One Question with Ryan O’Connell

I think that in 20 years Thought Catalog is going to be this perfect artifact of Millennial culture and that Ryan O’Connell, writer-at-large for the site and author of several TC e-books, will remain a distinct voice of his digital generation. You can always tell when a post comes from Ryan—he has his own very particular and affecting blend of sincerity, self-deprecation, and “hay girl” punchiness (P.S. Ryan, I miss your Gallery Girls recaps)—enough so that even VICE has given him his own column. He’s currently writing his debut book called I’m Special out on Simon & Schuster next year and just moved from NYC back to his native California. Below, he talks to us about the time a woman and her collection of stories helped him find “a place where writing like [his] would make sense,” and inspired him to write this heartfelt, as of yet unanswered, fan letter. —MML

What one book or piece of writing has changed the way you think about your own work?

The one book that absolutely changed the way I think about my work and writing in general was Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help.

I actually know someone at The New Yorker who is buddies with Lorrie. When she found out I loved her book, she encouraged me to write her a letter that she would then forward on to her. So I did it and Lorrie never wrote me back, which is totally fine! Still love you, babe!

Anyway, here’s the letter I wrote Lorrie. I think it answers this question pretty well.

“How To Write A Fan Letter To Lorrie Moore Without Being Totally Embarrassing”

Hey Lorrie,

Excuse the cheesy title but I thought it sounded better than the first one I had in mind, which was, “OMFG, I Seriously Love You. You Changed My Life!”

Anyway, I’m writing to tell you about the profound impact that your book Self-Help had on me. When I first read it, I had just graduated college with a degree in Creative Writing (which, to be honest, felt like the equivalent of someone scribbling a happy face on a cocktail napkin and handing it to me in front of my glowing parents) and was tired of reading books about desert roads and alcoholism from Depressed Straight White Males. A friend had recommended Self-Help to me so, in the thick of my post-grad fugue, I decided to pick it up.

And thank god I did because I tore through that thing like it was literary crack. Your use of the second person was captivating. It possessed his brilliant mix of personal and universal, which I had never really seen before, or at least not done so well.

People often say things like, “OMG, THIS BOOK CHANGED MY LIFE!” and I would always roll my eyes at them and not believe it. After all, how could a book really change someone’s life, especially if it was something like Eat, Pray Love, or The Devil Wears Prada? I had spent the last four years trying to understand how to be a writer and what that meant (I had deduced that it meant living in destitute poverty and drinking whiskey in a dark cave of my own self-loathing) but none of the assigned texts really resonated with me. After I graduated, I wondered if A.) I could even write and B.) If there was even a place where writing like mine would make sense. Reading your book, though, solved that for me. I felt like an idiot for going to a liberal arts school and blowing thousands of devastating dollars when all I needed to learn was in this book that retails for $14.99.

Reading your work changed my perception of what a writer could be and for that I am eternally grateful. Thank you for writing Self-Help. I honestly don’t know where I would be without it. Maybe drinking that cheap whiskey in my shame cave?