Laura van den Berg

How did you become a writer?

I came to writing through reading. Unlike many writers, I wasn’t a big reader growing up. In college, I took a fiction workshop on a whim and started reading short stories by people like Amy Hempel, Lorrie Moore, Charles Baxter, Denis Johnson, Jim Shepard, and A.M. Homes. I fell in love with these stories and soon wanted to write my own.

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

Joy Williams has been a huge influence for me. I love both her novels and her stories. Michael Ondaatje, Amy Hempel, Alice Munro, Marguerite Duras, Jim Shepard, Kazuo Ishiguro, Virginia Woolf, and Haruki Murakami—just to name a few—have all been really important at different times as well.

When and where do you write?

I write in the mornings, wherever I happen to find myself. On my non-teaching days, I write for several  hours at the desk in my apartment living room. I have a nice window that overlooks a tree-lined street.  On my teaching days—I live in Baltimore but teach in DC—I write for the hour I’m on the commuter train, headphones on, laptop balanced in lap. 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on new stories and a novel.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I haven’t suffered from writer’s block per say, but have suffered from periods where everything I'm writing is irredeemably terrible. It’s an awful feeling.

What’s your advice to new writers?

This is an intensely difficult vocation, both the art and the business. The good news is that it can also be intensely rewarding, but there are many ups and downs. My advice is to take your work seriously. Not in the sense that you lose your sense of humor—I beg you to hold onto humor!—and become overly self-serious, but the world will never make it easy for you to write: you have to make the time, you have to keep doing it when it’s hard and unrewarding, to seek out opportunities, to make the necessary sacrifices. If you believe in yourself, even just a little, if you take your work seriously, the people in your life will follow your lead.

Laura van den Berg’s stories have or will soon appear in One Story, Conjunctions, American Short Fiction, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008, Best New American Voices 2010, and The Pushcart Prize XXIV. Her debut collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books, 2009), was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection, longlisted for The Story Prize, and shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Award. She is also the author of the chapbook There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights (Origami Zoo Press, 2012). She currently teaches creative writing at George Washington University and lives in Baltimore.