How did you become a writer?
For more than half my professional life, I was an editor, not a writer. And I thought the two were mutually exclusive. As editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, I often talked to journalism students; I told them in no uncertain terms that they should figure out whether they were the right metabolism of one or the other, and not try to do both. Maybe my metabolism changed somewhere around age fifty, because that is when I began writing, but I think the real reason I was drawn to writing at that point in my life is that only then did I have something to say. Women of my generation have had to learn to speak up, speak out, and speak our minds after a life-time of paying more attention to what people wanted to hear. Middle age liberated us in many other ways too, including not caring whether other people liked us — or our work.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I remember the first time I was complimented on my writing by a teacher — it was in the third grade. I even remember the sentence the elicited that praise: “The sun hung by a golden thread.” So, becoming a writer was always in the back of my head. At my first job (on Seattle Magazine) I was plunged into magazine writing and was lucky to be edited by one of the greats, Peter Bunzel (who had come from Time Inc.). As much as I learned about reporting from him, I was even more impressed by what a good editor did. So I went in that direction.
When and where do you write?
I find that I can only write when dressed, so I have always preferred to have a room somewhere — even if I had to pay rent — where I could be alone with my writing. And not get distracted. Of course, during most of my writing years, there was no Internet or cell phones.
What are you working on now?
I've gotten quite fond of writing blogs. It’s like writing an old-fashioned essay. I work just as hard on them - two or three days — as I would on any other piece of writing. Even though I know that people only spend seconds on a blog. I also polish my e-mails. So I guess you could say what makes me a writer is that I have great respect for the written word and for whatever talent I have.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Not really, but I think writers of non-fiction are mostly spared. If you can't write, you can always do more research.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Don’t wait till you are middle-aged to find out what you think. You can change your voice over time, and you can even change what you think, but you have to be in touch with your convictions, perceptions, and priorities in order to really be able to share them.
Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and lecturer on women, families and changing gender roles. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine and the first woman to edit the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the author of two recent e-books “You Gotta Have Girlfriends" and "Can Men Have It All?" which continue the conversations she began with her groundbreaking books: “Inventing the Rest of Our Lives” and "Father Courage: What Happens When Men Put Family First." She is a frequent blogger for AARP, Huff/Post50, Encore.org, NextAvenue.org and others. A George Peabody Award recipient for the HBO special, "She's Nobody's Baby," she was honored as a "Ms. Woman of the Year" in 2004, was a presenter at TEDxWomen in 2011 and was honored on MAKERS: Women Who Make America in 2014. She has taught journalism at several universities.