Dawn Raffel

How did you become a writer?

I started as a daydreamer. You know the kid who’s a million miles away when the teacher calls on her? That was me. And from the time I could read, books were both my refuge and my window on the world. Let’s blame it on that. By middle school, I was always writing something.

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

Everything that influences who we are influences what we write, doesn’t it? I devoured the Russian classics, especially Tolstoy, though I doubt anyone would see that in my work. I have huge admiration for the dialogue and silences of Harold Pinter and Edward Albee, and tremendous regard for the courage and wit of Flannery O’Connor and Grace Paley. Is that traceable in my work? That’s for someone else to say. I studied with Gordon Lish, who is a phenomenal editor and teacher. I count Robley Wilson as a mentor. And I learned something from every writer I’ve worked with in a long career as an editor. I spent several lifetimes in dogs years as an editor on staff before going freelance. 

When and where do you write?

In my head all the time. On the page under pressure. I tend to procrastinate.

What are you working on now?

A heavily-researched nonfiction book that is taking me way outside my comfort zone, in a good way.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Daily. But usually writer’s block is fear of what’s going to come out on the page. If you’re writing well, no matter the topic, you’re going to learn something about yourself and it might disrupt your idea of who you are. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

It’s supposed to bring you joy. That’s not exactly the same as “fun.” And it doesn’t mean it’s easy—it isn’t. But when people talk about bleeding onto the page and all that other crap, forget it. Suffering is part of the human condition, not a badge of honor. You don’t need to seek it out to be a better writer. Find the joy.

Dawn Raffel’s four books include a novel (Carrying the Body), two short story collections (In the Year of Long Division and Further Adventures in the Restless Universe) and a memoir (The Secret Life of Objects). She teaches at the Center for Fiction in New York and works as a freelance book doctor.