How did you become a writer?
I always liked stories and reading, but I didn't realize writing was a strength until I was in high school when I wrote a thinly veiled short story in English class about a summer romance gone wrong and my peers positively responded to it.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I had always had visceral responses to authors and writing, but seeing that my own work could promote that sort of response in peers was pretty powerful. So I guess I've thought of myself as a "writer" since high school. But I do think if you write and you share and you grapple with your work, then you're a writer. I think it's a term you can really take ownership of, it's not something you have to wait for someone to bestow upon you. Bottom line: A writer writes. So if you're sitting down and writing stuff that matters to you, even if you're not published yet? You're a writer. Own it.
I majored in English at Barnard College, which was an amazing education. A visiting professor there was the Irish writer Roddy Doyle and he taught a great workshop where I learned to stop worrying about what other people thought and write what worked best for me. I would send him these frantic 2AM e-mails, asking him what he wanted in terms of assignment length or how he'd know if people were working hard enough. He just told me, and I'm paraphrasing, to write a f*cking story. And I did. I still think that's really the best writing lesson: Just stop asking questions and overthinking and write the thing!
Favorite authors that I'll read again and again are Mary McCarthy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Meghan Daum, Joan Didion. I also love reading plays as well for structure, rhythm, and dialogue: Tony Kushner, Richard Greenberg, Jane Martin, and August Wilson are some favorites. I feel like plays get to the heart of the matter, they are AMAZING tools in terms of learning structure and storytelling. Plus, you can read most plays in less than an hour (maybe not Tom Stoppard, he's pretty wordy) and I think that's really satisfying: Take an hour, read a major work. Can't do that with novels!
When and where do you write?
I developed a system at one point when I was on deadline where I would aim for six to eight two-hour time blocks a week: Usually from 10-12AM and 4-6PM on Saturdays and Sundays, and then two to four 12am to 2am writing blocks during the week. But that was when I was in my twenties and didn't need to sleep. Now I CAN write anywhere—and spent the summer traveling, where I was writing from crowded trains and packed hostels and, this summer, a few random Albanian bars—but I try to limit my "writing" time to an hour at a time, or else I start procrastinating and start hating on everything. I've found that SHOWING up and sitting down with the mantra "butt in chair" is really helpful in terms of just getting something on paper. I have definitely fallen victim and still fall victim to "waiting for inspiration" but it just isn't feasible.
What are you working on now?
Right now, after 13 young adult novels, as well as a bunch of personal essays and first-person pieces for various outlets, I'm slowly working on a "grown up" novel. I'm also working on a personal-essay type collection, which is going so easily and is so much fun I hesitate to call it work. I don't know if anything will come of it, but the main thing is that I'm gingerly edging back into finding the fun in writing.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Yes! I ghostwrote for five years for a major young adult book packaging company. I wrote ten books in five years, all of which ended up on the NYT children's bestseller list, but my name wasn't on any of them them. I kept wanting so badly to write my own work, but finally, my editor made it clear it just wasn't going to happen with that company. I was devastated and really began doubting myself. I felt betrayed, burned out, and really unsure about my voice. And I didn't write for almost a full year. I traveled, I kept journals, I read—but I didn't write. I missed it and was angry at it and knew I WOULD get back to it, mostly because there's really nothing else I'd want to do—but in the moment, I also knew I just COULD NOT muscle my way through it. I was DONE.
I would feel SO JEALOUS when I heard about friend's projects. But I let myself miss it. And little by little—and I hesitate to say this, because I am still getting over the block—I began writing for fun again. I've always worked as a writer, either on staff at a magazine or freelancing for magazines or writing copy for various outlets, and I think the thing that can be hard about that is when writing is how you get paid, it can be hard to see beyond the paycheck. I think part of the reason I've been able to begin to get over the block now is because I recently took a copywriting job at an office. I love the work, I love the coworkers, and not having to worry that an after-hours creative project has to lead to a major payday has made me really excited about writing stuff that makes me excited and passionate. It also lets me structure my day much better. When you potentially have the whole day to write, it's really hard to sit down and do it. When you know you only have an hour or less, you'll take the time to get it done.
What’s your advice to new writers?
I think you hear the same advice to new writers—read everything, learn to revise, develop a discipline—over and over again because it WORKS. But I think the advice I wish I had learned is that there are agony days and hate days and days you just can't turn off that "writer" voice in your head. Sometimes, you really don't know why you're doing this—but you keep doing it. And I think if that's how you feel: The having to do it, that inner drive, then you ARE a writer, and then the rest is just the details of refining and homing your skills.
Anna Davies is a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, New York, Glamour, Cosmo, Women's Health, Men's Health, salon.com, refinery29.com and others. She's ghostwritten ten bestselling young adult novels for Alloy Entertainment and has written three young adult novels under her own name—Wrecked (Simon & Schuster), Identity Theft, and Followers (Scholastic). Anna has spent the last year backpacking around the world, and is thrilled to have recently settled back in New York City.