Write Now with Glynnis MacNicol

Who are you?

Glynnis MacNicol, writer and co-founder of TheLi.st. Brooklyn, New York. Photos and further info can be found at glynnismacnicol.com.

What do you write?

I started out as an online media reporter in New York. This was before Twitter was really around, and definitely before Instagram. The old-school media powers hadn’t quite lost their grip yet and they didn’t take the Internet seriously (much to their later dismay) so my job was part commentary on what was going on, and part slipping into these very media elite parties and reporting back. Funny now to think that was a job, but it was!

After that I segued more into the political side of things, then moved on to culture and personal essays. Then I co-wrote a book on puberty for pre-teen girls and after that wrote a memoir. Now that that’s out in the world I’ve moved back into magazine pieces.

The result of those years is that I now avoid any sort of hot take, including Twitter. I also tend to stay away from opinion pieces and politics if at all possible.

I love what I do about 70% of the time, which I think is the average people should aim for when considering how they want to spend their time. You can’t love anything 100% of the time and expecting to is an unfair way to approach any occupation (alternately, if you want to love something 100% of the time, don’t make it your job). I love writing once I’m doing it. But the getting there — sitting down, opening my computer, writing the first line — is often excruciating. I also resent how writers are forced to chase down paychecks. And I am a terrible pitcher. I lack the talent for succinctness and often end up writing out half a piece in order to figure out what I’m trying to say, which is not the best use of time.

Where do you write?

I do all my writing that’s not email on an old MacBook Air that has Word on it but little else, and can barely handle the internet. I’m sure there are writers out there who can focus and still be on the internet, but I’m not one of them. Even with those limits I still run the Freedom app that blocks access. I pay for it, which allows me to pre-schedule the hours it runs. This way the internet will automatically turn off each day at the same time without my having to make the decision. What I discovered was that after a few weeks of this I automatically stopped going online at these times regardless of whether Freedom was running (also people stopped expecting to hear from me during these hours).

If I’m working on a book I keep a separate Word doc for each chapter and then combine into one big one as I go. This is probably not the most practical method, and I know a lot of writers who use Script to avoid this very thing, but something about the compartmentalization of it all is helpful for me.

When do you write?

In a perfect world, I’m up at 5:30 am and write from 7:00 am — 1:00 pm with reasonable breaks for coffee, etc. When I’m on a tight deadline, however, I sometimes simply write straight through til dinner, or after depending how desperate I am. I’m definitely a morning person, however, and begin to fade after about 3:00 pm. That said, I don’t have children, which makes this schedule feasible. No doubt, if I did, I’d find the ability to muster some shred of mental clarity during whatever hours I had free.

With the exception of journaling, which I now mostly only do when I travel, I don’t tend to write anything unless it’s an assignment. Paychecks and deadlines are very motivating! I don’t write to set word counts either unless I’m on a very tight deadline and then I will try to roughly break things down to daily goals. Even so, I’ve been at this long enough to know that 300 word days can be as hard won as 3000, and often more valuable if they solve a narrative problem or help you clarify your own thinking on structure or character or narrative.

Photo courtesy of Glynnis MacNicol

Why do you write?

I have an abiding faith in the power of narrative; I think it’s the definitive way we experience the world. That said, writing is a job like any other, it just happens to be the one I’m good at — or at least better at than other things. It’s also the way I process my own life and the world around me and I feel fortunate that I’m able to make a living at it. Beyond that, I hesitate to attach any mysticism to the actual doing of it. Like any other job or craft, you simply have to show up every day and do it. There’s not a magic formula.

What fuels me, beyond the previously noted deadlines and paychecks, is the satisfaction of articulating my thoughts and experiences in a way that I can share. That doesn’t always happen, obviously: I’ve written plenty on subjects that don’t interest me, and written badly on ones that do. But every once in a while, you nail it and, if you’re lucky, that result finds an audience, and that’s wonderful. But again, paychecks are also wonderful.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. This may be the result of having come up on the Internet where, for a long time, I was expected to post 8–15 pieces a day; this included when I was traveling, or even just commuting to the office. Additionally, a portion of my income was often based on the traffic my pieces generated. I think you get over being “blocked” fairly quickly when your rent is on the line: when you’re doing everything at a dead run, “blocked” just means writing really shitty copy until you stumble on one good line and go from there. One of the best lessons that came out of those years is the knowledge that one bad day, or page, or paragraph is just that and the only solution is to keep going. That was definitely a learned faith for me, but it’s also been the difference between being paralyzed by the terror of a blank screen, or pages of terrible prose, and the understanding that if I just get up, take a walk, or have a 10-minute nap and then come back to my computer I’ll eventually get where I want to go.

Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?

I like to be on the move. If I could figure out how to walk and write at the same time I’d be a much happier person.

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