Chris Higgins

Alumnus, 1995-96

Chris Higgins attended the Workshop in playwriting in 1995 and songwriting in 1996.

Where are you living and what brought you there?

Portland, Oregon. I grew up mostly in Florida, and during college I figured that this was about as far away from “home” as I could get. When I moved here in 2000, I packed when I could into my car’s trunk and that was that. (I had a guitar, a computer, a folding chair, some clothes, and a set of bookshelf speakers. That was it.)

Where are you working and what do you enjoy about it?

I’m a full-time freelance writer (including pieces for This American Life, Mental Floss, and The Atlantic), though I worked in tech (web stuff and later app development) when I first moved to Portland. Being a freelancer has huge perks, mostly related to playing music super-loud (I work in a spare bedroom in my house), adjusting my schedule to accommodate interviews, and generally setting my own routine.

On the other hand, it’s painfully tempting to just wear pajamas all day and watch Netflix. These days I set aside an hour a day for “TV time” (usually during breakfast) so I get my fix.

What do you find yourself most often reading/listening to lately and why?

For music, I often return to early Dylan (1964, Philharmonic Hall is great), The Thermals, Rilo Kiley, Yo La Tengo, Philip Glass, and the Pixies. I play a lot of music while I work, and I feel like I need to know all the words or it’ll distract me. (These are all artists with records that I’ve memorized.)

As for recently-read books, I enjoyed Ready Player One, I Am Legend, and Trustee from the Toolroom. I think the only connecting quality there is that these were page-turners, and lately I feel like turning pages.

The only magazine I read regularly these days is The Magazine. Look it up.

What are you working on right now and what does it represent in the larger body of your artistic accomplishments?

I’m working on a novel set in West Virginia, where my family lives. It’s hard to count how many novels I’ve written that have died on the vine — there are at least four “real” ones that went through editing and stuff. I actually had a day job for a while writing middle-reader fiction for a museum project, though all of that material was put in a box when the recession hit.

This new book represents the book I want to write, on my own terms. If I get through a thousand words in a day, that’s a good day.

I’m also writing (and shooting) a documentary about the people who create and use cryptocurrencies (think Bitcoin and stuff).

What are your publications, performances, albums, and/or achievements that seem most important to you at this point in time?

My This American Life piece from 2009 was a big deal, partly because it opened so many doors professionally — it was my first work for them, and it was later optioned for a movie. That piece remains at the top of my credits list.

My book The Blogger Abides is up there as something a lot of aspiring writers have read and asked me about.

The other pieces I’d point to are Playing to Lose, a profile of the top Tetris players in the world, who strive to master an unwinnable game. That’s the kind of subject I love, because I think we can all relate.

Finally, He Took a Polaroid Every Day, Until the Day He Died is the most popular blog post I’ve ever written (now many millions of readers – it went up in 2008). I’m proud to have broken that story, and it’s gratifying that people keep finding the post and sharing it so many years after it made its initial splash.

How would you characterize the influence of your YWW experience in your life?

It made me confident that I could actually be a creative person in the real world — that I didn’t need someone to bless me or let me into a secret club. It was, for me, an alternate reality in which basically everyone was smart, talented, and interesting. Having grown up in the middle of nowhere, this was overwhelming, in a wonderful way.

After YWW, I wrote to several friends I’d made at the workshop, some of them for many years. I still have close friends from the workshop, and it’s been almost two decades since I first attended.

What’s the best advice you can give a Young Writer (in general or in your specific genre)?

Plan to have your heart broken repeatedly when it comes to publishing, Hollywood, and other “big deal” situations. Know that when you’ve made something amazing that doesn’t make it out into the world as you had planned, it’s not the end — it’s just the beginning of your next thing.

Any other wisdom?

Yeah, one thing: make friends with smart, talented people, and do favors for them whenever you can. Then ask them for favors when you need them. Trust me, you will need them.