Mary Elizabeth Williams

How did you become a writer?

I've always written. When I was a kid, I would come home from field trips and review the places we'd gone. When I got out of college I took an office job working for a film studio, but fortunately after a few years I was laid off. I started writing and sending pieces out to zines and alternative newspapers while I temped for money. Writing was all I ever really wanted to do -- and all I've ever really been good at.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

I was always a big reader, but when I was 15 I read an essay by Nora Ephron about Jane Austen. That's when everything clicked. I suddenly realized that being funny was a revolutionary thing for a woman to do. I got obsessed with Cynthia Heimel, Fran Lebowitz, Fay Weldon, Lynda Barry. I'm not a humorist, but my humor is in everything I do and it's at the core of how I communicate. Right now I think everything on TheToast is brilliant.

When and where do you write?

I have a daily column so I plunk down every morning at my desk -- which is in the living room of my family's tiny NYC apartment -- and just start banging from there.

What are you working on now?

I have my column and a few freelance pieces, and I'm trying to figure out my next book. I have some ideas but I'm also still deep in the "I just wrote a book and the thought of doing another one kills me" mode.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Writer's block is a luxury that people who need to make a living don't suffer. Writing is a craft but it's a job.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Read passionately and often. Write something every day. It will not be perfect. It might suck. That's what Anne Lamott calls your "shitty first drafts." Don't be afraid of them and don't despair. You have to write the bad version before you get to the good version. It's in there.

Be reliable. Be honest. Meet your deadlines -- even your self-imposed ones. Check your work. 

And if you want to write your novel or your personal thoughts for yourself or your friends for free, that's fine. But don't give your writing away to businesses that can and should pay you. "Exposure" is a lie used to treat meaningful work like a hobby.

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a journalist and the author of a new memoir, A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles.