How did you become a writer?
I became a writer after I failed at saving the world. I was 25 when I went to graduate school in public policy because I wanted to understand the government so I could be a more effective advocate. In grad school I had a teacher, Jill Kasle, who had us write a one-page story in the style of an author. I picked The Bell Jar and really thought I nailed Sylvia Plath. When I first read The Bell Jar I though it was funny although I did get that the narrator was severely depressed. The last time I read it, it didn’t seem as funny, but almost 25 years ago, Plath’s humor and simple style gave me the feeling that I could write too. The same thing happened when I was assigned A Room of One’s Own and was instructed to explain my book in the voice of Virginia Woolf. I understood that the book was a serious essay on the inequality between men and women, but I also thought Woolf was really funny. I still remember the line, "It is the nature of biscuits to be dry and these were biscuits to the core.” Woolf was talking about how bad the food was at women’s colleges versus the food at men’s colleges. After grad school, while looking for a job (not that hard), I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist's Way. She tells you to get rid of people in your life who are crazy-makers. At the time I had a big, unrequited crush on a woman who was a drinker, and to stay away from her, for nine months, I holed up and wrote a novel. The novel is somewhere buried on my computer, but the experience got me started. For about 10 years after that, I worked a few jobs—environmentalist, advocate for homeless people, reproductive rights organizer—and got fired from all of them before I decided, at 35, to take writing seriously. That was 14 years ago.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I've had great teachers: Joyce Maynard, Terrie Silverman, Jill Kasle, Peggy Sanday, Cheryl Strayed, Steve Almond, Vikram Chandra, Ann Randolph. The books that have taught me are The Bell Jar, A Room of One’s Own, The Things They Carried, At Home in the World, In Cold Blood, Into Thin Air, Wild, Torch, Tiny Beautiful Things, so many David Sedaris stories, same for Joyce Maynard, and lots and lots of essays both published and ones written by my students for almost ten years.
When and where do you write?
I write in my office, which is the garage of my house. I get to my desk at about 9 a.m., but I’m never in a huge rush. Everyday, I try to write until my kids come home from school at 4:30, but I don’t write everyday.
What are you working on now?
I finished my second memoir currently titled, Attention Whore, which is about a woman who needs lots of attention. The author Kim Severson says the kitchen table is the modern-day tribal fire, the place where people come together to connect. I’m looking for tribal fires everywhere. Sometimes I even start them. The problem is, I’m married to a classic introvert who needs hours of alone-time daily. You know how they say every couple has their fight? Ours is the one where my wife isn’t listening and I want more attention.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I think I might be suffering right now. This is a hard moment because I broke up with my agent. I’m looking for a new agent and at the same time, I polish and re-polish my finished memoir. I know I need to start something new, but the book just needs a little more polish. Also, I’m chicken-shit.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Steve Almond said he got better as a writer by reading bad writing. He was the editor of his college journal, so lots of the submissions weren’t the best. I took that as advice, to put myself in the position of editor, which I do as the teacher and co-producer of the podcast Writing Class Radio.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Get yourself into a writing class or form a writing group. Learn to be a good listener. Figure out what works and what doesn’t in other people's stories so you can identify what works and doesn’t in your own. Also, there’s nothing more motivating than having an audience and deadlines. If you can’t find a group or even if you can, listen to the podcast Writing Class Radio.
Andrea Askowitz is the author of the memoir My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy (Cleis) and the editor of Badass: True Stories, the Double Album (Lominy Books). Her stories have appeared in The New York Times, Salon, xoJane, Brain, Child, AEON, and have aired on NPR and PBS. She is the founder of the Knight award-winning, true-stories reading series Lip Service. She is also co-producer, teacher and co-host of the podcast Writing Class Radio. Andrea grew up in Miami where she lives with her wife, Victoria, and children Natasha, Sebastian and Beast. Tweet her at @andreaaskowitz. Info at andreaaskowitz.com.