Nine Brooklyn Writers and How They Work

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?


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 (, $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.


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


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here