How did you become a writer?
Honestly, I can't remember not writing. I was an early reader and for as long as I can remember--since age 3 or 4--I've been writing stories and poems and plays. When I wasn't writing them down, I told them to myself in my head. So writing has always been how I've made sense of the world. After college, I went to the MFA program at the University of Michigan, and did freelance work while finishing my novel, and I had a lot of lucky breaks along the way.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Writers: Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy, Elizabeth Strout, Ann Patchett. In my childhood days, Laura Ingalls Wilder, L. M. Montgomery, Lloyd Alexander, Joan Aiken, L. Frank Baum, Edward Eager and E. Nesbit. And these days, I get a lot of inspiration--and learn a lot--from reading other contemporary writers, especially other new novelists.
Books: The Bluest Eye, The God of Small Things, Amy and Isabelle, and Bel Canto were all touchstones while I was writing my novel Everything I Never Told You. It's cliche, but I love To Kill a Mockingbird and have reread it many times.
When and where do you write?
I have little boy, so when he's at preschool, that's my writing time--every morning until lunch, and a few afternoons a week as well. Email and other writing word cuts into that time, but I try and at least open up my current draft every time. I write a lot in the Cambridge Public Library, in my favorite coffee shops, and at home in my office.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a second novel, and a few short stories that have been on the back burner are starting to nudge me. I've been lucky to do a number of speaking events, so I also have a few speeches and talks to write.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I don't believe in writer's block--which to me suggests you're out of ideas. I've never felt short of stuff to write about! But I have definitely had times where for one reason or another, I haven't been motivated to work, or I'm just not happy with what I'm working on. I used to fight that really hard, by forcing myself to sit down and write, or by beating myself up about it emotionally. But now I see those times as a sign that I need to think more about what I'm working on, that I need an influx of new ideas. So when I feel stuck, I read the manuscript again and think about it; I read work by other writers; I take a lot of walks; I go to museums or learn about something new--science, art, history, etc. Often the new stuff clicks with what I'm working on and gets sparks flying again.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Read a lot--read widely, and try things that are outside your comfort zone. You don't have to finish it, but you never know what will inspire you. Write a lot--again, try things outside your comfort zone, by writing in different genres and by imitating writers you love. That's how you develop your own voice. And keep at it. Even writers who appear to be "overnight successes" have put years of writing and hard work.
Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You, which was a New York Times bestseller, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named best book of the year at over a dozen outlets. Her stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, One Story, Gulf Coast, The Millions, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere, and she has been awarded the Pushcart Prize. She earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan) lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To learn more about her and her work, visit celesteng.com or follow her on Twitter (@pronounced_ing).