Hal Niedzviecki is not only an acclaimed writer, but he is also a cultural critic and the publisher of Broken Pencil, a magazine on independent culture. His new book, called “The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors,” was recently loved by Oprah’s Book Club and put on Oprah's list for top summer books.
10 Questions with Hal Niedzviecki
1. How do you keep your work on the cutting edge?
I don’t really try to be on the cutting edge. I just go where I think the most interesting things are happening—where things are changing and evolving. Anything that involves people interacting with technology is going to be interesting because it’s unpredictable, it hasn’t happened before.
2. How do you reset yourself to become creative? Do you have any rituals?
I just need to carve out a long enough chunk of quiet time to think and act on my thoughts.
3. What is an example of a time where you have thrown away an existing idea to force yourself to find something new?
In my novel “The Program,” I had to cut out an entire plotline and the characters that went with it. I realized the book was changing and I had to go with that, I couldn’t fight it.
4. How did you get involved in writing and what motivates you to continue?
Writing is all I was ever any good at; that made me decide to be a writer. I’m a smartass, a cynic, and a complainer; those three things motivate me. Where else can I be paid to complain?
5. How significant are the topics of cool hunting and trend spotting in the world of writing?
For me, those things aren’t significant at all. Good writing is always going to be about stripping away the momentary trend to show what lies beneath it: the universal, the inevitable.
6. How do you define a trend?
[A trend is a] passing fad that seems really important at the time, but ultimately proves meaningless.
7. How do you define cool?
Cool is a concept created and perpetuated by corporations to sell people stuff they don’t need; cool instills people with an insatiable desire to be part of a scene that is at once about rebellion and about shoring up the status quo. Cool can never be attained because it does not exist.
8. What is the key to innovation?
Restlessness and desperation are the keys to innovation.
9. What are the most important trends you see in the writing industry?
The prevailing trends in publishing right now are memoir, self help and big meme books that explain how you can spot, alter, and predict cultural/social trends. These are not ‘important’ because a trend cannot be important by its very nature. See question 6.
10. What are your most important hobbies?
Playing guitar and playing hockey.