How did you become a writer?
After college I decided that I wanted to be a novelist, but that didn't go so well. I spent a couple years flailing around with different novel ideas, getting very little actual writing done, and working a day job that was leading nowhere. So I decided to switch directions and move to New York to work as a magazine editor. I figured that way I would get paid to work with words and stories, and also be able to do some writing as part of the job. And that's pretty much what happened, although not exactly in the ways I expected. I ended up becoming a magazine editor in a field—architecture and design—that I had only a cursory knowledge of (although I've since remedied that). Meanwhile, a blog that I started as a hobby led to my first book, Daily Rituals, which was published in April.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I took an essay-writing class in college that was definitely a big influence. Essentially, we worked our way through The Best American Essays of the Century and, periodically, wrote our own personal essays, about whatever topic we liked, in which we tried to borrow or steal techniques from what we'd been reading. It was great fun.
Working as a magazine editor has also been a major influence, for better and perhaps for worse. It's helped me learn how to structure nonfiction stories, how to effectively condense or expand ideas, and how to knock out copy on a deadline. But I sometimes worry that it's made my writing style a little more "magazine-y" than is desirable.
When and where do you write?
I try to write for a couple of hours every morning, starting at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. and continuing until 8:00 a.m., when I stop to eat breakfast with my wife. Until recently, I always had a day job, so on weekdays my personal writing time ended at breakfast; after that, I would take a shower and head to the office and have a normal workday. Nowadays I'm freelancing from home, so I can often write after breakfast as well, although my schedule is unpredictable. As for the location, I pretty much always write at home on my laptop, sitting at my desk or, more often, on the couch.
What are you working on now?
My book came out about eight weeks ago, and since then I've mostly been fielding a variety of publicity-related writing assignments. I did a three-week series of daily articles for Slate and I've written several book-related essays for different venues. I've also been doing a variety of freelance writing and editing projects for a couple of design publications. Meanwhile, what I want and really ought to be doing, and hope to be doing more of soon, is researching a few half-formed ideas for my next book.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Yes, and for me it's a sign that there is some fundamental flaw in the project at hand—it means that I don't really know what I'm trying to say, or that I'm attempting something that's just not a very good idea. These blocks are miserable but probably necessary. And they end when I either decide to power through and write something so-so to get it over with (like when it's a paid assignment and I have a deadline) or else reconsider the idea entirely.
What’s your advice to new writers?
I still feel like a new writer myself, so I don't know if I'm qualified to dispense advice. I will say that having a deadline helps me a tremendous amount. I often need to feel that pressure and anxiety in order to buckle down and get something finished. Also, as one might guess from the topic of my book, I'm a strong proponent of having an established daily routine—I have to be in the habit of sitting down to write at a certain time every day, otherwise it just doesn't happen. And in my book research, I found that to be true of many successful writers. They need to make writing a predictable daily habit, not something that they only do when they feel inspired. As John Updike once said, a solid routine "saves you from giving up."
Mason Currey, author of the recently released Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, was born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His writing has appeared in Slate, Metropolis, and Print. He lives in Brooklyn.