A small experiment he started during the pandemic has been going strong for over 600 days. Founding editor Natasha Khullar Relph spoke to the prolific author, musician, and actor about his daily fiction project.
He’s been kicked off college radio for bad behavior, offered an acting gig straight after a show, starred in small independent movies, been part of a punk band, and been a headline performer at Detroit’s Erotic Poetry and Music Festival for 20+ years. He’s written for Orbit magazine, where he was the nude centerfold in the final issue and won multiple awards for his acting. He’s a 2022 Hour Detroit Magazine Nominee for Best Author.
But what first brought Jimmy Doom to my attention was Roulette Weal, his Substack newsletter, where he publishes a work of short fiction daily.
I’m very excited about your newsletter and your daily fiction, which is very inspiring and just amazing to have watched.
My only days missed was when I had COVID. I wrote for a couple days and watched the quality go down and that’s when I announced I’m going to take a break until I feel I can do it right. Those six days while I was sick are the only days I’ve missed since I started on August 21, 2020.
You grew up around journalists. What made you veer more towards fiction?
My stepdad was on the police beat in Detroit. Something would happen and they would call him, and he’d have to go out and cover a crime and write a story. It just looked really stressful. I was more that flighty kid that wanted to sit in my bedroom and write a story about a ghost and a pretty girl and be done when I was done rather than having some Perry White style editor over my shoulder going, “We need this now!”
I did entertainment work for the Detroit Free Press and was the fine food editor of Orbit magazine. I did some journalism, but I would much rather use my imagination than a clock.
So that’s ties in neatly to the fact that you are now doing fiction on a clock. But it’s your own clock.
And I don’t have anybody looking over my shoulder.
Readers, I suppose, now that you’ve built that expectation.
But that’s more of a joy. The positive feedback, that’s my reward. It doesn’t feel like an obligation.
You started in August 2020, which was pretty soon after the start of the pandemic. What made you decide to do it?
I wrote this book Humans, Being and so I got in the habit of writing a 100-word story every day. And then I knew I could, I had that much discipline. After I released the book, I started writing longer form stuff more often. I was just done with the 100-word format. After the pandemic hit, it took away a lot of acting work from me and with the financial burden of not having acting work, I had to do something to make more money.
Substack presented itself and one of the first guidelines I read was that you have to write regularly. And I was like, well I can write every day, my friends.
I pledged to write every day and during the pandemic that didn’t seem like that big of a deal. And then when I wound up with a couple hundred subscribers and I was locked into having to produce something every day.
Why do it? What’s the motivation?
If you’re a writer, you have to write, you have to produce. I knew I could write quality material. I know I have a vivid imagination. Once I had people paying me, I couldn’t let them down, it’s as simple as that.
Not having great name recognition, I knew I had to be reliable. So really, for one of the first times in my life, other than my movie career, I’m reliable.
What’s your process like? Do you have lots of different short stories written somewhere with notes, or do you start a new one every day?
Voice recorder. This is my life saver. I record ideas. I have over two hundred ideas.
You’re really constantly at work as a writer. Your mind is constantly thinking of something. If you see someone in line at the grocery store and they have an interesting quirk, that all of a sudden becomes a character.
And so, writing every day, I am constantly thinking about it and then if an idea starts to gel, I just talk it into the voice recorder and I know I have a bank of ideas there.
Do you have a process like, I’m going to look through my notes and see what inspires me today?
Yes. What I try to do, because it started with only a couple of notes in the phone, is to not utilize it. To have that as my savings account of ideas and then sit down and write something that’s fresher in my head.
Even if it’s not recorded, I let it percolate, I let it simmer in my head and then when I think it’s ready to hit the screen, I sit down. Which is why I don’t have that blank page anxiety that a lot of writers talk about. When I sit down, my fingers are banging. I have at least a line of dialogue, I have the idea of a character, I have a setting. Usually it’s a character first, then a setting.
And then, unless it’s an emergency or I’m grabbing an energy drink, I don’t leave the laptop until the story’s done.
Have you ever had any days where you thought I’m not going to make it today?
Oh yeah! Like, what am I going to do? What did I get myself into?
I have a thing in my voice recorder called orphan lines and they’re just what I think are really interesting lines of dialogue. I love dialogue. I love writing dialogue. And so they won’t even really have a character. Just a line of dialogue. I’ll grab one of those, type it on to the page and go, okay, what’s happening? Who is the person that said this? Why are they saying it? And let the character take it where it’s going to go.
Maybe 8-10% of the time I get to that panic mode. I’ll look through my story ideas and feel like nah, not into that anymore, that bird flew out of the nest and I don’t care. Or I look at it and go, yeah it’s a great idea but you’re not going to write 7,500 words between now and midnight.
It’s interesting that you went on Substack. Was there a conscious decision about Substack or did you weigh the pros and cons of Medium and Vocal as well?
I was on Medium but Medium changed their Terms of Service and I didn’t like that. They kept cutting the pay and saying that it was a readjustment and a reorganization. They always had a euphemism and I’m thinking, looks like a pay cut to me.
I started with blogging on other platforms, then Substack. I just happened to stumble onto Substack and somebody said, oh they take fiction, and I thought, I’ll give it a try. Simple as that. I hailed the first cab I saw.
Something I’m curious about is being multi-passionate versus focusing on one thing. You’ve been an actor, a musician, a writer. Do you think they all feed into each other or do you feel like sometimes it’s a lot of distraction and it would be better for your career if you just picked one?
When we were shooting Good Thief, I thought that my creative brain was going to be so tunnel visioned on playing the character of Abe, the crime victim pawnshop owner, that I wasn’t going to be capable of good writing, but the opposite turned out to be true.
I think any actor would tell you when you really live the character, you understand that a cut is a cut and a wrap for the day is a wrap. But you still have that energy. You’re still living that energy, and if you have nothing else to do, well, a lot of actors turn to substance abuse. I certainly drank really heavily in my early career.
So we’re wrapped for the day, I have this manic crime victim energy and nothing to do with it. And I took it home and wrote stories with it. So in that way, it helped. What I thought would be a distraction was not one.
Do I think life would be easier if I, as a writer, just picked one? If all I did was work on writing and talk about writing and market writing? Yeah, it would definitely be easier. And it’s probably more sane, right? And I think a lot of people would prefer to focus on one thing. But at the same time, I can’t imagine living a life where I only do one thing.
If there’s somebody who’s really inspired by this and says hey, I want to write a story every day, do you have any advice for them?
Yes. And that advice is this: Do it.
I’ll tell you a story. Josh Malerman, the author who wrote Bird Box, on which the Sandra Bullock is based, is a friend of mine and we had a meeting over a prospective film project at a little Irish pub just north of Detroit. We’re having a great time, about five people, laughing, banging out ideas. Everybody’s done with their drinks and someone says, “Another round? I’m buying.” And Josh looks up at the clock, goes, “Nope, almost 11. I gotta go write.”
The guy’s got the biggest movie on Netflix at the time, the guy’s got three other books that are bestsellers, books that are being released in paperback, he’s doing fine financially, and he’s got to leave this good time at a bar because he’s got to go write. He’s not going to not write and make an excuse.
A good time’s not a good excuse. A bad time’s not a good excuse. If you want to write every day, you’re going to go somewhere and you’re going to write. If you have to talk it in to a phone-based voice recorder and then transcribe it later, you can.
Do not allow yourself an excuse. You do it or you don’t. Like Yoda: There is no try. There is just DO.
Check out Humans, Being: A Story a Day for a Year.
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