Nine Brooklyn Writers and How They Work

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.


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


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