How did you become a writer?
I guess I fell into it. I was a theater director, but writing articles about new technology and digital culture because I had access to the people who were working in these areas, and had enough of a science and psychedelics background to understand what they were talking about. I ended up becoming the go-to journalist for articles about anything to do with rave culture, new media, networks, virtual reality, and non-linear culture in general.
I was writing in Los Angeles, and tired of the way the theater and film businesses actually worked, so I accepted a job as senior editor for a magazine called Fame in New York. But before I got on the plane, I got a call from the magazine that they were shutting down! So I got on the plane, anyway, with a legal pad. And I listed all the topics I had been hired to write about, and declared them part of the same cultural movement: Cyberia. I wrote a 14-page book proposal during that 6-hour flight, and managed to sell it to a publisher two weeks later.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Gosh, there’s a lot. Milton and Shakespeare, Ibsen and Shaw, Edward Albee and Sam Shepard to start. Theater was my thing. Brecht and Artaud were my theorists, and really informed my sensibility about society. Only later did I get into Adorno, Benjamin, and the Frankfurt folks.
I love Robert Anton Wilson - also a writer/thinker, rather than just a thinker who happens to write. And some of my contemporaries, my friends, are among my favorite writers: novelists Walter Kirn and Jonathan Lethem, playwrights Annie Baker and Brooke Berman.
For teachers, Timothy Leary, RU Sirius, Howard Rheingold, and John Brockman have all been huge influences on my writing and, more important, what I choose to write about.
When and where do you write?
Whenever I can. It used to be three sessions - morning, afternoon, and an evening one. But since I got married and had a kid, I tend to write whenever I can sneak it in. Right now it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m doing this interview instead of writing. If I had the wherewithal I’d be working on my new book proposal. But for the most part I write during working hours, in an office outside the house. And I keep a little notebook handy for ideas that I can’t get to because of family commitments.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a book called Team Human about asserting human autonomy and connection in a world that has been designed to prevent both.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I don’t believe in writers block. I do believe that there are extended periods of time when writing isn’t the thing you’re supposed to be doing. I’m always writing, whether I’m writing or not. Sometimes an idea needs to germinate. Writer’s block is simply a way the marketplace has of making you feel bad for not having output on its schedule. There’s no such thing.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
To write the stuff I was born to write. The stuff I was put here to do, that no one else can.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Find a beat. Champion a place, a thing, an idea. All writing is travel writing, to some extent. Where do you go? What do you know about? It doesn’t have to be a physical place. It could be a depth of experience. A perspective. A way of thinking. Learn as much as you can about it, and share that. Before long, you’ll be the world’s biggest expert in it. And the more you write about it, the bigger and more popular that thing will become.
Douglas Rushkoff is a writer, documentarian, and lecturer whose work focuses on human autonomy in a digital age. He is the author of fifteen bestselling books on media, technology, and society, including Program or Be Programmed, Present Shock, and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. He has made such award-winning PBS Frontline documentaries as Generation Like, Merchants of Cool, and The Persuaders, and is the author of graphic novels including Testament and Aleister & Adolf.