Ten Brooklyn Writers and How They Write

Lauren Belski, author of Whatever Used to Grow Around Here

Where do you write? Do you have a set place? Or can you write anywhere?
Every place I’ve lived I’ve always set up a magic corner where I situate my desk around weird snippets of paper and photographs scotch-taped to the wall. Each image or snippet has significance, whether because it works into the specific project I’m working on or because it just captures a person who I love dearly at a strange, perfect moment. These items are my spiritual food. I think to myself, “That person wants me to write!” I am of the belief that your writing space should be sacred. One of my most treasured elements of my shrine is “the triptych,” a series of polaroids that profess their undying love for me, hand-delivered to me at my waitressing job long ago by my college roommate Colleen on an especially shitty day. I need that kind of good medicine around me to think clearly. That said, I’m not a total recluse. Sometimes I leave the house. I write at Outpost. There was a blip of time when I commuted like a pilgrim to the Hungarian Pastry Shop. There is a bench I like in Sunset Park. If New York is killing me, I go to my parents’ house in West Cape May and take walks on the beach and pretend I’m Lily Briscoe. I also try to spend a couple weeks each winter in New Orleans where I hide in coffee houses on Magazine Street and live with my old pals Virginia and Jenelle, who have a love for strays, and a surprisingly luxurious blow up mattress in their shotgun house.

What time of day do you like to write?
The time when I can be the most alone and my mind is the least distracted. Usually that’s in the morning right after Brian, my awesome musical husband, leaves to teach. Of course my teaching schedule, freelancing responsibilities, and the chaos of the season can sometimes conspire against this plan, but I try my best not to allow my writing to become the forgotten chore. My current writing schedule is M,W,F 8-10/11am, but I am always on the lookout for other free windows of time. I keep my intentions open, always have a current project ready to go in google docs, and carry a pen and moleskin in my bag. I am always ready to be possessed by the writing angel/monster. But I also know that generally the angel/monster prefers to visit when things are quiet. So I set the table and make the space.

Do you set yourself a time limit? Or do you try to reach a specific word count?
A time limit is the only way I can make anything happen! Ask any person I’ve ever lived with. I am famous for saying, “I’ll do that when the big hand reaches the…” I pick the hours, shut the world off and attempt to become hypnotized by that other better (worse?) universe.

Do you need quiet to write? Or do you need music? What kind of music?
I need no distractions. People and music are distractions usually. But people more than music. So no humans. Sometimes my characters need a mix tape though. The Talking Heads, “Houses in Motion” is like a wormhole into one of my character’s worlds, so sometimes I listen to that to “get in the zone.” Ha.

What is your number one procrastination tool? Just kidding! It’s the Internet, right? Of course it is. So, specifically, what on the Internet is your own personal black hole?
Facecrack. Kill me. So many two-dimensional friends being their almost-selves. It’s like a super crowded radioactive lunch table. My friend Loni is currently visiting me from Portland. She has no Facebook page and no cellphone. She got lost in Queens on her way here from the airport and called me from a pay phone. She is my hero!

What do you do to break out of a bout of writer’s block? Please share any and all tricks.
I call my crazy friends and then tagalong on their adventures. I jump into freezing cold swimming holes in October, or go on 4am walks across the Brooklyn Bridge—stuff like that. Then I’m all pumped up and alive again. Or, I go to Greenlight or The Strand or McNally Jackson and just read things until I find something that gives me goosebumps. If that doesn’t work I throw myself across the couch, drink beer in my pajama pants, order a pizza, and say, “I quit!” Then I realize nobody cares. And I’m so depressed about it I feel like writing again.

Who is the first person you share your writing with and why do you turn to her or him?
I have a lot of people I love from grad school (we call ourselves the Trout Family) who I share my work with. I am always, constantly awed by how unbelievably smart and talented they all are. They are my peers and heroes and so their feedback has a special kind of meaning. I also call them when I feel like quitting. Sometimes they say they feel like quitting too. Other times they are like, “Guess what? I got a book deal!” Both conversations are comforting in their own ways.

What is one “rule” that you follow as a writer? Writers always seem to be coming up with lists of rules. Or are you not into rules? Maybe you’re not into lists? What’s the deal?
I try not to put pressure on my work. Obviously I want my work to be published and to resonate with an audience and to feel that buzz that comes with the thought of people reading my words. But at the same time, all that over-ambitious visualizing can become its own distracting bullshit brain chatter. I don’t want my ambition to debilitate my creative process. My one rule is to put 100% effort into the hours I can devote to my craft and 0% expectations into the outcome. The only thing I have control over is the writing process and the words themselves. That’s me and so that’s where I want my focus to be.

Do you compulsively edit as you write? Or do you write a lot and go back and then cringe at how many times you repeat the same word over and over? Which, what is that word?
Both. The compulsive editing happens at the beginning of a work, but at some point ya gotta let the reins out and let ‘er loose. But yeah, when the phrase “let ‘er loose” appears on the Internet as mine I will probably cringe. Once I’ve finished a “section” of work the compulsive editing returns, which is when I discover things like I use the word “just” way too much. But I’ve learned that this tick is sort of an internal metronome. Like a rhythm place-holder. Often when I revise, if I see a “just” I know it’s time to think of a better word/phrase that fits the pace of the sentence better.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received about writing? And, no, it doesn’t need to have come from another writer.
I’m not sure when or where or who or how I learned this (probably a combination of my teachers Josh Henkin, Jenny Offill, and Myla Goldberg and a lot of drunk post-workshop conversations with the Trouts), but somewhere along the line I realized that reading is a personal experience. A reader is projecting his or her own life narrative onto every word. And so, I try to make sure my writing creates space for and honors that reader, however hypothetical, mystical or in-the-future he or she may be. Because that person is the one who makes these words mean anything in the first place.


  1. How is it possible that of all the known male writers in Brooklyn you guys come up with two men out of ten
    in this story……men don’t want to talk about it?

    -Robert Farrell


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