Nine Brooklyn Writers and How They Work

We visited nine of our favorite Brooklyn writers in their homes in order to find out how they do what they do. Maybe a little part of us was hoping there would be some magic key to their success, a key that we could copy and then use to open the door to untold literary powers! What we found instead was that everyone has their own writing quirks and what works for one writer doesn’t work for another. Which, we suppose, we should have known already.

We also learned that these writers live in some seriously enviable homes. So maybe that’s the key? Location location location? There’s something to think about.

Photos Matthew Feddersen

Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures

How long do you spend writing each day?

It depends—if I’m really in work mode, then I’ll write from 9-12ish, and then again until about 3 or 4. My brain shuts off in the mid-afternoon.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

What’s the name for the kind of person who isn’t an early bird and REALLY isn’t a night owl? The kind of person who peaks around 11am? That’s me.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?

I set myself a weekly page limit. Depending on what else I have going on, the limit might be 10 pages, or it might be 25. Whatever the number is, I always get there. I am very determined.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?

Never ever ever. Music with words is obviously out, but I can’t even listen to instrumental music while I write. I enjoy as monkish a silence as my corner of Brooklyn can provide. There is usually some reggae in the deep background, and some construction noises, and some honking horns. Ah, home.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?

One hundred million times a day. And that’s a low estimate. When I find that I have really fallen deep into a rabbit hole—someone’s wedding photos on Facebook, a slide show on Vulture—I have to actually say to myself, outloud, “Emma, stop it. Get back to work.”

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.” Are you something else entirely?

Swoop swoop swoop swoop swoop.
I’m a swooper, I’m a a snacker, I’m a lover, and I’m a grinner. Isn’t that how the song goes?

Do you eat when you’re writing?

Constantly, if possible.

What snacks/drinks do you go to?

It is amazing, the kind of elaborate snacks I will make in order to procrastinate. But usually just some cheese, a peanut butter sandwich, something of that nature. And iced tea, all the livelong day.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates? Freak!

The aforementioned Internet. And the snacks. And who else is going to sing all those songs to my cats, if not me?

How do the people (roomates/partners/children) who live with you fit into or around your writing schedule?

My husband and I really have it all figured out. He works (designing beautiful things) in his studio in our garden level, and I work on the top floor, and there’s a floor between us where we meet for lunch. We both try to take weekends off, though that doesn’t always actually happen.

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?

I write lying down, so all I need is a bed, baby.

James Boice, author of The Good and the Ghastly

How long do you spend writing each day?

2-12 hours

What time of day do you prefer to write?

First thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?

I try to aim for a page, which is a nice, reasonable goal. On a good day, that ends up turning into a couple of pages. After several good weeks, that’s accumulated into a nice little chunk of book-like material. A few months later, the stack of paper is hopefully hefty enough that I can pass it off as a legitimate novel. I never have enough time, always have to tear myself away to attend to some obligation. But being under the gun probably helps in some way.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?

No music when I’m writing—I am too easily distracted and one-track minded. I even put on noise-cancelling earmuffs to put myself in a nice silent little vacuum so I don’t hear all the screaming and car alarms and wretched music coming in from outside. They are supposed to be for shooting guns. I think there are a lot of similarities between writing books and shooting firearms. Music is important to me though, in general. Recently, lots of The Men, Kurt Vile, Hot Snakes, Disappears, Refused.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?

I don’t check it until later in the day when I’m done writing. Too much stupid trivial shit.

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.” Are you something else entirely?

Swooper. I am very bad at fussing and fiddling. When I try to fuss and fiddle with something, I usually end up fucking it up.

Do you eat when you’re writing?

Don’t tend to, no.

What snacks/drinks do you go to?

Coffee.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates? Freak!

I only have a finite amount of time to write each day—and if I don’t write, I become very grim. So for my own mental health and out of consideration of those who must deal with my emotional states, I don’t procrastinate too much. I do procrastinate very much about getting to other obligations. In that case, my procrastination tool is writing.

How do the people (roomates/partners/children) who live with you fit into or around your writing schedule?

She’s in publishing, so she’s cool, she gets it. No biggie. Same with my dog, Marvin (Boston terrier, 11 years old, bad motherfucker).

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?

I can pick up and go. I start to feel stale if I don’t change things up now and again, even if it’s just moving the desk or whatever.

Helen Phillips, author of And Yet They Were Happy

How long do you spend writing each day?

One hour. It used to be three and a half hours, back before my baby girl was born in June 2012. But now that one hour has a laser-beam intensity.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

6am-7am. After the baby was born, my husband Adam Thompson and I created this insanely elaborate weekly schedule. I claimed the first hour of the day to write; he claimed the final hours of the day to work on his art.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?

Within my 6-7am time limit, I permit myself to write whatever I want.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?

No, I need silence. Better yet, earplugs.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?

I don’t let myself check email—too enticing. Sometimes I’ll look something up on the Internet if it’s essential to whatever I’m writing—how many endemic bird species are there in Costa Rica, how long does it take to get from Brooklyn to Yonkers on public transit, what exactly happens in the myth of Tam Lin, etc.

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.” Are you something else entirely?

I’m definitely a swooper. My first drafts are all higgledy-piggledy. The real writing occurs in revision. In the first draft, I’m just creating the raw material from which to carve the actual thing.

Do you eat when you’re writing?

No. I have to write on an empty stomach. I guess maybe the slight hunger keeps the mind clear.

What snacks/drinks do you go to?

Celestial Seasonings Decaf Coconut Thai Chai tea, always. I haven’t found a store in Brooklyn that regularly stocks this so my mother-in-law brings boxes of it from Maine whenever she visits. I don’t think there’s any way I could have written all I’ve written without it.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates? Freak!

Having only one hour a day to write while my sleep-deprived husband is in the other room entertaining our early bird baby has taken care of any procrastination tactics. Each minute feels precious and very, very fleeting.

How do the people (roommates/partners/children) who live with you fit into or around your writing schedule?

As mentioned, Adam helps me protect my one hour from the delightful intrusion of our baby. At the same time, I’ve been having this feeling lately that nothing I’ll ever write will be a more wondrous creation than my daughter. Either one of her hands is a far greater achievement than any novel.

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?

I’m neurotically ritualistic when it comes to writing. I do have a writing desk in our apartment. We bought it the same week I sold my first book. It’s a mid-century modern piece à la Mad Men that we bought off Craigslist from a glamorous Cobble Hill couple moving suddenly to London and selling everything they owned for far, far less than they should have. But gorgeous desk notwithstanding, I write every morning at our dining table. Adam thinks I’m crazy. But there’s something about the luxury of having the desk and then choosing not to use it that makes me feel extravagant and creative. In a 650-square-foot apartment, one must create the illusion of copious options.

Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You

How long do you spend writing each day?
Three hours a day five days a week during the teaching semester, more during school vacations. One winter break I ran a pizza contest for our MFA students. We all kept track of how much we wrote each day, down to the minute, and the person who had written the most at the end of the break got a pizza delivered by me, the pizza boy. To their embarrassment, I won. I have two kids, and they don’t.

What time of day do you prefer to write?
Morning. It’s like exercise. I like to get it out of the way early.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?
Time, not words. It’s about putting in the hours. If you do that, the words will come.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?
No music. I’m not a good multi-tasker. I can focus on only one thing at a time.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?
I check compulsively. That’s why I often write at the Brooklyn Writers Space. I don’t know the Internet password there. If I ever learn it, I will have to suspend my membership.

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.”
Are you something else entirely?
By temperament I’m a basher, but I force myself to be a swooper. I think it’s best to write all the way through as quickly as possible and then go back. If you bash, you can end up with a beautifully written scene that doesn’t belong in your novel.

Do you eat when you’re writing?
Not generally.

What snacks/drinks do you go to?
I’m the one writer on the planet who doesn’t like coffee. I hate the flavor. It makes me gag. So I drink green tea. It doesn’t have as much caffeine as coffee does, but it keeps me up. And those anti-oxidants are supposed to be good for you. Apparently, they’ll make me live longer.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates? Freak!
Internet, Internet, and more Internet.

How do the people (roommates/partners/children) who live with you fit into or around your writing schedule?
I have two daughters, ages eight and six, which means they don’t fit around my writing schedule; I fit around them. I write while they’re in school. My wife is an academic so she writes, too. In fact, she’s typing away at her desk right now, a few feet away from me.

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?
You need make do with what you’re given. I’ve written on the subway. I’ve written in the back seat of a car.

Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Lola Quartet


How long do you spend writing each day?

Not long enough. To be candid, it’s a source of constant frustration. On weekends I write for hours at a stretch, and it’s wonderful. (Except of course when it isn’t, because anyone who says that writing is wonderful all the time is probably high. When it’s not going well, I do career-related things like responding to emails and updating my website and such.) Weekdays are harder, because like most writers of my acquaintance, I have a day job. On the very best weekdays I write for about three hours either before or after work. On the worst weekdays, the only time I can find to write is on the F train en route to my day job.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

Afternoons.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?

I write most of my first drafts by hand. A good day is ten or twenty handwritten pages, but this is less impressive than it sounds, because my handwriting is enormous.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?

I do write with music on. The music can’t have words (the one exception to this is Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”), so I almost always write to either ambient electronica or classical. Two particular favorites at the moment are Underworld’s album “Second Toughest in the Infants” and Max Richter’s soundtrack for the film Waltz With Bashir.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?

I am terribly prone to Internet black holes, so I use an application called Freedom (MacFreedom.com, $10, and they don’t pay me for endorsing them in every second interview but really, I think they should), that turns off the Internet for a specified amount of time. Once you’ve got Freedom running, the only way to switch the Internet back on is to restart the computer, which is both an admission of defeat and a complete pain when you’ve got multiple windows and applications open, so I find the application be very effective. I like to turn the Internet off for three hours at a stretch, with little fifteen-minute Internet breaks in between. There’s always such a feeling of relief when I can’t get online.

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.”

I’m a swooper. My first drafts are a disaster. Also, thank you for introducing me to the word swooper.

Do you eat when you’re writing?

No. I like to take a break from writing when I’m hungry and eat in front of the New York Times website. Unless I’ve got the Internet switched off, in which case I have to do it the old fashioned way and eat while reading something in print.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates? Freak!

The Internet. Seriously, how many more novels would be completed each year if not for the Internet?

How do the people (roomates/partners/children) who live with you fit into or around your writing schedule?

I live with my husband, who’s a writer too. Which is great, because it’s wonderful to live with someone who shares my idea of a perfect Saturday, i.e., let’s shut ourselves in our offices for eight hours and meet up for dinner.

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?

I always prefer to write at home. I have a silly-looking set-up involving a desk and stacked boxes that allows me to write standing up, and I’ve come to prefer that to sitting. But I’ve been trying to be as adaptable as possible. There aren’t enough hours in the day, and I travel a lot, and even when I’m not traveling I’m not at home nearly as often as I want to be, so I feel like I can’t afford to be too precious about it. I try to make myself write wherever and whenever I can: in hotel rooms, on airplanes, at cafe tables, and on the F train.

J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine

How long do you spend writing each day?

It varies. Some days, I don’t write at all. Others, I write for ten hours straight. The hardest part is shutting out distractions and just getting my butt in the chair.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

In a perfect world, I would always write in the morning. Preferably in my beach house on the coast of Maine. (I have no such house, but we’re talking about a perfect world here.) Most often, I write in the afternoon and evening, because mornings are filled with other tasks: Walking the dog, reading the news, interviewing people for my latest book, answering emails, deciding what to have for lunch, and so on.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?

No limits. If I’m working on an article or an essay, I can easily put an hour or two into it between doing other things. But with fiction, I need long, uninterrupted stretches, at least five or six hours. My shameful writing secret is that I only type with one finger. I’ve done three novels this way now, and I’m sort of afraid to switch it up. So I usually type until my finger feels like it’s going to fall off, which tends to be at the ten to fifteen page mark.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?

I have never been able to write and listen to music at the same time. I can get distracted by a medium-sized dust ball, so I need total silence.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?

I sometimes use Freedom, that program that blocks you from the Internet for however long you want. I usually set it for four hours. But I don’t think I’ve ever made it to the expiration time without checking the Internet on my phone at least once. It’s bad.

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.”

I’m definitely a swooper. I’ve always wanted to be a basher, and with each new book I vow to try. But I’m so eager to just get the story down on paper first. I read a lot of poetry when I write, to remind myself to pay attention to my work at the level of the sentence.

Do you eat when you’re writing?

Usually I eat when I’m thinking about writing, and then I write.

What snacks/drinks do you go to?

I drink an ungodly amount of tea. I’m waiting for the folks at Root Hill on Fourth Avenue to stage an intervention.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates? Freak!

I like Twitter, because it’s the equivalent of a water cooler for self-employed types. And it’s a great way to converse with fellow book lovers. But talk about black holes. Sometimes I get so sucked into conversations, or end up clicking on a link someone has posted and then proceed to click on five more links after that. I try to assuage my guilt by reminding myself that I spent a fair amount of time gossiping each day when I worked in an actual office, and somehow the work still got done.

How do the people (roommates/partners/children) who live with you fit into or around your writing schedule?

I live with my fiancé in a one-bedroom apartment. He also works from home. This has its pluses and minuses. Because we both have a lot of flexibility, we travel quite a bit and work remotely. But because we’re both self-employed, the workday never really begins or ends. We have a dog named Landon who comes everywhere with us and is pretty much the center of our world. He usually demands a trip to the dog run just as I’m narrowing in on writing an important scene.

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?

All I require to write is a silent room and my computer. Portions of my newest book were written in the following locations: The Brooklyn Writers Space. My Park Slope apartment. A friend’s place in London. A rental house in Ogunquit, Maine. The quiet car on the Acela Express. My future mother-in-law’s spare bedroom in Des Moines. Etc.

Photo David Harkin

Meghan O’Rourke, The Long Good-Bye

How long do you spend writing each day?

Unfortunately it totally depends. I’ve been in a getting-things-done mode which means small amounts of time. But I try to write a little every day. When I’m trying to get started on a piece or project or poem, maybe just an hour of writing… but at least two hours of reading. When I’m deep in a project, I get obsessive, and then it can be many hours. Especially with prose. Poems are more mercurial. You don’t need to be at your desk in the same way.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

Morning and late at night.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?

I try to set a time limit, which varies depending on the day and other obligations. This can be extremely painful.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?

I used to. Not any more, except, yes, sometimes the Glenn Gould “Goldberg Variations.” For some reason that turns the tap on.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?

How often do I check the internet? All the time, if it’s on. I use Freedom and/or Self-Control (not my own; it’s a program) to turn it off. It’s hard when I need it for research, because you can really find ways to procrastinate.

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.”

I’m more of a swooper. But even swoopers can get stalled.

Do you eat when you’re writing?

I try not to, but I do, especially when it’s going badly…

What snacks/drinks do you go to?

Coffee, tea; water; there’s usually a kind of ring road of drinks around my desk. Rice cakes and almond butter are my big comfort food while writing. I know, a big indulgence.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates? Freak!

If I can look at clothes online, I will. Or Twitter. Twitter is the worst. Because around you people are posting interesting links, etc, about Pussy Riot’s trial, or Syria, or Romney’s latest gaffe, and you can look at your poem or fiction and think, ‘What does this do for the world?’

How do the people (roommates/partners/children) who live with you fit into or around your writing schedule? 

Pretty easily…

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?

I can write anywhere; in fact, it’s sometimes better not to write in my office. My office also holds all the mail to be answered, my books, a soft couch, and a big window… Hotels are among the best places to write. And beautiful, quiet rooms in other people’s house are my secret favorite places.

Photo David Armstrong

Ben Greenman, author of What He’s Poised to Do and the forthcoming The Slippage (2013)

How long do you spend writing each day?

That’s a difficult question to answer, because I have to add in the time I’m spending answering this question. Also it’s difficult because it’s tricky to define exactly what’s meant by writing. My day job, which is working as an editor at the New Yorker, has lots of writing-related work: reading and refining other people’s copy, writing emails about the way that other people’s writing is read and refined. Does that count? And then there are online posts, or short critical pieces, that I am writing, but the charter calls for exposition and clarity, which separates it from my fiction or even my creative nonfiction. If we’re just talking about the time devoted to my own non-office writing, let’s say three hours a day.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

I’d prefer the evenings, but they are rotten with children. The children aren’t rotten, but the evenings are lousy with family stuff, helping my eight-year-old with homework, talking to my eleven-year-old about what he’s reading in school, not quite helping my wife enough. That means that relaxation doesn’t start until nine-thirty or ten, which means that after my brain’s been washed clear of the day, or clear enough, it’s around midnight. Sometimes I can get in about two hours then. Sometimes I cash in and try to wake up early the next morning, but that usually ends in disaster.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?

A piece limit, most often, meaning that I want to at least get to the end of the piece I’m working on, whether it’s a chapter of a book or a full short story or an essay.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?

I do write with music on. In 2009, I published a funk-music novel, Please Step Back, and that book required me to listen to tons of music. For other projects, I generally listen to music without lyrics, because words distract me. That means, maybe, Miles Davis, or Leo Kottke, or something new that strikes me (last month, it was Kelan Philip Cohran & the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble). I’m not too picky in this regard, and the music is as important for what it eclipses (normal house noises) as for what it is.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?

Oh, this is clearly the biggest problem, especially when I’m working on something that requires research. I try to block out a piece without the Internet’s help, so that the Internet can then serve as a kind of down-time assisting tool. I get very frustrated when it cuts into my actual composition time. And it’s not the Web, so much. It’s
the frequently updated personal things, like email or Twitter. They are maddening. They create the illusion that they are adding to your day (look! a number inside parentheses on my Gmail tab! it must be important!) when in fact they are stealing the second hand from the clock and sometimes even the minute hand.

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.”

I think that I’m in a third camp, closer to the swoopers than the bashers, but somewhere in the middle, where i can see the campfires (and hear the agonizing cries) of both. I swoop more than I bash, but I also swoop in that second part, the going-over-what’s-there, and the result is that I either decide that something works or decide that it’s gone forever. When it goes forever, it doesn’t really disappear: it goes into a file for possible future use. Sometimes it becomes the seed of something later on, or it becomes a reminder to me of why I shouldn’t try a certain approach (an Esperanto novel, say). Vonnegut suggests that either you’re fast and then careful, or careful and then satisfied. I feel fast and carefree—I like the feel of the wind on my face when I write, so to speak—and then ruthless about releasing that thing into the wild or caging it up for a while.

Do you eat when you’re writing?

No. Computers like that even less than paper.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates? Freak!

It’s the Internet, or it’s TV, or it’s going sideways into the dictionary and reading about Indo-European roots, or it’s getting waylaid by Gchat. There’s lots of procrastination and the only saving grace is that when I finally do get to something, I’m decent (at this point) about working through it.

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?

I can pick up and go, but when I do, the writing changes. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. I think I’m most lucid at my desk, because I’m most secure there. I’m funny there. But I’m rarely surreal there, and rarely out of sorts in the way that produces certain unanswerable questions. This is where technology has helped: I used to carry around notepads and pencils all the time, and I scribbled like crazy on Post-It Notes and napkins. Now, the iPhone has some good tools for capturing fluttering thoughts. That’s been a big help.


Myla Goldberg, author of Bee Season and The False Friend

How long do you spend writing each day?

Between 6 and 8 hours.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

Day is the key word here. I’ve never been able to do anything constructive at night.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?

It’s all about time for me. Thinking in terms of words or pages shifts the focus. When I’m writing, I want to be inhabiting the writing, not stepping outside of it to take a tally.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?

If there’s music on, then I want to listen to it, which isn’t a passive, background sort of activity for me. I need quiet.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?

I try to limit checking my e-mail to once in the morning, once at lunch, and once at the end of the day. Sometimes I’ll dash onto the Internet for a quick bit of research, but then I dash back off again. My inherent Luddite tendencies save me from the black hole problem: while cyberspace is a fantastic resource, I don’t enjoy hanging out there.

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.” Are you something else entirely?

I guess that makes me a swasher. I alternate between fits of narrative spontenaity and obsessive tinkering.

Do you eat when you’re writing?

What snacks/drinks do you go to?

I’m a seltzer addict. I lived in a perpetual state of dehydration until I started drinking it. I also have a strong attachment to chocolate-covered salted almonds. There’s usually a container of them at the corner of my desk. I don’t do caffeine anymore, so chocolate is all I’ve got left.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates? Freak!

It’s amazing how many little particles of dust and lint fall between the keys of a computer keyboard. And it’s fascinating how many of them can be picked up by inserting the sticky part of a Post-it note between the keys and kind of swiping it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth…

How do the people (roomates/partners/children) who live with you fit into or around your writing schedule?

I’ve got two school-age daughters, so my writing schedule is determined by their school schedule, which means I write from 9am to 4pm, and I don’t write on weekends.

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?

I’m very attached to my office. The stuff I’ve put on the walls is all stuff that makes me happy to look at, or reminds me of artists I admire, and when I’m in it, I get to be in a universe free of school bus schedules, grocery lists, and all things that vie for head space when I’m on the other side. Plus, some of the things I do when I’m writing—like making the faces or gestures a character is making—wouldn’t go over too well in public.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I was wondering if there were any African American, Latino, or Asian writers in Brooklyn?? Doesn’t look so based on this article.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here