How did you become a writer?
I’m lucky. And I’ve worked hard. Luck: I have incredible parents who spoiled me at bookstores and libraries, lauded my bad childhood writing and supported the slightly better stuff that followed in high school, college and grad school. I have them to thank for making my career possible. Work: I did my best not to squander these opportunities and spent 12 years writing and revising my first novel, repeatedly smashing into the gates of the publishing industry until some kind folks with impeccable taste let me through.
For the past decade I’ve also worked a fulltime job as a nonfiction author/creative lead for a specialty marketing firm, writing history books under tight deadlines. This taught me how to be a working writer and still carve out time for creative indulgences.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
My teachers, especially Elden Schneider and Chris Mihavetz in high school; Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Stout and Cornel West in college; Tom Barbash, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Holly Payne and Leslie Carol Roberts at California College of the Arts MFA Writing program. My agent Noah Ballard and my publisher/editor Olivia Taylor Smith—their ideas and edits make my work infinitely better. Every book, film, conversation and life experience has been influential, but some favorite writers: Margaret Atwood, Clara Bingham, Italo Calvino, Michael Chabon, Mark Danielewski, Samuel Delaney, Don DeLillo, Katherine Dunn, Roxane Gay, Keith Gessen, Ursula K. Le Guin, Sam Lipsyte, Vladimir Nabokov, Barry Nemett, Rebecca Solnit, Donna Tartt, Justin Taylor and Henry David Thoreau.
When and where do you write?
I don’t have a schedule. I write nonfiction for a living (typically 9-6, but sometimes not), and write fiction whenever I spot a window. In coffee shops, on trains, middle of the night, on my phone’s Notes app, in a box, with a fox. I have an outdoor writing studio now, which is great, but I don’t need to be there in order to work. I respect writers who are disciplined enough to have a set time and place, but with two kids and a fulltime job I steal minutes wherever/whenever I can.
What are you working on now?
My debut novel, WE CAN SAVE US ALL, was published in November by The Unnamed Press. It’s set at Princeton University during the escalating days of climate change, where a bunch of students form an endtimes cult based on superheroes and fueled by psychedelic drugs. I’m still in the marketing/publicity phase, doing events/interviews and writing personal essays, including one about my grandfather(who may have been Batman), another about my father(a working artist and inspiration), and another about my four-year-old son(a magical lunatic). In my mild-mannered dayjob, I’m writing a book with one of the 25 women CEOs currently leading a Fortune 500 company.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Totally paralyzed by this question. I’m going to watch seven hours of New Girl episodes on Netflix and will get back to you…
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
On crafting scenes: “Enter late, leave early.” (usually attributed to William Goldman). See also, Alfred Hitchcock: “What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out.”
On getting published: “Make it a numbers game and prepare to be rejected a lot in search on the one, enthusiastic hell yes. Pick yourself up and keep grinding and do what you do.” (from my supportive cousin, Jason Dressel).
And relatedly, Joyce Carol Oates once told me: “You might just be masochistic enough to become a real writer.” (see below).
What’s your advice to new writers?
Go get 50 rejections, then keep grinding. Most people can’t deal with rejection, so if you make it through those first 50 you’ve surpassed most of the field, thickened your skin, gotten on the gatekeepers’ radar, and received a ton of useful feedback that’s made you a better writer. Now, march forth.
Adam Nemett is the author of the debut novel We Can Save Us All (The Unnamed Press) and his work has been published, reviewed and featured in The New York Times Book Review, Salon.com, LA Weekly, The New Yorker, and Washington Post. He is co-founder of the educational nonprofit MIMA Music and serves as creative lead and author for History Factory, where he’s written award-winning nonfiction books and directed global campaigns for Lockheed Martin, Brooks Brothers, 21st Century Fox, Adobe Systems, HarperCollins, New Balance and Pfizer. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and two kids.