Nine Brooklyn Writers and How They Work

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 fiancĂ© 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


  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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