How did you become a writer?
I always wrote, starting when I was eight years old, but I never thought I would or could make a career of it. Instead I worked in book publishing, where I loved helping books find their way into the world and being surrounded by book people. I had written a couple of memoir-y books (DEAR EXILE and CANDY AND ME), but I was done talking about myself. It was only when I started collaborating with people on their books--ghostwriting primarily celebrity memoirs--that I unexpectedly found a kind of writing that I could see myself doing day after day, year after year. Telling very personal stories with people whose lives are more dramatic than my own turned out to be a perfect fit. I love the intimacy, the organization, the fast timeline. It was writing celebrity memoir that led me to my current book, my first novel, MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER. And so what had been a hobby became my career, and now I have no hobbies.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
The idea of who or what has influenced my writing is so sprawling I hardly know where to begin and how to home in on any particular source. I have needed and had many supporters: the high school teachers, who affirmed my efforts in a way that nothing else I'd ever done received affirmation; the random college administrator who sent me a handwritten letter about the only fiction piece I ever published in college (which was barely fictional); my first boss, the publisher Sam Lawrence who treated his authors like celebrities; the two writer friends who sat down with me before I wrote a word of MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER to help me break the story; my husband, who supports my writing in a million ways even when he has his own to do.
Then there are books themselves--but where to begin? Because all my work to date has been memoir of one kind or another, that seems like the best place to focus. I've been inspired by Frank Conroy: STOP-TIME; Jeannette Wells: THE GLASS CASTLE; Danny Sugarman: WONDERLAND AVENUE; Lena Dunham: NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL; and so many more. I love strong, original, fearless voices that remind me how unique and relatable each of our stories is.
When and where do you write?
I do best in the morning, the earlier the better, but I can write a full 8 - 6 day. I finish at dinnertime--if I get anything done after dinner it's email and filing. On days I don't exercise, I am vastly more productive (a good way to convince myself I shouldn't exercise). I always write at a cafe which is walking distance from my house. This particular cafe is amazingly generous with iced green tea refills, and neighborhood friends are often either coming in for lunch or to write at tables alongside me. I definitely need other people around and excuses to stop and talk.
What are you working on now?
I've just started thinking about the proposal for my next novel. This is absolutely the hardest part. My first novel has just been published and I'm still so wrapped up in that book that the idea of envisioning an entirely new story with all new characters and an original arc is a daunting prospect, to say the least.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I'm not sure I believe in writer's block. I would just call it procrastination. Or being stuck. The practice of writing celebrity memoir, where there is always a tight deadline and my material is handed to me, has trained me to plow through. It's much more difficult to do that with fiction, but I'd rather write in a wrong direction than end a day with nothing at all.
What’s your advice to new writers?
I have two pieces of advice for new writers. The first is to outline. I know that there are many novelists who create characters and let them carve their own paths, but I think it's very important to know from the start why you are writing the book, what story you want to tell, and the major milestones along the way. That doesn't mean it can't all change. But having a strong direction from the start will keep you moving forward and give the reader the sense that s/he is in expert hands. The second advice I have is to write it fast without worrying about the art of it. Crafting sentences, choosing images, tightening ideas--all of that is the fun part. Especially when the length and structure of a novel is new to you, my strategy is to hurry to the end, then go back and revise at leisure.
Hilary Liftin is a collaborator specializing in celebrity memoir. Since 2006 she has worked on fifteen books, ten of which hit the New York Times bestseller list. Hilary has also written three books under her own name. The first, DEAR EXILE, is letters that she exchanged with her co-author, Kate Montgomery, when Kate was in the Peace Corps in Kenya and Hilary was in New York. CANDY AND ME: A Love Story is Hilary’s memoir told through different kinds of candy. Before becoming a full-time writer in 2006, Hilary worked in the publishing industry for ten years. MOVIE STAR by Lizzie Pepper is her first novel.