How did you become a writer?
There are probably a few ways to answer that. You could say that I worked hard, went to graduate school, worked hard some more, read a lot, got lucky. But I prefer to think that I have always been a writer (as is everyone who writes seriously). Writing is an act of communication, so it’s natural to want an audience, but it’s easy to let success and recognition be the measuring stick, when really what matters is the time spent in worlds of one’s own making. That, and the sentences and paragraphs that make those worlds.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
My teachers Ron Carlson, Michelle Latiolais and Geoffrey Wolff, Christine Schutt and Brad Watson were all extremely influential. There are so many other books and writers that have mattered to me in different ways: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, everything George Saunders has ever written, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Aimee Bender. I try to be at least a little bit influenced by everything I read.
When and where do you write?
I try to be adaptable. I wrote my first novel early in the morning in bed, mostly. But now I live in a small house with a toddler, so I don’t usually write at home since things are in one state of chaos or another. These days I write in cafes or the library, and I do this at whatever time of day I can.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new novel, which takes place over the course of a week at the end of a marriage. The kids are half feral, the pets keep dying and the parents disappear in separate directions. The book features a giant, a tipi, and an ill-fated sailing trip. I’m also working on a collection of linked short stories. They take place all over the world and all throughout history, asking questions about home and away, about where we come from and where we go.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I have suffered from feeling stuck, for sure. I want to not believe in writer’s block, because it feels so fatal. The truth is that most writers don’t always have the perfect idea and the perfect understanding of how to execute that idea ready at all times. We have to see our way through so much unknown, and sometimes you get a good burst, but then you also get lulls. Even though I know they’re coming, those lulls can be scary, and who among us has not thought, What if that’s it? What if I never write anything again? My best prescription is to read a really, really great book, and to make something, even if has nothing to do with words. Cook, paint, knit. And then try again. Writing is never wasted—even if you throw away a page, it got you to the next one.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Some of my favorite advice came from the great Jim Shepherd, who said, “Follow your weird.” I really don’t think you can go wrong with this. The world is waiting for your own unique, strange, beautiful contribution, that thing that no one but you can conjure.
Ramona Ausubel is the author of the novel No One is Here Except All of Us, which was a New York Times Editor’s Choice and a San Francisco Chronicle and Huffington Post Best Book of the Year. Her new book, A Guide to Being Born, is a collection of short stories which will be out in May. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review Daily, One Story, The Best American Fantasy, and is shortlisted in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Non-Required Reading.