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Oct 17, 2016

How Bestselling Author Jennifer Weiner Writes: Part Two

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, Jennifer Weiner, took a few minutes to talk with me about the writer’s life, her new memoir, and Revenge of the Nerds.

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Before her prolific career as a novelist, Ms. Weiner started out as a small town newspaper reporter and freelancer, before signing her first big book deal for her novel Good in Bed (2001).

Since then her books have spent over five years on the New York Times bestseller list, she has had a novel made into a major motion picture — In Her Shoes, starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette (2005) — contributed op-eds to the New York Times, executive produced a TV series, and published a children’s book (The Littlest Bigfoot).

Her latest offering is the memoir Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing, and it “… is about yearning and fulfillment, loss and love, and a woman who searched for her place in the world, and found it as a storyteller.”

If you’re a fan of The Writer Files, click subscribe to automatically see new interviews.

If you missed the first half you can find it right here.

In Part Two of this file Jennifer Weiner and I discuss:

  • How Creative People See the World Through Their Own Lenses
  • Why Hard Work Alone Forges Enduring Writers
  • Why Ebooks are Indispensable to Writers on the Go
  • Why Just You Need Sit Down and Start Writing

Listen to The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

How Bestselling Author Jennifer Weiner Writes: Part Two

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM

Kelton Reid: Welcome back to The Writer Files. I’m your host, Kelton Reid, here to take you on yet another tour of the habits, habitats, and brains of renowned writers to learn their secrets. In part two of this file, the number one New York Times bestselling author of twelve books, Jennifer Weiner returns to talk to me about the writer s life, her new memoir, and Revenge of the Nerds.

Before her prolific career as a novelist, Ms. Weiner started out as a small town newspaper reporter before signing her first big book deal for her novel, Good in Bed. Since then, her books have spent over five years on the New York Times bestseller list, she’s had a novel made into a major motion picture, contributed op-eds to the New York Times, executive produced a TV series, and published a children’s book.

Her latest offering is the memoir, Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing. And it’s about yearning, fulfillment, loss and love, and a woman who searched for her place in the world and found it as a storyteller. In part two of this file, Jennifer and I discuss how creative people see the world through their own lenses, why hard work alone forges enduring writers, why eBooks are indispensable to writers on the go, and why you just need to sit down and start writing.

If you’re a fan of The Writer Files, please click “subscribe” to automatically see new interviews as soon as they’re published. If you missed the first half of this show, you can find it in the archives on iTunes, on WriterFiles.FM, and in the show notes.

This episode of The Writer Files is brought to you by Audible. I ll have more on their special offer later in the show but if you love Audiobooks or you’ve always wanted to give them a try, you can check out over 180,000 titles right now at Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker.

How Creative People See the World Through Their Own Lenses

Kelton Reid: I’d love to dig into your creativity a little bit, if you want to talk about creativity. If you have an idea kind in your mind, maybe about your personal definition of creativity, if you could share that with us, that’d be great.

Jennifer Weiner: I think that creative people see the world through their own lenses. I go back to my childhood where, here I am this sort of chunky, brainy, mouthy, Jewish outcast, in Simsbury, Connecticut. I spent so much time trying to figure out, Why don’t other kids like me? Why do I have no friends? Why am I not fitting in here? What is it specifically? And just paying so much attention to all of those details of everything from hairstyles, to clothes, to parents, to which Kenny Rogers songs were okay to say you liked as opposed to the ones that you couldn’t say you liked. That was my lens, that was the way that I saw the world. That was how I looked at things. I think that I have this perspective and I had this experience. That’s what I think creative people are. They’re the ones who maybe see the world a little bit differently than everyone else.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah. Do you have a creative muse at the moment, yourself? Or something that’s kind of …

Jennifer Weiner: I’ve been thinking so much about Hillary, honestly, and about all of the questions that her candidacy raises about what it is to be a woman in the world today. Just thinking about, again, we’re talking the morning after the first presidential debate. Two weeks ago there was that national town hall and Reince Priebus, who’s the head of the Republican National Committee, faulted her for her sort of sourpuss demeanor and said she never smiles.

Then there was the debate last night and you had David Frum, who’s a very prominent conservative critic saying, “Who told her she was supposed to grin like she was at her two year old granddaughter’s birthday party?” I’m just like, Men? Men told her that. Because, then it’s just like, you can’t win. It’s like if she smiles she’s wrong. If she doesn’t smile she’s wrong. If she’s emotional, well, you’re weak. But if she’s not emotional, well, she’s robotic and she’s not likable. I have just been thinking so much about what does it mean to be likable. Why do we aspire to that above all things? Why are we as women taught that it matters so much?

You know, watching the debate last night, watching her get interrupted seventy separate times by Trump and by Lester Holt, and just thinking, “How many rooms have I been in where there are men who talk over me, interrupt me, don’t listen to me, take credit for what I’ve said.” I lead a fairly female centered life, I mean I’m in publishing. My agent s a woman. My editor’s a woman. My publisher s a woman. Her boss, Carolyn Reidy, is a woman, who’s running Simon and Schuster. Even so, you end up in those rooms.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about. And I think as I sort of turn the corner into this next novel and think about women and men, I think that that is going to inform a lot of the female characters. Just that there’s no way to get it right. That was a long answer and I’m sorry. But, you asked.

Kelton Reid: That’s cool. I look forward to seeing you unpack that in your New York Times column. Because you’ve done some great op-ed pieces over there for them. I know that was kind of like a childhood dream as yours, realized, which is really cool. So we’ll look forward to seeing that one there as well.

Why Hard Work Alone Forges Enduring Writers

In your estimation, what do you think makes a writer truly great?

Jennifer Weiner: I mean I know it’s a cliché to say hard work … There are people who are born with just towering, brilliant, fiery talent. Just people who can shape language and command sentences, and marshal words, and just dazzle you on the page. I read Lauren Groff s books and just think, “Wow.” And that I could never do that. She’s working at just a very different level, and at a very different place than I am.

But, I also think that there’s something to be said for just work. For just the slog of putting your body in the chair, and your hands on the keyboard, and getting your 1000 words out. Then just working them, and working them, and working them, and making them as good as they absolutely can be. Because my suspicion is that there are a lot of tremendously, like Lauren Groff level, talented people out there who are, Oh I’m going to write a book someday. I’m going to take a month off from work, I’m going to write my book. Who aren’t going to write their books because it’s a lot of work to write a book. It’s a lot of work to write a book. Then it’s even more work to publicize a book, and go on tour for a book, and promote a book on social media all the ways your publisher expects you to. What makes a writer? I would say just sheer persistence and work.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, well put. So you mentioned one, do you have a couple other favorites kind of sitting on your night stand right now? A couple favorite authors?

Jennifer Weiner: Well, I was writing essays, so of course I was reading my Nora Ephron, and I was reading my Fran Lebowitz, and I was reading Erica Jong, who I believe is tremendously underrated as an essayist. She wrote a book called Fear of Fifty, I want to say it was like fifteen years ago, that I think has … I recommend it all the time to other writers because I think it is just so wise about what life is like once you’ve been published. And how, in fact, it does not make all your dreams come true. It does not make all your problems go away. In some cases, it creates new and exciting problems. I’ve been reading lots of that.

I loved Homegoing, the Yaa Gyasi book that was wonderful. It was about the slave trade in Africa and Ghana I think, I’m probably screwing that up. It was really … It was told through like four or five generations, and all these different characters. She just, I thought, handled it so brilliantly.

I just got the new Bruce Springsteen biography that I’m of course looking forward to. One of my favorite books is this oral history of Warren Zevon called I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. Warren Zevon is He was a singer songwriter who I don’t think was ever as famous as he deserved to be. He wrote Werewolves of London, which I think is sort of a novelty tune that people think of. He also wrote just some of these, just remarkable lyrics, and could cram a whole short story s worth of observation into a song. I go back to … and oral histories are great, because you can kind of just dip in and out of them and always find something interesting to read.

I just finished, let’s see, Ann Hood‘s, The Book That Matters Most, I read in my last week of book tour. So yeah, lots of, many things. I am reading many things.

Kelton Reid: Yes, yes. I’m sure the list goes on and on.

Jennifer Weiner: It does.

Kelton Reid: We will be right back after a very short break. Thanks so much for listening to The Writer Files.

This episode of The Writer Files is brought to you by Audible, offering over 180,000 audiobook titles to choose from. Audible seamlessly delivers the world’s both fiction and nonfiction to your iPhone, Android, Kindle or computer. For Rainmaker FM listeners, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check them out. Grab your free audiobook right now by visiting Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker. I just hopped over there to grab Stephen King’s epic novel 11.22.63, about an English teacher who goes back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK. You can download your pick or any other audiobook free by heading over to Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker. To download your free audiobook today, go to Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker.

As many writers do, do you have kind of a favorite, or best-loved quote, floating over your desk somewhere?

Jennifer Weiner: I do. Interestingly enough, somebody asked me a different question this morning and I used this quote. This is Nora Ephron and it’s from Heartburn and it’s a therapist in conversation with her client. Vera’s the therapist. Vera said, “Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?” So I told her why. “Because if I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me. Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much. Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”

And that is something … Especially with Hungry Heart, especially with thinking about my own life and some of the stuff that I’ve been through. Just, Why am I going to tell these stories? and, What’s the point of memoir? and, Why do you put this kind of stuff out there? For me, I think anything I write is about connection and is about sort of helping, hopefully, helping readers feel less alone in the world, and less freakish, and less like, I am the only one that this ever happened to. For my own personal selfish reasons, I want to tell the story so I can get on with it.

Kelton Reid: Love that. Therapeutic and …

Jennifer Weiner: Motivational all at once.

Kelton Reid: Motivational. And certainly that’s why you’ve connected with so many readers and you have such a fantastic story to tell about all of it. And it’s all in there, it’s all in Hungry Heart.

Jennifer Weiner: Oh, it is all in there. Oh boy.

Kelton Reid: Find it at a bookstore near you. Here are a couple of fun ones for you. Do you have a preference, paper, eBook?

Why Ebooks are Indispensable to Writers on the Go

Jennifer Weiner: I like eBooks. I’m probably the only writer who’s ever said that.

Kelton Reid: That’s not true.

Jennifer Weiner: Oh, thank you. And I do, like if I read something on my e-reader and I love it I will go buy a paper copy to have in my house. I kind of like the portability of it. I like that I can have fifty books with me everywhere I go.

Kelton Reid: That’s what’s so great about eBooks. You know, there is something to be said for that kind of kinesthesia of a paper book, an old book. But yeah, eBooks are indispensable, really. Do you have a favorite literary character of all time?

Jennifer Weiner: Oh, my. Well, again, I think, you know, I just gave you the answer that nobody gives and now I’m going to give you the answer that probably everyone gives. Which would be Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I think like every bookwormy girl who’s survived an unhappiness as a girl is going to remember Francie fondly.

Kelton Reid: Okay. If you could choose one author from any era for an all expense paid dinner to your favorite spot in the world, who would you take? And where would you take them?

Jennifer Weiner: Nora Ephron in a minute, going away. But, I’d let her pick where, because I think that she was just such a consummate New Yorker. I would want her to show me her city, so I’d let her pick.

Kelton Reid: Do you have a writer s fetish? Are you collecting trinkets of the trade somewhere?

Jennifer Weiner: I lose things a lot. I break things a lot. For my fortieth birthday my mom got me an inscribed first edition of Susan Isaacs novel Almost Paradise. Susan Isaacs is one of my favorite, favorite writers. She’s a popular writer of commercial women’s fiction. But I think her books are very funny, and wise, and well-crafted and have a lot to say to us about womanhood in America. That’s something that I will treasure forever. No, I’m not really collecting anything, but I will always, always keep that.

Why Just You Need Sit Down and Start Writing

Kelton Reid: That’s cool. Okay, so before we wrap up here, do you have any advice to your fellow scribes on how to keep the ink flowing and the cursor moving? I know you talk a lot about this, so you could paraphrase the …

Jennifer Weiner: Yeah, I mean, my short answer is, if you go to my website … I sound like Hillary Clinton, but if you go to my website, all of my advice for writers is there, because I believe in paying it forward. I am the beneficiary of so much help and generosity that I want to be just as helpful and as generous as I can to other writers.

But I would say, and maybe this especially applies to women, I would say, don’t wait for someone to give you permission. Don’t wait for someone to confer the mantle of writer upon you and think that only then can you begin; only after you’ve earned an MFA, or you’ve published a story in the right kind of journal, or some editor has given you some kind of approval, or you’ve gotten a not entirely negative rejection letter from somewhere. Just start. Just sit down and start writing.

Kelton Reid: Love it. Very well put, and a great way to wrap up. I did have one other fun question for you before we wrap. I keep getting these images as I’m reading your writing, of kind of a John Hughes world. Did you connect with John Hughes movies at all when you were younger?

Jennifer Weiner: So much, yeah. I was always Ally Sheedy, I was never Molly Ringwald. I so desperately wanted, I think I tried to get the Molly Ringwald haircut from The Breakfast Club, to no avail and to sad effect. But yes … And again, I don’t know that you think of John Hughes as a writer, but I think the way that he told stories and developed characters, I think that any writer could learn from those movies. So yes, that’s a world I feel very connected to.

Kelton Reid: Very cool, very cool. Well thank you so much for coming on to The Writer Files and talking about your process, and your fantastic new book. The new book is Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing.

Jennifer Weiner: Available everywhere.

Kelton Reid: Available everywhere.

Jennifer Weiner: That fine books and not so fine books are sold.

Kelton Reid: Where can fellow scribes connect with you out there in the world online?

Jennifer Weiner: My website is JenniferWeiner.com. I am on Twitter @JenniferWeiner. I am on Facebook, Facebook/JenniferWeiner. I’m on Instagram at JenniferWeinerWrites. I am not on Snapchat, and no one will make me go there!

Kelton Reid: Me neither. Well thank you so much. I really, really appreciate your time and best of luck with everything coming up, and future projects. We hope to talk to you again another time.

Jennifer Weiner: Thank you very, very much.

Kelton Reid: Thank you.

Thanks so much for joining me for this half of a tour through the writer’s process. If you enjoy The Writer Files podcast please subscribe to the show and leave us a rating or a review on iTunes to help other writers find us. For more episodes, or to just leave a comment or a question, you can drop by WriterFiles.FM. You can always chat with me on Twitter @KeltonReid. Cheers, talk to you next week.