PEN DIY: “Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines D.I.Y., or Do-It-Yourself as “the activity of doing or making something […] without professional training or assistance.” Writers across time have applied this idea to their craft—as Hemingway put it: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
With the rise of the self-publishing industry, the culture of D.I.Y. is more relevant to the literary world than ever before.
Although that’s not to say that it hasn’t been relevant previously: In 1985, Lorrie Moore examined the idea that lives can be improved like golf swings, writing candidly about “How to Talk To Your Mother” and “How To Be An Other Woman.” In 1962, Julio Cortázar, the “Simón Bolívar of the novel,” left us precise instructions for climbing a staircase along with instructions on how to cry. More recently, performance poet and former punk rocker Jeanann Verlee imparted biting and unmissable lessons on loving a prophet and handed out unsolicited advice to adolescent girls with crooked teeth and pink hair.
Today, in the spirit of literary D.I.Y., we the people can make our own chapbooks, or take advice from some of the greats while writing our masterpieces in the comfort of our own bedrooms. In Neil Gaiman’s famous commencement speech, he advises us to make good art on the good days, the bad days, and all the days in between. “Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor?” The answer is simple: “Make good art. […] Do the stuff that only you can do.” Joss Whedon, who shot a feature film in his home with a handful of friends and the text of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, tells us to: “Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
Thanks to D.I.Y. culture today is the day to tear down the stars and try this at home.
At home… but also with PEN! At The Ace Hotel on October 6, at the launch of our D.I.Y series, we will reintroduce the idea that, in the special communion between reader and writer, stories can teach us how to live. Imagine Herman Melville leading an event on “How to Get Your Man”, Mary Shelley leading a session on “How to Rob a Grave”, or former PEN member Allen Ginsberg on “How to Write a Banned Book”.
We’re interested in the journey, and the thought-process behind it. It will be a Do-It-Yourself life lesson—no Allen wrench required.
At our first D.I.Y. event, we look forward to hearing Mojave poet and former professional basketball player Natalie Diaz in conversation with Mike Albo. Natalie lives in the American Southwest, where she works and teaches with the last Elder speakers of the Mojave language. She is the 2014 recipient of the Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, and was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Open Book Award. For a sneak peek at how Natalie approaches D.I.Y., take a look at her advice on how to go to dinner with a brother on drugs from her collection When My Brother Was an Aztec.