How’s the Writing Going, Jen Doll?
“I think I’m trying to reconcile the need to write and have a deadline with the need to be a human? And right now, the human is winning.”
Sari Botton: I wanted to interview you for this series because now and then, lately, you text me and say, “I think I forgot how to write.” But the next thing I know, there is evidence to the contrary—like, you’ll have a big piece in . And you have your third book, That’s Debatable, coming out next June. I want to understand whether it’s just garden-variety writer anxiety and self-doubt, or something else.
SB: “Something” like . . . a global pandemic and political unrest?
Oh my God, I’m creating something. This is so fun
Okay, you know how to do it
SB: What was your old process that you loved? How did you used to tap into “that quiet space?”
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SB: Well, your life has also changed dramatically in the past few years, which would also affect your writing habits.
SB: You also left the city and moved upstate.
SB: It’s kind of amazing how easy it is for us to be hard on ourselves and how hard it is to step back and gain perspective on all that we’re juggling.
Save the DateI was doing all of this work. I just didn’t know it
SB: Oh, I definitely feel that way. There’s been so much shocking news, out in the world and also in our own families. We’ve had three Covid-19 deaths in our family. I feel like I now live in a constant state of fear and anxiety. And there’s this added level of doubt about whether I’m writing enough or in the right way (as you said before). On the flip side, if I throw myself into my writing, I worry that I might forget to worry about other more important thingsor I’ll start to feel as if the writing is pointless, given the state of the world.
How come everyone is doing it faster and better than me? How come everyone else has all these great book deals? How come everyone else has all of these bestsellers?
SB: Social media doesn’t help because there’s comparison going on nonstopbut we need social media because we’re isolated. You seem to be spending less time on social media. Has that been a conscious decision, in terms of being able to focus better on your writing?
SB: It also seems as if you’re being more selective about the journalism you’re taking on. You’re putting your energy more towards books.
SB: It might not provide the same kind of instant gratification, but maybe it’s more satisfying in the long run.
SB: Speaking of which, you said that you recently pushed back a deadline—you were supposed to get a draft of your new novel to your agent in January and you told him you wouldn’t. What was that about?
Sari Botton is a writer and editor living in Kingston, NY. She is a contributing editor at Catapult, and the former Essays Editor for Longreads. She edited the anthologies Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving & Leaving NY and Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for NY. She teaches creative nonfiction at Wilkes University, Catapult and Bay Path University. She publishes three newsletters: Oldster Magazine, Adventures in "Journalism," and Memoir Monday. Her memoir-in-essays, And You May Find Yourself... will be published by Heliotrope in June, 2022.
Photo credit to Sylvie Rosokoff
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At last, I took my teachers’ and mentors’ advice, and scrutinized my own behavior more than anyone else’s.