My Life as a Writer
by Lucinda Rosenfeld
My average writing day
I’m afraid my life is not very exciting at the moment! My average writing day happens between the time I take my two young daughters to school — or send my husband out the door with them — and the time they need to be picked up (or our sitter comes home with them). The main challenge for me, as I suspect it is for everyone these days, is staying off the internet. I’m a news junkie and a shopping addict—a dangerous combination. I try to answer my email while I’m eating breakfast. Then, by about 10am, the idea is to hunker down and get some writing done. My other challenge is snacking. I work mainly at home, and my desk is about 50 feet from the kitchen. There’s no stalling technique I enjoy quite as much as opening the fridge to see if there’s anything yummy to eat (that I didn’t see the last time I opened the fridge).
My writing process
When I was young, I used to write late into night with a glass of Pino Grigio, a pack of cigarettes, and Al Green playing on my CD player. (Yes, it was a long time ago.) That lifestyle no longer works for me, alas, but I miss the “loose” and dreamy feeling it achieved. There’s nothing harder than trying to write fiction when you’re feeling distracted by the real world and the minutiae of daily life (e.g. when to pick up the dry cleaning). These days, when I’m feeling that way, I’ll open a blank file and just free associate for fifteen minutes. To me, it’s the equivalent of a pianist loosening his or her fingers by playing scales. Or I’ll listen to a favourite Adele song, or a classical violin concerto, or anything else that stirs emotions and memories.
My journey to published author
I never studied creative writing. I was a comparative literature major in college. It never even occurred to me to get an M.F.A. One day, I just started writing. It felt almost involuntary. When I was about 21, I wrote a novella (i.e. super short novel) that got me an agent but failed to sell in the marketplace. I swear it was the first email novel! It was called “Obsessive Repulsive” and it was about a student at F.I.T. suffering from OCD, who ends up in a love triangle with a computer virus doctor and a female therapist.
As for my first full-length novel, which became “What She Saw . . . .,” that too was at first rejected – by 13 publishers. I was by then in my mid 20s, and this time the rejection really hurt. But I somehow found the confidence to keep going. I spent another year working on the same 100 pages I’d submitted. When I finally sold the manuscript, it was to an editor (Daniel Menaker) who I met myself, not through my agent. I was working on a magazine article and needed a book that Random House had just published. I called over there, thinking I would ask to speak to a publicist, but somehow wound up speaking to the editor himself. He invited me to stop by and pick up a copy. Which I did. By the elevator, I mumbled something about working on a novel. He asked me to send it to him. The next thing I knew, I had a book deal. I was so happy I think I cried.
What I’m working on right now
I’m working on a short story that might end up being part of a novel — I’m not really sure yet. It has my usual (punchy) tone, but the topic matter is something of a leap for me. It’s about a woman who considers herself a liberal/progressive type but who can’t bear to send her five-year-old daughter to her zoned public school on account of the racial composition of the student body. Forced to confront her own prejudices, she lies to get her daughter into the “white school,” at which point things get weirder and weirder. Apart from the race angle, it’s about a stay-at-home mother who is over-invested in the success of her (only) child. For the record, I don’t consider myself that kind of mother, but others might differ!
Advice to aspiring writers
If I have any advice to young writers, it’s to write from the heart. Although some people refer to my novels as “satires,” my goal as a writer has always been to speak from a place of honesty. I don’t mean that the story has to be true — only that it has to touch on feelings that are true to the human experience. Readers can sniff out phoniness from a mile away. In practical terms, this usually means that you should write about the topic(s) that keep you up at night sweating. Writing novels requires stamina, and the only way you’re going to get to the end is to be obsessed. I used to take the manuscript of my first novel out to dinner with me. It was like my baby. I didn’t want to leave it alone in the house in case there was a fire. I’m really not kidding.
Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four books — most recently, The Pretty One: a novel about sisters (Little Brown, 2012). Her essays and fiction have appeared in The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; Slate; The New Yorker; and many women’s magazines. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young daughters. Her favourite “chic lit” author of all times is Jane Austen.