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?
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.