Curtis Sittenfeld

How did you become a writer?

Like many writers, I wrote stories from the time I was literate, which I think was about age six. Now I have children who are becoming literate. I don't assume they'll be writers or even hope they will, but I suspect I'm more relaxed than some parents about the fact that what they write is often some mix of plagiarism and fan fiction, and that what they like to read is not necessarily high quality (picture books based on episodes of "Dora the Explorer," anyone?). And I'm relaxed because I was the same at their age—enthusiastically influenced by others' work, indiscriminate in my reading choices. As a sidenote, I think I could have had a career writing those picture books based on episodes of TV shows. Some are a mess, and some are quite artful, and I often think about their authors.

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

Alice Munro, Mona Simpson, Lorrie Moore, Andrea Lee, Susan Minot, Jane Austen, Tobias Wolff, Matthew Klam, Ethan Canin, Frank Conroy, Marilynne Robinson, Chris Offutt, The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, The New Yorker.  

When and where do you write? 

I write in an office in my house, usually after my kids go to school. My brain is definitely sharpest in the morning. I almost never write in a public place like a coffee house, and I almost never write when I travel. I'm not philosophically opposed to either, but I have to really be able to concentrate to write fiction. 

What are you working on now? 

I've written a few pages of a new novel. Has anyone ever noticed it's a little daunting to start writing a novel? Just kidding, but it is funny to me that I can have faith in the process and my own abilities yet still feel riddled with doubt at the beginning. When I wrote my third novel, American Wife, which was a fictional retelling of the life of Laura Bush, I saw it as an experiment and decided I'd write about 100 pages and only then decide whether or not to continue moving forward. And this method worked so well (because I hadn't invested years and years, yet I'd also written enough not to hastily abandon it) that I decided I'd always use it going forward. Now I need to remind myself of this decision.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

Not in the profound way that I think people mean it. I do allow myself to write very bad sentences that no one ever sees. (Some critics might say I also allow myself to write very bad sentences that others do see? Heaven forbid!)

What’s your advice to new writers?

The usual: read a lot, protect your writing time, make sure you have something to say rather than writing just to be a writer. Because it's rewarding if you like the process, but (alas) it's really not that glamorous.

Curtis Sittenfeld is the bestselling author of the novels Prep, The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, and Eligible which have been translated into twenty-five languages. Her nonfiction has been published widely, including in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Time, and Glamour, and broadcast on public radio’s This American Life. A native of Cincinnati, she currently lives with her family in St. Louis.