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Where do you write? Do you have a set place? Or can you write anywhere?
I try to write everywhere—in coffee shops, on the trains back from work, beside pools, in bed, in restaurants, in bars—so that I don’t invent any magical beliefs about it. I used to fall in love with places I thought I could write best in, like a loft I used to live in, where I sat in front of a wall of windows in a nearly empty room and watched the J/M/Z trains and could write happily for days at a time, or a beautiful little office I built in the apartment I lived in before that. When I left each of these places I didn’t write for a couple of months. So I’m trying to be more reckless about spaces. Sometimes I do have to hide out in my apartment, on a giant comfortable brown daybed couch some friends got me for my birthday that I sit on like it’s a life raft or a sled, always facing the same stupid direction, but I’m trying not to be like that. The most reckless I’ve been so far is finishing a piece sitting for several days on a couch in the offices of The Paris Review, because I was so far past deadline they wouldn’t let me out of sight, which was hilarious/terrifying.
What time of day do you like to write?
When I get the chance, generating new material usually works best in the morning, when I’m caffeinated, hungry, speedy, and delusionally hopeful, but it almost always turns out to be terrible, and has to be revised in the wee hours.
Do you set yourself a time limit? Or do you try to reach a specific word count?
These both seem like really good ideas that I should try out.
Do you need quiet to write? Or do you need music? What kind of music?
I make a soundtrack for each big project, tracks that express the mood of the piece and sometimes the historical moment I’m describing. The music has to be very familiar, already, so that it’s not distracting, and then it will become unbearably familiar as I play it over and over, using the songs as a sonic machine for the writing, and thereby sacrificing forever the chance I will ever choose to listen to them again, after the piece is done.
What is your number one procrastination tool? Just kidding! It's the Internet, right? Of course it is. So, specifically, what on the Internet is your own personal black hole?
Making the absolute perfect soundtrack for each piece can be incredibly time consuming. The wrong song might throw off a whole writing session; it's maddening, the possibility that there might be a better song out there somewhere. Sometimes making the absolute perfect soundtrack takes more time than the writing itself. But it is also a kind of writing. That’s really the only thing on the Internet that captures me. The most common thing I do when I’m putting off writing is hang out with people I love, who are forever more interesting than wrestling with my mind.
What do you do to break out of a bout of writer's block? Please share any and all tricks.
I write a lot from personal experience, and blocks usually come from a piece needing me to write about something I’d rather people didn’t read, or know about me, or that I do not want to have to remember. So the way to break through is to write next to friends who are also writing. They give me assignments and then demand I read what I’ve written aloud, and tell me whether it’s worth writing about the thing or not, and I get inspired by what they’re writing. Also, whiskey.
Who is the first person you share your writing with and why do you turn to her or him?
The main character or characters in the piece. So that they can check it for truthfulness, before I show it to the four women I’ve been learning to write from for many years.
What is one "rule" that you follow as a writer? Writers always seem to be coming up with lists of rules. Or are you not into rules? Maybe you're not into lists? What's the deal?
When you feel deep confusing resistance toward writing about something you should probably write about it. Look for what you’re hiding from. Consider other ways of seeing the idea you’re most attached to. Let others see what you’ve written before you’re ready.
Do you compulsively edit as you write? Or do you write a lot and go back and then cringe at how many times you repeat the same word over and over? Which, what is that word?
In these answers, I kept writing the word “forever,” and had to go back and edit it out. It was in here like twenty times. I kept throwing in a “forever” to make things seem extra permanent and dramatic, because the problem in answering these questions is that the best ways of writing keep changing.
What is the best advice you've ever received about writing? And, no, it doesn't need to have come from another writer.
From an ex, Alex: whenever I would describe to him, in endless complexity, going on and on forever, a problem I was having with a piece, he would listen patiently, and then say, “Why don't you write from inside the problem, about it.” And that was almost always the best thing to do.