How did you become a writer?
A lot of authors have a story about the wonderful teacher who was nurturing, kind and inspirational. This isn't one of those. This is about a mean, arrogant, ice-cold high school English teacher who didn't like me one bit. I handed in a writing assignment that was a scene between two characters, and got it back from him with an A- and the grudging compliment, This is essentially believable dialogue. Even though it was less than enthusiastic, it was enough. Something clicked and I thought, Yes. It really is. And I knew right then that this was The Thing I Could Do. It took me decades to stop procrastinating and get to work, but it was a defining moment.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
The first writer to inspire me was J.D. Salinger, but it wasn't The Cather in the Rye, it was Nine Stories. His ear for dialogue kicked me right in the solar plexus. Since then, I've tried to glean at least one small nugget from whatever I'm reading. It's something I tell my creating writing students—if you're paying attention, each book has something to teach you.
When and where do you write?
Mostly in my home office in the wee hours of the morning. I do my best work before sunrise.
What are you working on now?
I'm juggling two embryonic novel ideas, and they're in that delicate stage where I can't quite talk about them. Soon, I hope.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I don't believe in writer's block. I think that term simply means that you haven't yet decided where your story is going, and expect your muse to materialize overhead and deliver it. Perhaps it works that way for some people, but for most of us, it just takes work. So when I get stuck, I open a blank Word doc and write down all the questions I have about the story and all the possible answers. After a time, the right direction emerges.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Impatience is our enemy, especially with the lure of self-publishing offering instant gratification. No matter what route you choose, understand that it takes time to get your book in shape. Even when you think you're done, you're not. Revise and edit, then revise and edit again. Repeat until you go mad. Congratulations, you are a writer!
Ellen Meister is the author of five novels, including DOROTHY PARKER DRANK HERE (Putnam 2015) , FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER (Putnam 2013), THE OTHER LIFE (Putnam 2011) and THE SMART ONE (HarperCollins 2008). Her essays have appeared in the Wall Street Journal blog, the Huffington Post, Publishers Weekly, Long Island Woman Magazine, Writer's Digest and more. Ellen teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, mentors emerging authors, lectures on Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, and does public speaking about her books and other writing-related topics. She runs a popular Dorothy Parker page on Facebook.