In 2014, through working on Faculty Department, we were introduced to New York based writer and editor, Sean Hotchkiss. The following year, we had the chance to work with him on his own online portfolio.
Sean has a way with words that is hard to describe. As we read his writing, there is an instant familiarity and connection that is found in his voice—all of this exemplified even in his answers below.
1. When did you begin to really see writing as your profession? Was there another profession you were considering?
That’s a good question. I don’t really know. Sometimes I still forget that people pay me to write. I’m trying to remember the first time someone paid me to write something. I guess it would have been in about 2009 or 2010. I had a small website then, and people took out advertisements on it, so that counts, right? The first job I had where someone paid me to write every day was at GQ.com. They didn’t pay me much, but I couldn’t believe someone had given me the keys to a machine like that. I was so happy. I made that job my life for 2 years. I used to fall asleep with my laptop on my chest and wake up and just start going again.
I never really considered another profession, but I did have another job. I had just graduated college and I was a building manager for a large New York real estate company. When people had rats or cockroaches in their apartment, or when the heat didn’t work, I’d get the call. I’m trying to find something nice to say about it, but it was the worst time in my life. I was miserable and trying to drink myself to oblivion whenever I could.
2. What is the most fulfilling or joyful part of your work?
I think I get the most joy from connecting with different kinds of people. And from seeing their worlds and learning from them. I’m very interested in dialogue, and I want to know people’s stories. I like to understand who they are and why. I worked on a series of photos and essays with my friend Brian Ferry where we’d go to someone’s house while they got ready in the morning. I found that really fascinating. It really made me think about my own routines and habits, how I lived.
Also, while working through a piece, when I know I’ve written what I mean, or expressed a feeling the way I had hoped to, or shown a scene the way I had imagined it or lived it. When it all comes together for a moment. That feeling doesn’t last, because I’m on to the next thing, but feels good at the time.
3. We heard you are currently working on your first novel. How do you approach the process? How have routines played a part in your process?
Well I’m not sure if what I’m currently writing is a novel, because I’ve never written one before. I wrote a lot this winter thinking I was writing a novel and it ended up just being a giant mess that another story ended up coming out of. So then I started down the path of that other story, and I think I’m on to something, but I really don’t know. I think this is how it works – You feel like you have no idea what the hell you’re doing, but you get up and do it, and then eventually, you have something.
Routine has been huge for me this year. I like to write in the mornings, when I first wake up, so that kind of dictates the rest of my life. I try to go to bed at a decent hour. I don’t make any appointments until the afternoon. I don’t have too many drinks because I can’t work if I’m hung over. I am so much happier day-to-day living with this routine. I didn’t think much of sacrifice until this year, but everyone I look up to makes a great deal of sacrifice to be good at what they’re good at. I tried to have it all for a while, and you really can’t. But I suppose that is a part of getting older and growing out of old habits more than anything.
4. How do you split your time between your apartment and your lake house? What is your favourite part about the lake house?
I go to the lake on most weekends, usually with friends. Sometimes, midweek, I will take a drive up by myself to check on the place, clean, or spend the day lying around daydreaming. My favorite part about the house is the sunlight in the morning and the reflection of the lake on the ceiling upstairs. Fall is by far my favorite time of year up there because of the leaves. The first thing I do when I get up there is make a fire in the fire pit. I love getting people together around the fire to tell stories, drink, laugh, whatever.
5. Shake Shack or In-N-Out. And your reasoning.
In-N-Out because that would probably mean I was in California and I love how I feel when I’m in California. (Evidence below!)
6. All time favorite hip-hop concert you’ve attended so far:
Kanye West’s performance at Coachella in April of 2011 was probably my best concert memory. I had been up for two or three days doing drugs and was so raw, every one of my nerve endings felt exposed. He didn’t play until the final show, Sunday night, and I remember standing way in the back, all alone, staring out over the whole scene and feeling completely overwhelmed by fatigue and by happiness that bordered on delirium. I had just gone through the toughest winter of my life, and something about being in California, feeling warm, knowing the spring would be coming soon, and also just having been surrounded by good friends for the past several weeks out there. My world felt big, and I knew I was on the verge of something, a realization or a turning point. When he did “All of the Lights” I lost it. I was crying and trying to pull myself together. It ended up being this spiritual experience for me.
7. If you can only write one last article, what topic/place/person do you want to write about?
I always want to write about my experience of being alive. I believe that’s what I have to offer. Specifically, I really enjoy writing about people and relationships and trying to be a decent person in a world that doesn’t make it so easy.
Justin Chung, Sean Hotchkiss