How did you become a writer?
I was an avid reader as a kid, always sneaking books under my desk in school. For my 12th birthday, I got a subscription to "Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine," and loved the tight short stories. (While my friends were reading "Seventeen.")
But I didn't know one could "be" a writer -- it wasn't a profession ever discussed in my conservative community (Doctor, lawyer, accountant, were). In high school, I wrote a lot of humorous essays, and was the humor editor of my yearbook. I started journaling in college, where my English professor was a "real" writer. I became an English major with a creative writing concentration. But I was not familiar with memoir and personal essays, so I kept trying to write fiction that was really thinly-veiled memoir. At age 25 I took a job with a newspaper, and have been a journalist ever since, although my favorite form is the personal essay.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I think books were my biggest influences in life. As a kid I devoured every series from Nancy Drew to The Three Investigators to Lois Duncan's science fiction, then embarassingly, Sweet Dreams, before moving on to Ludlum and Follett. I was always enamored of humor writing, like Mad Magazine, Mark Leyner and Dave Barry.
I only discovered memoir writing later in life -- even though that's what I am. I did an MFA at Antioch University and fell in love with non-traditional memoirs and essay collections like Girl Walks Into a Bar, Safekeeping, Lying, Seasons of the Body, The Bill From My Father, and later, I Was Told There'd Be Cake and of course, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed.
There is one book I wish I'd written: The Big Love by Sarah Dunn, a seemingly light love story that really gets into the mind of someone raised religious.
When and where do you write?
I write every weekday, although I'm not very disciplined on my own stuff but I usuallly have a deadline for someone, as I make my living as a freelance writer. I really love to work at cafes around the city. There's something about the bustle around me I find stimulating. I seem to be the only writer in the world without a Mac, so maybe I'm undercover? I like to meet up with writer friends and work together but separately. I still hope to find that "magic schedule" that writers like Stephen King talk about -- with his 2000-a--word day minimum, but I'm much more willy nilly.
What are you working on now?
Right now I am hoping to turn my Fertility Diary column at the Times into a memoir, although I'm waiting for my happy baby ending.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I suffer a unique form of writer's block: working on too many things at once. When I get nervous about something I'm writing, I just start something else, or pitch another article somewhere else. As a journalist, it really works in my favor, because I can publish a lot of different pieces on a lot of different subjects. But it's not so helpful for longform, which requires more discipline.
When I do get real writer's block -- i.e., I'm sitting in front of the computer and don't know where to go with the piece, I think it means I've gone off in the wrong direction. As I humorously wrote in my Draft piece about "Kill Your Darlings," your darlings might just be that amazing lede in an article or a great scene that's just sending to a dead end. That kind of writer's block usually works itself out if you take a step back and ask what's really wrong. If you backtrack, you'll figure it out.
What’s your advice to new writers?
As a journalist, I would tell you to pick a field you love and focus on it -- I wrote about religion for many years but then I realized I didn't care about it so much anymore, so I started writing about health, arts and culture.
If you are writing memoir or essay, I would really advise people to write in journals. There is something about taking great notes on your life that later on helps provide the details for a great story.
Inasmuch that I was kidding about writer's workshops in my New York Times piece (and not everyone got that I was joking), I've been in workshops for the last decade and find them invaluable. It helps to hear your work read aloud, it helps to have critiques, and it helps to keep rewriting. One of my MFA teachers said, "Novels are not written, they're rewritten."
Bio: I've been a journalist and essayist for the last 20 years, and today mostly write about health, arts & culture and travel. I write the "Fertility Diary" column for The New York Times Motherlode blog. My work has been published in Slate, Salon, NPR, The Los Angeles Times, Poets & Writers and other places.
My Website: www.KleinsLines.com. Follow: @amydklein.