How to Write a Book Right Now

From Vulture:

What I really liked about reading this book was — well, my writing advice is like yours. You have to write a lot. Sure, be nice to yourself, but go. But then other people had other kinds of advice. J. Courtney Sullivan’s thing was so brilliant. She had a really young kid. She didn’t have child care. And so every night she would send herself an email with the same subject line. And when she came back later, she called these emails her bread crumbs waiting for her to come and write them through. That’s a brilliant technique. 

I could write this book because these people all told me I could.

You said recently you’ve been thinking a lot about aging, as one does at our age. Are you leaving yourself bread crumbs about aging?

I think so. I started this other little newsletter about it. It has to do with aging as a woman, menopause, the culture. It’s very small, personal stuff, building a little community out of it. But it’s not the big thing that I do — well! I always say it’s not the thing that I do and then it’ll always become something more. I think I’m using this thinking for a character. If you’ve been writing professionally for a long time, nothing you do is a waste of time. Do you know what I mean?


It’s the same thing as the vibe of the book. It’s not a waste of time. People worry too much about that. Why don’t you be playful? Why don’t you enjoy what you’re doing and not worry, not compare yourself to other people or say, Oh, I’m not this. I’m not that. Just sit down and try it.

All of our lives show that if you follow interests, they take you somewhere worthwhile. This book is really interesting about — this is really ’90s — but about declaring, “Well, I’m an artist. I’m living an artist’s life. Where I live and how I live reflect these choices.” It’s refreshing to hear.

I was thinking about the very first time I met you, I think you had a party for bloggers? It was on the Lower East Side, and maybe it was even that bar that looked like an airplane. [Idlewild, on Houston Street, opened in 1998 and there is not a single picture of it online that I can find! The staff wore “stewardess outfits”!]

That is so funny. Co-hosted by writer and writing teacher Blaise Allysen Kearsley, I believe.

We didn’t really know what blogging meant or if it would do anything for us or if it would take us anywhere. We were like, “This seems kind of interesting and cool.” It felt experimental. Your imagination never really steers you wrong. Your curiosity doesn’t steer you wrong.

Had you published your first book yet?

No, I just had a blog. And I was making zines. I miss it. I really do. I like having things you can touch, because so much of what we do is ephemeral on the internet. I still have them. They’re like precious little objects to me. And they don’t take two years, too.

Books are so long, and that’s what stops so many of us, or traps so many of us. 

Now that I’ve crossed over the 50 threshold. I’m really seeing, Okay, this is the second half of my life. I figured out what I like to do, but there’s more to learn, more to try. I just want to keep doing as much cool stuff as I can for the rest of my time.

I was thinking about bad habits — habits that have stayed too long at the fair. That’s drinking, eating, smoking. When you quit smoking, were you afraid that you would never write again? 

Oh, I did love smoking. It was definitely how I took a break. If I write a couple hundred words, then I can have a cigarette. And it was part of going out. The conversation was better outside than it was inside. Or so we believed. I don’t know if it’s true, but it is fun to hang out with the smokers. I’m okay without it.

. . . .

You write about the sounds in your house in the front and how that soundscape is different from the sounds in the back. The environment of the place is part of what you’re making.

Everything I do is centered around being creative in one way or another. At this point I have to have my long walks and I have to read and I have to write in my journal. And I know a lot of people who are creative or interesting or open to creative conversations. That’s really helpful. It’s having people you can surround yourself with. The book is so much about community, and I really believe in that. Finding your people is half the battle.

People have asked you since forever: How do I write a novel? Has your answer now changed, cemented? Now that you have a big answer in a book form, do you have a set answer that you give them? 

There are no shortcuts. The most important thing is that the best part of it is the writing. The best part of it is making something cool. We should really enjoy that process and not worry about the book deal or if you’re going to get an agent or if you should build your social-media presence now. Which is a question that people ask: “How much should I be focusing on social media?” And I’m like, “You should be focusing on getting 65,000 words down on the page.” And enjoying it. Why do you want to be here? What kind of writer do you want to be? What kind of stories do you want to tell? Those are the real questions you need to be asking. The answers are going to fill you up. The answers are going to help you grow as a person. Do I sound self-help-y?

Link to the rest at Vulture

2 thoughts on “How to Write a Book Right Now”

  1. I read this and had a shorter review, below.

    This is sort of like Bob Newhart’s sketch, “Stop it!” The author and many others tell you to “Just write!” Readers won’t find many practical tips or in-depth writer processes but mostly motivational snippets.

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