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Where do you write? Do you have a set place? Or can you write anywhere?
My favorite place to write is always someone else's house that's not in New York City. My boyfriend Keith's family lives in Falmouth, MA, in the woods, and even though there are kids there who pester me all the time I've probably gotten more work done there over the last three years than I have in my own apartment or in the Pratt library, which is where I go when I can't focus at home. I used to be able to write at home when I lived alone but haven't really since then. I also work 10-6 in an office and while I definitely don't write there, I can sometimes sneak in revising my own work or editing Emily Books essays between meetings and phone calls. But very rarely. Most of my writing takes place on weekends, early in the morning when absolutely necessary, and during writing-benders that take place out of town. I've had very good luck with Philly, the Jersey Shore and upstate New York. I'm also lucky to have friends who live in those places and let me stay in their houses when they're out of town. Otherwise I would have to apply to Yaddo or something and I'd probably get too wrapped up in socializing and intrigue at a place like that to get any work done. If there is anyone to talk to or anything to do besides write I'm screwed. I don't have the best work ethic and writing is very lonely.
What time of day do you like to write?
Morning through mid-day.
Do you set yourself a time limit? Or do you try to reach a specific word count?
1000 words if writing, 5000 words if revising. Then I take a little break and ideally come back, but if you can write 1000-1500 words a day and they're not shitty that's ok, you can be ok with yourself.
Do you need quiet to write? Or do you need music? What kind of music?
This is pretty embarrassing but I like listening to movie soundtracks when I write. Specifically Wes Anderson movie soundtracks. Don't knock it til you try it. I also listened to the most recent Fiona Apple album thousands and thousands of times while in the final stretch of finishing Friendship. It put me in the desperate emotional place that the characters spend a lot of the book in. I always skip "Jonathan" even though it's a good song because the line about "your forest chest" makes me want to hurl, sorry Fiona!
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?
Twitter. Twitter, twitter, twitter. The tip of the tongue taking a trip of two steps down the palate to tap at "t" twice, and then you make an "rrr" sound and you've said "twitter." My sin, my soul. Twitter, I love you but I know you're no good for me.
What do you do to break out of a bout of writer's block? Please share any and all tricks.
Leave town and no internet for at least two weeks is the only thing that's gotten me past an impasse. But one ultra-shitty thing about writing, fiction and nonfiction, is that sometimes you may just not be the person you need to be to write the book you want to write yet. I desperately wanted to be the person who could write my novel immediately after I finished ATHSW. But the right stuff hadn't happened to me yet. You have to trust that you're having the experiences you need to have in order to become the person who finishes the book. Sometimes that means doing something else for a while. Feeling guilty about not writing is a waste of time. It's okay to not write every day. Just because it works for someone else doesn't mean you have to do it.
Who is the first person you share your writing with and why do you turn to her or him?
I used to have a writing club and Bennett Madison was an important member. We've been friends since we were 12 and have always been good readers for each other. I share journalism, reviews and nonfiction with Keith but didn't share my novel with him until it was nearly done. Well, that's untrue, I'd showed him the earliest possible draft and he read it and just said to keep going, which is what I needed to hear. But the more substantive things he was offering at that time I was like "la la la." I wasn't ready for them yet. Then I showed him again towards the end and at that point it was useful to have him augment my editor's feedback. Miranda Popkey, my editor, read and revised the book a truly heroic number of times — she kept going long after anyone else would have said "fuck it, it's done," and I used to work in publishing so I know I'm right about that. Heroic/obsessive—those are good editor traits.
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?
I try to keep figurative language to a minimum and when I use it it's almost always some form of a joke, or sort of a meta-joke about figurative language. Obviously "beautiful" writing often strikes me as show-offy or clichéd. I am never going to be a writer who's described as "lyrical" in a review or blurb. I do the trick of reading something aloud or even just imagining reading it aloud and then cutting the parts I'd skip. I also try not to be gratuitously mean. I am great at mean-observational description but often that meanness serves no purpose. My revision process involves a lot of paring back meanness that's not in service of the plot, cutting characters' observations that are true but that make them seem just too monstrous. I am into portraying the darker side of human nature but you have to draw the line somewhere when you want people to, on some level, care about your characters.
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 ATHSW it was "actually" and in this book it's "weird" (+ variants, "weirdness" "weirdnesses" etc). But I'm sure there are also a lot of actuallys. "Really," "kind of" and "I think" are also plagues.
What is the best advice you've ever received about writing? And, no, it doesn't need to have come from another writer.
It did! It came from Stephanie Anderson. We were talking about The Goldfinch and what we'd liked about it and she said she'd felt that Donna Tartt simply skipped over describing some events because she didn't want to, like, she just wasn't interested in writing those scenes. Even though maybe technically you could make a case for it, they were glaring omissions and she "should have" written those scenes. But maybe she didn't want to slog through them. It shows when you're slogging, so why do it? Let readers imagine that part. That resonated with me. It seems like an obvious thing but why would I ever imagine that anyone would be un-bored by something that bores me? I resolved then and there to quit boring myself. If other people are less amused by me than I am by myself, well...I can't help there.