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ATW INTERVIEW

Tuesday
Dec122017

Andy Weir

How did you become a writer?

I always wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember. After a spate in my 20s trying to break into the industry (and failing) I decided it would have to just be a hobby. I wrote “The Martian” and posted it in chapters to my website for free. It got really popular and it was my ticket into the industry.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

My holy trinity is Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. Those are the books I read growing up, even though I’m not from that generation. It was my dad’s sci-fi paperback collection.

When and where do you write?

Usually after lunchtime in my home office.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a sequel to Artemis – but not a direct serial sequel. This story will have a different main character.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Not really. I never run out of ideas. But I do suffer from “writer’s laziness.” Where it’s very difficult to get my lazy ass to do work.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I forget who said it, but it basically comes down to this: Sometimes you have great flow and writing is a breeze. But other times it’s a slog and every word is torture. Thing is, when you look back at the writing later on, you can’t tell what part was easy and what part was a slog. You’re not wasting time during that slog – you’re getting stuff done. This helps me through the rough times.

What’s your advice to new writers?

1) You have to actually write. Like...put words on a page. Thinking about a story or worldbuilding in your mind is not enough. You have to sit down and start writing. And it sucks because it's work and it never turns out as awesome as you imagine it. But know that's the same for every writer.

2) Resist the urge to tell your story to friends and family. It satisfies your need for an audience and saps your desire to write. Make a rule for yourself: The only way anyone can ever experience your story is to read it. Use that as a motivator to actually write it. You can feed it to friends and family chapter by chapter for immediate feedback.

3) This is the best time in history to self-publish. There's no longer an old-boy network between you and your readers. If your story is good, it'll get around. And it costs you nothing to try.

Tuesday
Dec052017

Philip Cowell

How did you become a writer?

For the first ten years of my working life I worked  in organisations that ran writing workshops and residential weeks for writers of all kinds. Having studied literature at uni, I was still of the mindset that to be a writer you had to be dead! Working with living creative writers disabused me of this (thankfully) and encouraged me to start putting pen to paper myself. I can't find the actual quote but the wonderful John Ashbery said that writing his own poems was his way of responding to other people's. That makes sense to me - if you read, you eventually write. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

John Ashbery, definitely, for the freedom he gives me. Frank O'Hara for the dazzle and surprise (and the speed and the grace). Marianne Moore for attention to detail and the radicalism of accuracy. Louis Simpson just because (you have to read his poem "Ed" if you haven't). OK, OK, living ones: the essayist Adam Phillips whose sentences have an aliveness I long for in my own writing; the poets Jean Sprackland (for the complexity of the everyday), Shazea Quraishi (for the sexiness of the everyday) and Anne Carson (for the classicism of the everyday); and I'm late to the Murakami party but I love how weird he makes you realise everything is.

When and where do you write? 

I work as a writer in a design agency in London Fields (in London's east end), so I'm working all day and every day on the craft. For myself, I write when I can but increasingly it's while I'm walking - or at least that's where I start to write something. A phrase that rolls around my tongue or something I overhear will distract me and I'II write it down on my phone's Notes app. If it's got legs, I know I'II come back to it later - at which point, I'm generally quite quick with it. Mornings are best for me - clarity of mind etc.  

What are you working on now? 

I'm at concocting stage at the moment so it's a bit blurry. And there are so many ideas! I need to consolidate them I think. For my day job, I'm working on a book about chillies which is fascinating. I've become addicted to eating them as a result! The remarkable thing about them is the range of flavour as well as heat. I added one chopped up to my cheese sandwich today. Chillies just elevate ordinary experience. Sorry, I realise this isn't the answer to your question - classic writerly avoidance!

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I haven't and this is why: plumbers don't get plumber's block, so why should writers get writer's block? In other words, why do we think we're so special? Or to extend the analogy, when the plumber has a problem, she just does something else (uses another tool, calls a friend etc.) So whenever I have a writing problem (and I have many!) I just do something else. Get up. Do a dance. Make a bolognese. Whatever works. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

You already know how to do this. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

Go for a walk.

Philip Cowell is the author of This Is Me, Full Stop (Particular Books) and Keeping a Journal (Sheldon Press). His writing has appeared in The Guardian, BBC Culture and The Philosophy Shop (Independent Thinking Press) and one of his poems was bombed out of a helicopter over London as part of Casagrande's Rain of Poems.

Tuesday
Nov282017

Bethany Ball

How did you become a writer?

My family has always been obsessed with language and words. My dad is a journalist like his father was and my mom was an English teacher. There were a lot of books and newspapers in our house. My mother was rarely seen without a book in her hand. I was a sensitive only child. I feel this is pretty much a recipe for becoming a writer. Also, it’s pretty good if you have failed at a lot of other things. I was a terrible editorial assistant, for instance. I would never have made it through law school. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

In my twenties I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Par Lagerkvist, Lawrence Durrell, Kazanzatkis, Isabel Allende, Carole Maso, Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson. And I also read and loved writers like Brett Easton Ellis, Mary Gaitskill, Joy Williams, Jay McInernay, Tama Janowitz, Denis Johnson, Raymond Carver, and Iris Murdoch. My writing style in the SOLOMONS especially feels like a mash up of this kind of magical realism fairy tale writing and the gossipy, voice-y, dirty realist writing I loved so dearly in the Eighties and early Nineties. When I wrote WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE SOLOMONS I had just read Roberto Bolano’s Savage Detectives, Rachel Kushner’s Flamethrowers, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. These three books had the biggest influence on the mine. I loved the scope of Flamethrowers, the loose structure of Savage Detectives, and the movement through character consciousness of Mrs. Dalloway.

When and where do you write? 

I write anywhere and everywhere. I write on my phone if I’m struck by an idea, or a sentence or a phrase. I have these moleskin notebooks I carry when I’m actively working on new material, or revising drafts. I have an apartment in the city that I have use of sometimes and I will go there and write to get a head start on a project, or restart something I’ve had to put on hold. I write at home on my sofa after my kids go to school. I write in my kitchen waiting for water to boil or the oven to heat up. I have an office in my basement where I write and sometimes I write in bed with my laptop after my kids go to sleep. When I was working full time, I would wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning to write before work and I often worked at night and on weekends, partly because I never made enough money to have much of a social life.

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on a second novel. It’s set in Detroit and New York City in 1999 in the last weeks before New Years.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I’m sure I have but I’ve forced myself not to believe in it and pretend it doesn’t exist. If I’m struggling with a section or a book, I might switch gears and start something new. If I have sat myself down to write, I’m going to write. Whether it’s an essay or a new chapter or character, or starting another book altogether. I think writer’s block, for me, is fear of ruining a beautiful idea. But in art, everything must be risked.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

My thesis advisor David Hollander had a huge influence on me. When I first started at Sarah Lawrence, I brought him the big manuscript I’d been working on. He read about sixty pages and basically told me to throw it out. He pointed to a couple of paragraphs and said that I was doing something good there, something about paratactic short sentences and not a lot of connective tissue between them. That became my style. I’m forever grateful to him for helping me discover that. An MFA may be unnecessary, but a great writing teacher is gold.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Trick yourself into writing. I was recently listening to a writer talking about apps like Freedom where you block the Internet to better concentrate. I have used Freedom. But what I’ve realized is that I use the Internet as a kind of carrot to keep writing, to keep me in my chair. I waste a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook but it keeps me sitting in front of my computer with my fingers on the keyboads, and my Word doc open. Nanowrimo is coming up fast. Even if you never publish or even finish the book you write, you will learn so much just getting words down. You might not finish the month, but having a chunk of five or seven thousand words could get you started on a project. Know also that you can discard things you’ve written. Try not to be precious about pages and words.

And also, if possible, develop a practice of introspection or mindfullness. Just a few minutes a day. Prayer or meditation or yoga. When we are young, everything can be exciting and interesting, but we know very little. As we age, I believe we can lose the ability to see things in new and surprising ways. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga and the like can be antidotes to rote thinking.

Bio: I was born in and raised just outside Detroit and moved around for a few years before finally settling down with my family along the Hudson River. My first book What to Do About the Solomons was published last April with Grove Atlantic. You can find my work in LitHub, The Common, and The American Literary Review.

Tuesday
Nov212017

Diana Raab

How did you become a writer?

My passion for writing began at the age of ten when my grandmother and caretaker committed suicide in my childhood home. My mother had been an English major in college and had the good sense to buy me a journal and tell me to write my heart out. I sat for hours on end in my room, which was next to my late grandmother’s, writing about my sadness at her loss. Since then, I’ve been using writing as a spiritual practice and as a way of healing. I wrote during my turbulent adolescence, my three pregnancies on bed rest, and my two cancer diagnoses.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Because of that first journal, which had Kahlil Gibran quotes at the top of each page, I was very influenced by his work. And, since I was young, I’ve loved reading biographies and learning about how other people have lived their lives. In the sixth grade, I wrote a book report on one of those biographical works, and my English teacher gave me an A+, telling me I was an amazing writer and had a lot of potential in that area. His words had an enormous effect on me. During graduate school, while earning my MFA, I read the diaries of Anaïs Nin, and she greatly inspired me. In addition to keeping a journal, we had a number of things in common: we’d both encountered a significant loss at the age of ten—I’d lost my grandmother, and her father had left her family for a younger woman—and we’d both turned to journaling as a way of healing.

When and where do you write? 

I actually do my best writing in airplanes, probably because of the lack of distractions. I also have a wonderful studio at home where I do a lot of my work. When I want a change, I sit at a table in my garden or go to a coffee shop.

What are you working on now? 

I’m very busy marketing and promoting my latest book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. I’m also teaching a lot of workshops that focus on the content of that book.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I rarely have writer’s block. I don’t really believe in it. When we have a difficult time creating, I consider that to be “brewing” time. Writers are always at work, even if they’re not physically writing. When I don’t feel like writing, I’m either engaged in conversation with those who inspire me, or I read the works of others who do.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“When it hurts, write harder,” said my dear colleague and friend Philip Deaver.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Persevere, and write about what you’re passionate about. Never write just for the market, because chances are it will not be your best writing. Experiment with many genres, and see where your voice seems most authentic.

Diana Raab, MFA, PhD, is a memoirist, poet, blogger, speaker, and award-winning author of nine books. Her work has been widely published and anthologized in over 500 publications. She blogs for Psychology Today, Thrive Global, PsychAlive, Boomer Café and Elephant Journal. She’s editor of two anthologies: Writers and Their Notebooks and Writers on the Edge; two memoirs: Regina’s Closet and Healing with Words, and four poetry collections, including Lust. Her latest book is Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Program for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life (September 2017). Her website: dianaraab.com.

Tuesday
Nov142017

Helen Russell

How did you become a writer?

After living and working as a journalist in London for 12 years, I moved to rural Denmark five years ago when my husband was offered his dream job working for Lego. On learning the statistic that Denmark kept getting voted the happiest country in the world, I resolved to investigate Danish happiness first hand. I set out to explore every area of Danish living and interview as many psychologists, economists, sociologists, historians and experts as I could - as well as native Danes - to uncover the secrets to getting happy, Danish-style. I wrote a column on this for the Telegraph newspaper and it became the jumping off point for The Year of Living Danishly.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

I read a lot and I listen a lot. The last three books I’ve really enjoyed and tend to recommend are Sara Pascoe’s Animal, Robert Webb’s How Not To Be A Boy, Laura Barnett’s The Versions of Us. But mainly I people-watch and eavesdrop – and I often find myself in absurd situations. I’ve always been a magnet for the ridiculous so writing is a great way of making sense of the world around me. Plus I like to keep on learning, so I’m always keen to research new topics or different ways of living – something I find incredibly inspiring.

When and where do you write? 

Anywhere and all the time – I have a desk in the living room but I’m currently on maternity leave with twins so it’s a baby changing station at the moment. I also have a bureau in the bedroom and am a familiar face at coffee shops in the town where I live. The Notes app on my phone is in constant use and one advantage to a lifetime of insomnia is being cognizant enough to capture ideas, thoughts and interesting turns of phrase at 2am.

What are you working on now? 

I’ve just finished my first novel, Gone Viking, out April 2018 (Ebury), my second book on change, Leap Year is out in paperback in December, and I’m working on ideas for my novel and non-fiction book.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

During the planning stages, occasionally – but once I’ve started a new project, I’m so engrossed in the research or characters that I’m itching to get going every morning. And honestly, with three children aged three and under, I can’t afford writer’s block. My time is limited, but rather than finding the pram in the hall to be an impediment to creativity, I’ve found a freedom within the boundaries. I have to be ‘on’, creative, buzzing and productive during my writing hours – there’s no time to procrastinate. Coffee and 80% cocoa solids chocolate also help.What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I used to feel torn between wanting to write all the time and feeling as though I was missing out – as though I should really be out playing in the sunshine or seeing family and friends. But then I read a quote by the comedian Frank Skinner who said: ‘It’s hard to achieve something truly wondrous unless you’re prepared to sit alone in a room for hours on end.’ So the solitary part of writing is necessary and I embrace it rather than apologising for it.

I also love the Peter Ustinov quote: ‘Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious’. I live by this.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Enjoy getting older – I’m far bolder and more confident in my prose now than I was in my 20s.

Don’t be scared by the sheer volume of what ‘a book’ looks like when you’re grappling with a 100,000 word document – tackle it a chapter at a time and you’ll get there.

And only do it if you love it – because it isn’t an easy option. It’s an unusual lifestyle and a lot of work. I sweat when I write – it becomes a physical thing, acting out dialogue and blocking movement. You have to live it.

Helen Russell is a British journalist, author and speaker. Helen has previously worked for The Sunday Times, Take a Break, Top Sante and on new launches for Tatler Asia, Grazia India and Sky. She joined Marie Claire as editor of marieclaire.co.uk in 2010 and was BSME-shortlisted in 2011 and 2012. Helen now writes for magazines and newspapers around the world, including Stylist, The Times, Grazia, Metro, and The Wall Street Journal. Helen is a columnist for The Telegraph, a correspondent for The Guardian and her first book, The Year of Living Danishly, is now a bestseller. She is also the author of Leap Year and Gone Viking.