How did you become a writer? I think I've always known I wanted to be a writer--or at least, I've known for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first "book" in first grade and never really stopped. Professionally, though, I started in the least creative writing environment possible: as a copywriter at an ad agency. That didn't last very long; I was out in under a year and never looked back. I next worked in television--a much better fit--but kept coming back to print and writing smaller pieces on the side. And it kind of snowballed from there.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). I've been lucky to have some amazing teachers and mentors along the way. There was my first grade teacher, Mrs. Parker, who retired the year after I was in her class. Five years later, when I was already in junior high, she came back for a day to visit with her old students. When she saw me, she asked, "Are you still writing?" Somehow, I've never forgotten that moment. There was Mr. Murphy, my AP English teacher, whose passion for all literature, from William Goldman's "Princess Bride" to James Joyce was contagious in all the right ways. There was--and still is--Katherine Vaz, my undergraduate creative writing instructor, a brilliant writer and teacher who has continued to mentor me through the years and has been one of the lasting influences in my life. As for my other teachers: I wouldn't be a writer without W. H. Auden and Joseph Brodsky. Their prose and poetry are two of my constant companions.
When and where do you write? Mostly at home, in my "office"--a corner of the living room that has my desk and books. I write first thing in the morning, until lunch. I like to take an hour break, to walk around and let my mind wander a bit. And then I write until seven or so. Unless I'm on deadline. Then, I don't keep normal person hours.
What are you working on now? I'm working on two books: my next non-fiction book, "The Confidence Game," is on the psychology of the con, and will be out from Viking/Penguin in 2015. And my first novel is waiting in an impatient stack on my desk, complete with my agent's revisions. I won't be tackling that until "Confidence Game" is turned in, though.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? No. I don't believe in writer's block. Truman Capote once said that he was never bored. Whenever he found a person boring, he would start to catalog details of his face, his manner, his voice, his conversation, to figure out what it was that was so off-putting. In the process, he would realize that he wasn't bored any longer. To me, writing is the exact same way. If you feel blocked, just start writing anything, and before long, you're writing something that makes sense.
What’s your advice to new writers? Write. Then write some more. And never be afraid to revise, scrap, or take criticism. That's the only way to learn.
Maria is a contributing writer for The New Yorker online, where she writes a weekly column with a focus on psychology and science. Her first book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (Viking/Penguin, 2013), was a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into seventeen languages. It was nominated for an Agatha Award and an Anthony Award for best non-fiction. Her second book, on the psychology of the con, is scheduled for publication by Viking/Penguin in 2015. Her writing has appeared online and in print in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Slate, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, The Boston Globe, The Observer, Scientific American MIND, WIRED, and Scientific American, among numerous other publications. Maria formerly wrote the “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American and the popular psychology blog “Artful Choice” for Big Think. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where she studied psychology, creative writing, and government, and received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University.