Writing Tips from Jen Doll, author of Save the Date

Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I am one of those people who just loves working in my own quiet little apartment, with all my stuff around me. (I live alone, so things are calm enough to do this!) I don’t like writing in coffeeshops or public places generally because I get distracted and want to watch everyone. On the best mornings, I get up, I make coffee, maybe I poke around a little online, and then, still wearing pj’s, I start writing. But I also balance book writing with freelance writing work for websites and magazines and editorial work, so deadlines can pop up that I need to deal with first. My goal is to write something creative daily, to fit it in when I can, even if it’s just ten minutes (which usually turns into something longer). There are days that doesn’t happen, though. I try not to be too guilty about it, and to consider not-writing-but-thinking time an important part of the process, too. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I always wanted to write. I told my dad I wanted to be a writer when I was little and he said something along the lines of “Well, it might be hard to make money doing that,” and so I said, “OK, I’ll be a librarian then.” Clearly, I loved (and love) books. My path to writing a book was a little bit circuitous, but after a few jobs that didn’t take—in advertising, for example—I started working in magazine publishing, and later I became a writer for the Village Voice and The Atlantic, which led to me getting my agent’s attention and ultimately selling my first book. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? A friend told me once, “Just open the Word document.” You can’t write until you do! And even though I can procrastinate and psych myself out of writing for hours—because the longer you go without writing, the more the mind spirals into thinking whatever you’ve accomplished up to this point is just terrible—once you’re staring at an open document, you start to reread what you’ve written, and you start to edit, and soon enough, you’re writing again. And that’s the part that’s really fun, even though when the document is closed it can feel impossibly scary. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Don’t spend more time asking people for advice about writing than you actually spend time writing. The only way to ever write a book is to actually just write it. And it’s a slow process, but you chip away at it and eventually, it happens. I have many bad habits, and finding ways not to write—tweeting and Instagramming and reading random websites and cleaning my apartment—is definitely one of them. (Speaking of which, I should probably clean my apartment now.) Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? Save the Date is a memoir, so yes—the “characters” are actually people I know, though most names are changed to protect the innocent and even the less innocent. There is definitely some existential angst involved in writing about real people. It’s nerve-wracking to think someone won’t like the portrayal; after all, I’m talking about humans who actually exist and have feelings and have the right to their own feelings about being in a book! (Just as I have the right to write it, and to feel my own feelings about it.) I’m working on fiction now, though, and it’s really fun to create characters out of thinish air. Of course, I can’t help but bring my own experiences and perspectives to them, and there are probably elements of people I know in all of them. But no one will know if I do it right. Read more about Save the Date here.

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