Writing a novel (yes, another) and the beauty of trivia night

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I recently discovered trivia night at one of our local bars in town and the timing couldn’t be better.

Many years ago, I read an essay by Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish writer. He talked about the loneliness of the writer’s life. In the end, he said, you must resign yourself to being alone in a room. There’s no way around it. Even if you’re sitting in a room with other people while you’re writing, you are still essentially alone. You must turn your back on the world that exists for a while in order to create a new one. There’s no way around it.

The secret to trivia night is beer.

I didn’t want to believe him. I read the essay right at the point in my life when I was tired of being alone. I was about to meet my future husband and to become a parent. I was tired of being the single woman in a community full of married people, which might be about the loneliest thing there is. I thought of myself as a fairly social introvert (Is that a thing? I don’t care if it’s a thing or not. It describes what I was at that point in my life.) I did not believe that writing was a lonely thing. I would do it differently. Though, really, I just didn’t do it at all.

Fast forward to almost fifteen years later (Oh my god, what happened? How did time move that quickly? Stop!). Okay. Pamuk was right. Writing is lonely. You’re on sabbatical. Your husband isn’t. Your child is at school. You’re alone in the house for hours of the day. You’re writing. That’s good. You’re totally absorbed in the writing. Well, really, not at first you’re not. But you get to a good point in the business of novel writing. You get to a place where if you didn’t have to do things like eat and sleep and move your body, you feel like you could spend the whole day doing nothing but writing. This may or may not be healthy.

When your husband comes home from teaching, you talk and that’s good. You married well, so your husband is perfectly willing to listen to you blather on about how the writing went. (Oh my god, you’re one of those people! You’re a person who talks about how the writing’s going! How did that happen?).

But you need more. You need people and inane conversation. Conversation that has nothing to do with writing at all. You need trivia night. And beer. You also need beer.

What is it about trivia night? It is drinking with a purpose. It is social. It is low stakes. (Well, okay, not really low, low stakes, because I am super competitive and I want to WIN!) You don’t have to talk about anything serious at trivia night. You can spend the whole night trying to list Sandra Bullock movies. Or debating whether Savannah is really farther north than Tucson. Trivia night, my friends, is like potato chips for your brain. And when you spend all day submersed in the world of novel writing, you need potato chips for the brain.

Trivia night in Madison is low tech. Obviously, you’re not allowed to use your phones. You write the answers on a piece of paper and walk them up to the moderator. Yep. None of these fancy machines for us.

Trivia night is perhaps what a bowling league might have been like once upon a time. There are regulars. Friendly rivalries. (Sort of, but really, Joe and Sean, we’re totally going to kick your ass next time!) And, of course, there’s beer.

I’m mildly obsessed with the life of hunter/gatherers (Ask my students. Ask my friends. Ask my poor husband.) What did hunter/gatherers do for fun? There was no Netflix. No movies. No YouTube. They sat around and talked and sang and told stories. They hung out. We’ve sort of lost the art of hanging out, but perhaps trivia night can save us. Or if not, at least there’s beer.


  1. I love the way you think! lol

  2. Derrick Ball says

    I’m glad I can give your brain the much needed potato chips it deserves. 🙂

  3. Stephanie Hellmann says

    You’ve been missed at Trivia. And now . . . . well, one day we’ll be back at it!

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