How did you become a writer?
It was mostly a failure of imagination, I think. “Being a writer” is one of the few jobs that a 20-year-old can conceive the mechanics of. It more or less looks like being in college. In terms of actual tasks, it’s a pretty homogenous occupation. I still don’t know what most people do at their jobs, like on an hour-by-hour basis. I was really lucky to have graduated without any debt and could live in New York on a cobbled together salary of less than $20,000 for a few years. That’s a small sum of money, and if you can scrape it together and find creative ways to distract yourself from—or better yet, exploit—your relative poverty, then writing little things here and there for pittance (or free) is fine. I also need to give loads of credit to n+1, which publishes and mentors and edits young people with a seriousness that I haven’t experienced outside a few big legacy magazines. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I owe most, if not all, of my so-called career to them.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.)
This is a moronically literal answer, but it’s also the truest: my editors! The best part about being a young writer is that your editors are almost necessarily older than you, even if only by a little, and therefore very easy to imbue with extra authority, which is something I crave in my day-to-day life as a person without superiors or a boss. I love feeling dumber than my editor. Otherwise though… Janet Malcolm, David Owen, my husband Leon Neyfakh, and my best friend Molly Young.
When and where do you write?
I write at home, but not in any kind of dignified way. I have a desk, which I quite literally have never worked at. Usually I start the day off writing at my husband’s desk, but that only lasts for about an hour. I migrate to the kitchen table and then the couch and then the bed. One of the most heartening historical facts I’ve ever learned is that all the photographs of Edith Wharton writing at desks were staged publicity shots. She too wrote in bed. Phew!
What are you working on now?
As a freelancer, I have this really counterproductive hoarding instinct when it comes to taking assignments and also an intermittently compulsive desire to pitch. It comes from an inchoate terror that the work could disappear at any moment. So, right now, I’m working on six features and four reviews. It’s extremely dumb. The idea of writing a book has always struck me as boring, lonely, and scary, but I must say having an excuse to do just one thing does sound nice. Too bad there’s nothing I want to write a book about!
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Only when I trick an editor into assigning me a story that I haven’t thought through and realize I have nothing to add to the original pitch.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Don’t take a high-volume blogging job unless it’s an absolute financial necessity.
Alice Gregory is a columnist for The New York Times Book Review and a contributing editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine. She has written for publications including The New Yorker, Harper’s, GQ, and The Atlantic. Her essay “Mavericks” which first appeared in n+1 was republished in The Best American Sports Writing 2014.