How did you become a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer. Wanting and becoming turned out to be different things, however. It wasn’t till I was divorced and in my mid-thirties that I decided to take the idea seriously: I quit my job and moved to the shore not just to write but to “become a writer.” I gave myself a year and never looked back. At the time, the decision required all the courage I had; at much remove, it’s plain the decision was a no-brainer.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
It starts with Miss Benny, the fourth grade teacher who removed me from my third grade classes once a week to attend her creative writing class. It continues with at least 1,000 great books, 1,000 great paintings, 1,000 great musical compositions, etc. Plus all those great people I met, the men I loved, the friends I made, all those interesting and beautiful and awful places in which I’ve lived and visited and read about, the strange curves life throws. Unless you’re trying to write like someone else, influence, for me, anyway, is infinitely complex and ultimately untraceable.
When and where do you write?
I write when I can. I only write well when I am able to focus on it more or less exclusively for stretches at a time, so I alternate money-work and writing. I live in a small NY apartment, so I work in a corner, unless I’m fortunate enough to have a residency, in which case I write in absolute luxury!
What are you working on now?
I’m drafting a novel-in-stories about the Brontë siblings. I’ve published pieces of the book in the Kenyon Review, Five Chapters, Ninth Letter, Volume 1 Brooklyn, and in a few anthologies.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Can’t say I have. I yearn so much for unbroken writing time that when I have it, I almost always get to it! Not every day is productive, but I have faith that the next one will be, and usually it is.
What’s your advice to new writers?
I have advice both for the hesitant and the impatient. For the former: have courage! Share your work with teachers and peers, never let fear of failure keep you from finishing your work, and never let fear of rejection keep you from sending it out. Persist! For the latter: don’t rush to publication! Take time to read lots and lots of great writing and to rewrite your own work again and again and to share it and rewrite again, and possibly put it away for a while. Take time to find the writing style and subject matter that are well and truly yours. Know the world of publishing will still be there when your work is actually ready!
Rachel Cantor is the author of the novels Good on Paper (Melville House, 2016) and A Highly Unlikely Scenario (Melville House, 2014). Her short stories have appeared in The Paris Review, One Story, Ninth Letter, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is always at work on another book.