while. And they would, again, assign these weird stories and be like: these are just for Google hits. And I was just like: I don't care, I'll do anything, as long as I can be a good employee and keep a job and have a career. And now it's more like, what do I think I have something worth saying on, and where do I think my writing can make the most difference?

I always like to think about what I have to say, and who else is saying it, and also where can I add to this conversation? How can I further a conversation with the stories that I write, and the journalism that I do?

I've been very lucky that the Columbia Journalism Review has given me the space to write profiles for them. It's been phenomenal. It's been one; a learning experience, and two; it’s been just an incredible way to do journalism within the space where I've also married it with a little bit of memoir.

Like, when I wrote about Tucker Carlson, that was also a personal thing. When I recently wrote about Seth Abramson it was also about the state of the internet and media and how we filter information. I think the reality as a writer is that you always have to be evolving in a way, or I would always like to be evolving. And so it is good so far that I've been able to change and evolve and grow, and write different stories that keep me interested, and I have some more stories that I'm working on now that I'm really excited about that I think will kind of shift in a little bit of a different direction, too.

VFD: Are you able to talk about them? Are they sort of under wraps?

Lyz Lenz: I think probably the editors would prefer that I keep them under wraps.

VFD: That's alright.

Lyz Lenz: I know, if it was just me I’d just tell you. It's not like I get scoops, y’know, I get interviews, but I can't...

I guess there have been a couple of times this past year when I worked for my local paper where I broke a couple of stories. But I'm not like a New York Times investigative journalist where I'm cutting a bitch for scoops.

VFD: How do you approach - this is gonna get pretty meta - how do you approach interviewing and doing those profiles, particularly when you're writing about someone like Tucker Carlson or Seth Abramson, who might not be particularly open and willing to talk. Or maybe they are... because I actually haven’t interviewed many people that are kind of on the complete opposite side of my own political spectrum, I'd say.

Lyz Lenz: Yeah, I go in very strategically.

First of all, I do all the research upfront, especially for every big profile and every big interview. I try to go in having done all my homework. I read all their books, as many articles as I can find, and all the takes I can find. And that also helps me shape my questions, because I don't want to go in and ask the same old, same old. I mean, sometimes you have to, just to kind of get the conversation going. But I want to go in knowing as much about a person as possible, because a lot of times I don't know how long I'll have until this person will hang up on me.

Recently for a story I just turned in I did every single interview that I could before I finally did a couple of the central interviews because I knew when I would ask the questions that were necessary, the questions that hadn't been asked, that things would get a little tense. So you often don't know how long you have with this person, so you have to be as smart and as thorough and as ready to go as possible. But that said, I'll do all this research, I'll kind of make notes of like: Okay, what do I absolutely need this person to explain to me? And then when I get on the phone with them, I don't look at my notes. I try to make the conversation as conversational as possible, just chat about about my kids and my dogs and be, like, a person.

VFD: Bring the world down, yeah.

Lyz Lenz: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And try to do a lot of that and try to be as much of a human talking to a human as possible before you have to get into those questions. And I think that's good for me, too, because I think one of the things that is hard to remember when you're writing about somebody who you disagree with, is that they are a human being. And so balancing that with obviously the impact of the things that they say. So that's how I approach them.

I've been lucky that people talk to me so far. I can’t imagine that's gonna continue. But yeah, I like to do that.

One of the profiles I did was of Pamela Colloff, and I remember really asking her how she approached her interviews, because if you read the articles she writes, it’ll have this detail and you're like: how did you get that detail? She's like: Oh, it was from the person. But she just incorporates it into her prose. And so something she told me that she did was, she'll just talk to a person as intently as possible, not look at her notes, and then afterwards, she'll write or record her impressions of that interview to kind of keep it fresh, and to keep it in her notes. And so I've started to do that. Just like: what did they sound like? How did I feel?

VFD: That’s clever.

Lyz Lenz: Yeah, it's very smart. When I interviewed Richard Spencer for a story about his divorce, that was really helpful. It was one of those moments where it's like: OK, I need to convey that what he's saying is not just what he's saying, but it's happening in this atmosphere where he's got food on his face, and he’s leaning forward, and it's kind of menacing, but you can't say kind of menacing, right? You need to just express it through the details.

So yeah, that's kind of how I approach them. I always like to talk to editors about it, too. I'm like: Okay, do we approach them first? Do we do all the interviews around them? And then approach them? It's a real dance, and it's a puzzle piece, that's what's one of the most fun parts: trying to piece together the puzzle. There have been a couple times I think I screwed it up, like the order,

VFD: How do you know that? Is it just the feeling?

Lyz Lenz: Yeah, it's a gut feeling where you're like: I think I could have got that person to talk. But I didn't play my cards right.

I wrote a profile of Gretchen Carlson, and there were so many times during that - it took me like six months to write it just because I was tracking down people and digging up anecdotes and all this kind of stuff - there were so many times when I was so close to talking with her people. We even had one interview on the books before it was cancelled. I think if I had just waited and not gone there first, I don't know.... Who knows?

VFD: To go back to what you were saying about how it's part interview, part profile, part memoir, and then outside of that style of writing, you also just write about your own life. Do you ever feel like you are… giving away pieces of your soul? That's an intense way of putting it, but you are being very personal, right?

Lyz Lenz: I think for me, and I'll say this for me, because I don't think this is writ large. I read a lot of writers who I admire who don't put themselves out there on the page. I think for me, in order to write as honestly as possible, I think it's important for people to know where I'm coming from.

There's a tendency sometimes in journalism to make things this debate of the abstractions without talking about how these abstractions actually impact the daily lives of individuals.

I just wrote a book called “Belabored”, which is about the political realities of being a pregnant person in the United States. I don't think I would have been able to, say, when politicians sit there and debate what's an ectopic pregnancy and what's not an ectopic pregnancy, that that's not just a debate, it has actual lived implications for women in their daily lives that result in depression and shame and death.

Like: America has the highest maternal death rates in the developed nations. This is not just an abstraction. And so always the thing that I'm struggling with is why should people read this? Why should people read what some dumb mom in Iowa has to say? And that's always in the back of my mind: why should people care? And the way that I, as a writer, best answer that is by telling them why I care, and making the argument that way.

It might not be the best way. You could think my writing is crap and I would accept that. I also wish more writing was more personal. I wish more people would say why they came to a story or how they came to a story, because I understand not all writing can be like that, but I think that audiences would better benefit from a little bit more transparency with that and I think it would build more integrity.

Y’know, I do get a lot of crap from my writing, but I also have a lot of people across the political spectrum who read me and say: Well, at least I always know where you're coming from. There's no secrets. And I think there's value to that. I have also written about religion – and once again: how do you look at people who maybe didn't grow up religious and say: No, you need to read a book on religion. Well, you do it by saying: here's how it impacts your daily life, and here's how it impacts the policies that impact your daily life. It’s taking it out of the abstract and making it flesh and blood.

VFD: Have you ever regretted it? Even this small thing you wrote about not cooking anymore, but really, it was about your marriage, at least that's how I read it.

Lyz Lenz: Yeah,

VFD: And I was reading it the whole time, and I'm a child of divorce, and like, your kids will read that at some point, right? Is that something you think about and is that something you approach with everything about your personal life that you put out there?

Lyz Lenz: I think something that is perhaps a misunderstanding of personal writing is that it's just like cutting your veins open and bleeding on the page.

It's really strategic. I would not have written that essay that you're talking about for any other editor besides Mattie Khan at Glamour, who's an incredible editor. And we talk a lot about those issues like: OK, what legally can I say, what's unfair, should I describe a situation or should I say how I felt about a situation, those are two different things.

I think that article generated a lot of conversation about domestic labour, about inequity in marriages, which we're seeing now especially played out during the pandemic. And I think that it generated that conversation because it was written about in a personal way. Like, you could have just scratched some of that personal stuff and been like: well, statistically, doop doop doop. Here's a quote from a lady, here’s a quote from a lady, here’s a quote from a man, and scene. And it wouldn't have had the impact it had. And cause the conversations it had.

But yes, I do think a lot. It is all carefully edited. There are some things I wrote early in my writing career that I'm not sure if they were that personal, they were just not thoughtful. I wrote about things without thinking about them as deeply as I should have and so they're very superficial. I do regret early on having a blog. Who doesn't regret having a blog? That's truly the universal regret. But in some of those early blog posts I put pictures of my kids up, never thinking I would have a career because at that point, nobody was publishing me, nobody was responding to my pitches. I was just frustrated and was like: Well, I'm gonna have a blog where I talk about books and my babies because I don't know what else the fuck to write about. And that actually started getting an audience I think because it was personal and people could connect with it. Those are some of the things I regret, which I’ve backtracked from as much as possible.

But yeah, I am very thoughtful about it. I have a lot of friends who read me where I say: Is this too much? And I pull back. What's fair, what's unfair. I have editors who I work with and trust. But I'm sure there are times when you could say I crossed the line. I guess we won't know until my kids write their memoirs saying what a jerk I was, but I will say I am very thoughtful about it.

And so to your question, do I feel like I'm giving away a piece of my soul? No. No, because I'm in control, right? I'm in control of how that story is told and how that story is written. And, y’know, I got my MFA as a fiction writer. That wasn't to imply that I'm making things up. But what I am trying to say is that stories are crafted, stories are built through detail, through paragraphs or sentences. I don't feel like I've lost a piece of my soul because I don't feel ever out of control of those narratives.

VFD: Do you approach writing online differently to writing a book?

Lyz Lenz: Oh, yeah, of course. There's some things that remain the same. I always do way too much research for everything. When writing a book, I’m thinking bigger narrative structure, as opposed to smaller narrative structure. I think a lot about structure in articles. Like how do you flow from one idea to the next, where do you start, where's the personal moment, where's the statistics, what's the takeaway?

And with books, it's a little harder… it’s like: how do I create a narrative of all these pieces to where they flow together to culminate into some sort of...or not even culminate, because I even think that that's a very Western, hierarchical, “build up to a climax” style..

In fact, my second book, I didn't structure it like that – I structured it into four parts, where each part had its own little rise and fall of tension and action because it was about the body. And so I structured it into the four parts of birth, pregnancy, so the three trimesters and immediately after, and had a lot of fun with the structure there.

So yes, I do approach that differently. I also like having time to sit and think about things a little longer. I think one of the gifts that I have now is not being forced to write quick hits anymore. A lot of writing benefits from thought, and reflection, and editing,

VFD: Who would have thought?

Lyz Lenz: Who would have thought? But it's so sad that that's the luxury position! I was realising that recently in the past couple months, where I'm like: Oh, I'm at a place where I can say “no” to things, where maybe I might have said yes to before because I felt like I'd have to, but now it's like, you know what? I don't even know if that's for me. That's just not for me. I'm not sure I'm the best person for that story.

And being able to say that is I think good. Writers should know when to say “no, thank you, that’s not for me”.

VFD: What do you think people get wrong most often about writing? Especially given that you talk at schools and stuff, and I imagine you have inspired in some ways younger writers, or have motivated them, or they've read what you have written and it’s helped them to see what their voice should be. Is there anything that you see a lot that you decide: hmm, would be great if that stopped?

Lyz Lenz: First of all, no more writing about dating apps.

Ha, No...I used to work as an editor for a literary magazine, which was the greatest thing ever because I got to read a lot of writers and publish them for the first time. And it was so incredible to publish a writer and then a few months later get an email from them being like: I got an agent based on that piece and just feel like you played a part in somebody's success. What a gift.

I think what people really don't understand about writing is that it is not about talent. And as I say this I understand there's a lot of people who struggle with disabilities, and structural and systemic issues that prevent their voices from being heard. And so those are a problem. But I think this idea that: Oh, this person got published because they're so talented, or they got an advance because they’re so talented… It's really just kind of a gamble.

Roxane Gay often talks about the really small advance she got for “Bad Feminist”. And it’s all just like a farce, a little bit. But I do think there's this idea that's like: Oh, well you're famous so you must have earned it. I don’t think so. Sometimes it’s just an accident.

One of the writers I admire the most is Kevin Brockmeier. But I remember being a little baby going to one of his writing events and being like: how do you get published? There's always some asshole who asks that question and that was me that day. And he was like: honestly, I just got lucky. He's like: a professor read one of my stories and sent it to an agent and the agent became my agent, and then I started getting published.

VFD: Which is like the opposite of helpful.

Lyz Lenz: But he was like: I can't be helpful, because I don't know!

But I think there's this idea somehow that if you’re published or you have books out it’s based on merit, and it just really isn't. And I think that actually I mean that in an encouraging way. Like: why not you? I say this to people all the time – your voice matters just as much as anyone else’s. So why not you? Why not push for that?

It's like in high school when I took the standardised test, I looked around the room and would be like: Who's the dumbest kid here? And then that would be my motivation, because I'd be like: well, at least I'm doing better than that asshole. I might fail, but I won’t fail as hard as him. It's also when I run races. I do a lot of running, and so when I used to run races, I'd be like: OK, well, I won't finish last at least.

VFD: I feel like that's a very media or writer approach to competitiveness. Being like: I just can’t lose. I gotta beat a person and then I’ll be fine.

Lyz Lenz: But I think it's encouraging in some way where it's just like, yeah, a lot of people have carved out success in ways where they're not even online.

I read a mystery novel by a writer Heather Gudenkauf, who's a very successful mystery writer, she lives in my town. New York Times bestseller. She’s not online. You know what I mean? Like, nobody talks about that but she did it! She’s got a career.

I think there are these ideas that you have to play games, or...much like that horrible columnist told me once, you find your people. You find what you have to say, and then you find your people.

A friend of mine who teaches writing once told me when I was doing that all up in my feelings thing, which is so annoying. This is kind of rude, but I liked it. She was like: People don't read you because they're gonna hear something that blows their mind. People read you because they want to hear what you have to say. That's it.

And I was like: Oh yeah. And then they're not all gonna be winners, is what I tell people. You might not always write the good thing or the right thing. But keep it up.

VFD: Yeah. But hopefully you do it enough that it’s worth it.

Lyz Lenz: I’m reading the collected writings of E.B White right now. And I'm like, really? This is what the New Yorker built its reputation on? It’s like: he wrote in the voice of a dog half the time. It's all a farce.

VFD: Alright. Well on that note. Thank you so much for your time, I won’t keep you anymore. But really, thank you so much.

Lyz Lenz: Yeah, thank you.