Vincent Francone is much like the archetypal writer in the big city from books and movies, but he feels the life of a writer is different than it usually appears on the page or screen.
Francone is a born-and-raised Chicago poet and author, who teaches English Composition at Roosevelt University. His published work includes the memoir “Like a Dog,” a collection of essays titled “The Soft Lunacy” and numerous poems and articles in several literary magazines. In an individual interview with The Phoenix, Francone gave some of the details of his life as a writer in Chicago.
“It’s not like you see in the movies, when you see dudes in tweed jackets with typewriters,” Francone said. To him, the definition of a writer is more complicated than that.
“I never thought of myself as a writer until even after I got published myself,” Francone said. “I’ve always tied it up with some sort of goal of publication, but you know that’s for me. For everybody else I’d be like ‘No, you don’t need to be published, to be a writer.’”
Francone said it’s harder to call himself a writer than it is to accept the title from other people.
“I have a lot of built up nonsense of my own baggage surrounding the idea of being a writer anyway, it always felt like a bit of a brag … like someone says you are, but it’s weird to claim such a thing,” Francone said.
According to Francone, one thing that’s helped him gain confidence as a writer was getting involved with the literary community. Although getting onto the literary scene can be intimidating, Francone said he found literary groups in Chicago’s North Side to be overwhelmingly positive experiences.
“I was waiting to go up on stage and read and for it to be like, ‘F— you this is my piece, it’s great and you suck’ but it never seems to feel like that,” Francone said. “For me, it feels very much like we’re all mutually enjoying what’s going on and giving each other just enough accolades.”
Large cities like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago all tend to have thriving artistic communities, but Francone said he feels Chicago’s writing community has something special. While other cities might have equally gifted writers, Francone said Chicago’s welcoming Midwestern culture makes any literary group feel like home.
Chicago’s literary community tends to be much more “laid-back,” Francone said — there’s not a competitive environment like the ones writers might experience in graduate school, so there’s much less pressure to perform.
However, Francone said he feels his own internal pressure to improve his writing. After multiple drafts, he said he’s still revising his current manuscript.
“I have a manuscript that I’ve been working on forever,” Francone said. “Writing it was fairly effortless but I can’t tell you how many revisions it’s been on and it needs at least another one before it’s gonna see the light of day and it’s driving me crazy.”
Francone said he tries to work on his manuscripts at a steady, planned pace, about 600 words per day — although he added that he hasn’t always been that way.
“I had more energy, I think, years and years and years ago, so I wrote more, and now I kind of have the schedule,” Francone said.
His schedule also varies depending on the time of year. As a professor, fall, winter, and spring are spent teaching and grading, so the best time to write and revise is the summer.
Things don’t always go to plan, though. Like most people, Francone breaks the routine sometimes to pursue something more exciting. He said that he still needs to put a significant amount of work into his current manuscript before it’s ready, but doesn’t always feel like getting it done.
“So I don’t, I rebel,” he said. “I have another manuscript that I’m working on as I’m writing because it’s sort of my excuse as well: ‘I don’t feel like revising today because I have this great idea and I should get it down.’”
Francone said that the lure of new projects is tempting, but he does know that the desire to work on them often comes from the desire to avoid finishing what he’s supposed to be working on.
Although revision is one of the most frustrating parts of the process for him, Francone said there’s also a huge reward to writing — the simple joy of creation.
“It’s just fun putting words together, seeing what they do,” he said.
Francone writes because he loves it. Despite all of the stipulations people add to the title “writer,” the difficult nature of publishing work and the stress of perfecting it, writing is an inherently inspiring act of creating something new.