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Chatting With Thought Catalog Editor, Ryan O'Connell

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The other day a small dream of mine came true. I was able to interview the Thought Catalog juggernaut, Ryan O'Connell. Ryan became a Thought Catalog writer back in 2010 and his articles quickly gained huge Internet traction and helped him land a full-time job with the online publication. He is known best for his candid voice and the ability to really tap into the 20-something mindset. He currently lives in NYC and is working on his debut novel. We had the chance to talk about 'Gallery Girls,' his new novel, and how he isn't crazy in real life. It was a really awesome experience getting to speak with someone whose work I admire so much.

When did you begin writing and when was the moment that you realized "This is what I want to be doing with my life"?
I've been writing since I can remember. I remember keeping a journal since first grade. I would spend my time writing TV shows in my notebook. So it's all I did growing up, instead of asking for toys for Christmas I would ask my parents for TV scripts. I was a little bit of a weirdo in that way. Then when I got to college I studied creative writing but most of the stuff I wrote in college was really bad. I was reading a lot of Joan Didion at the time and I was trying to emulate her, which is something no writer should ever do. After that I graduated college and interned a bunch before I landed my job at Thought Catalog in January of 2010.

You're very candid in your pieces on TC. Do you ever get any flack from family or close friends for what you write?
No, I come from an understanding family. My mom reads a lot of my work but if she sees something overly sexual she won't click on it, thank God. They let me do me. I don't know if parents really want to know their kids in that way. And I think that's good. They shouldn't. So I send them certain pieces saying, "Read these. Definitely don't read these." I'm sure they've read some of my risqué stuff but they haven't said anything to me. Most of the flack I get is from my friends. If they've inspired me to write a post I'll get a text saying "Is this about me?!" and sometimes it isn't, but if it is then I have some explaining to do. I just think the people around me have sort of come to understand that this is what I do for a living. I try to respect everyone and I try to never blatantly bash anyone, so I think they understand.

Tell me what a typical day working with TC is like?
I get to work and write my first piece before noon. The first year I worked at Thought Catalog I wrote three pieces every day, which, I'm not sure how I even did that. So now I'll write two pieces a day and then work on more of a long-term project. I love working at TC so much; I wouldn't have it any other way.

You seem to have a good read on the pulse of what 20-somethings want to read about. Do you get article ideas from friends?
I get inspired wherever I go. Essentially Thought Catalog is just a big think tank. I'll get an idea from having dinner with someone and I'll go "Oh, okay, this is something that people would be interested in." I write so much that I just need to take inspiration from wherever I can get it.

You write often about sex and relationships, which I think are very honest. Have any men been afraid to date you lest you write about them?
I'm not sure; it's hard to say. It's not like I'm a huge name. A lot of my readership is 20-something year-old gay men and I just so happen to also be that. I'll occasionally get recognized at a bar. Sometimes I'll see a cute guy at a bar and he'll come up and say, "I just wanted to say that I'm a huge fan" and it's an instant boner kill because I thought they just wanted to talk to me! I tend to attract this unsavory type of person who wants to be written about and I can sort of catch on to that. However, I'm a writer and this is what I do. If I happen to write about a relationship, it's usually been over for a long time.

Have you had your "I have arrived" moment yet, or a feeling that you're gaining a lot of traction in the writing world?
Oh, absolutely not! I don't feel really well known in the writer world yet. I think the closest I've come is going into my favorite publishing house, Simon & Schuster, and pitching my book idea. It was crazy to think of the caliber of talent that has walked through this publishing house and the fact that they were interested in my book was just an insane experience. It was so gratifying and special to me. There is so much I want to accomplish with my writing and I've only scratched the surface. I feel like I still have a lot to do and prove. Unfortunately, I am probably one of those people who will never be completely satisfied, I'll always be pushing myself.

I've read your Gallery Girls recaps; I'm a huge fan. Have you ever seen the Gallery Girls out and about in NYC and if you ever did, what would you say to them?
The city is small so I think there will be a time when I do run into them. I've said some brutal shit about them but if we did meet I think I would just run with it and be like, "listen... you came off bad! I'm sorry, but you did come off bad on reality TV." We all know girls like this and I think that's why the show rang so true to me. We all know a Kerri and we all know an Amy. The type of girls who bring their gay friend to parties and they're like "I sure do love my gay friend, he brings out my sassy side." These are girls you could run into at any house party and that's why I was so obsessed with it.

Any plans for a future novel/screenplay?
The book I'm writing is called I'm Special and its part memoir, part manifesto. It's very personal. I write about my life on Thought Catalog but it's usually a little distanced. This book is the rawest thing I've ever written. I've been writing it like no one is ever going to see it, which is dumb because it will be sold at Barnes and Noble. It's sort of the only way I can power through it at this point. It's like I'm pregnant with a baby and I don't want to know if it's a boy or a girl. I'm just waiting to see what will come of it!

Anything else you want your readers to know about you?
I am not as crazy as I appear to be on the Internet. I think people have this idea of me popping a Xanax nonstop and being a hot mess. The Internet is interesting in the fact that you can take certain personality traits and blow them up a little bit and I want people to know I'm much more normal than I seem. I don't sit around in furs all day, whacked out on pills and staring at flowers. That's not really a daily thing for me.

You can check out his work here.

By Shawn Binder, Florida State University