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Behind the Sentences with… Susan Choi

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Susan Choi in her writing space. Photography by Melanie Dunea;; @melaniedunea

Interview with Susan Choi

Where do you work?

Currently I have a few different places where I work, but no one place. For about half a decade I was part of a shared writers’ space that was absolutely wonderful... until we lost our lease. I had to fall back on the study alcove in my house until... we converted it into a room for my younger son. This is life in New York. So now, I work on a sofa in the corner of my dining room; on my back deck when the weather is good; and in a rented room in the home of a friend of mine who travels a lot. The common denominator of all these places is that I can put my feet up, and there’s a kitchen nearby.

What is your writing routine?

If I had a writing routine, it would be: rise early, make tea, work until lunchtime. How many days of my life does this happen? Not very many. It’s the ideal that I’m always striving toward. What happens if my routine isn’t adhered to is pretty much the rest of my life: family, other work besides writing, day-to-day chores, or (as right this moment) cherished vacation time with family and friends. (‘Vacation from what??’ you might ask, ‘it sounds as though you never work at all!’ Well, I do – just not according to much of a routine.)

Do you have any writer “habits” – bad or otherwise?

Possibly my worst habit is that I compose directly on my laptop, overwrite a lot without saving earlier versions, and lack any really comprehensive method of keeping track of ideas or drafts, so that much of my time is spent wandering lost through my own hard drive trying to find things. I also do have the habit of overusing certain words which I’ll then slowly realise I’m overusing, at which point I’ll do a search for the offender and be mortified by how often it crops up.

If you could develop one amazing writer super-power what would it be?

To be able to read more quickly. There are always so many things I want to read and I’m such a slow reader I never get through as much as I want to.

What happens when you stop writing? Away from the page, what do you do to relax?

Ha, it seems to me like most of the time I’m not writing, but fretting about when I’ll get back to it, so perhaps that’s the thing that happens most. To really escape even the fretting I get outdoors. As for writers’ block, that isn’t an idea I really accept. You can always write something – it just might not be the thing you’re hoping to write or trying hardest to write. If I’m struggling, I order myself to meet a word count, but on any subject, and I’ll do that for days or weeks or months until something starts to cohere.

Any words of advice to other writers, who might like to be in your shoes – shortlisted for the award – next year?

Read, read, read – both in your chosen genre and far outside it. That’s where you’ll learn everything.

Susan Choi is shortlisted for her story, Flashlight, which can be read here

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