How I write: Augusten Burroughs
Published: April 1, 2005
|Augusten Burroughs has mined the dark corners of his life, from his chaotic childhood to his years as an alcoholic copywriter in Manhattan, through his time in rehab to recovery for material. Since sobering up, Burroughs found the love of his life, retired from advertising and wrote a string of bestsellers, inclucing Dry. A Memoir and Magical Thinking: True Stories. His books have been published in 15 countries, and Sellevision and Running with Scissors are in production for films.|
Augusten writes a monthly column for Details magazine and is a regular contributor for National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Entertainment Weekly says Burroughs is one of the "15 Funniest People in America."
He lives in New York City and Western Massachusetts with his partner, Dennis, and their two French bulldogs.
Why I write: Because I have to. I have written since I was very young. In fact, before I could write I spoke into a blue tape recorder. I have no other way to explain my writing except to say that it is a need, and in the hierarchy of needs, it is above the need for food.
On voice: This was really a matter of just learning to be completely myself on the page. In other words, I had to basically train myself to express my thoughts and feelings not by speaking, but by writing. In person, I was shy, aloof. Not because I was snotty, though this is probably how it seemed, but because I was petrified of other people. But as soon as I was able to write, I could be completely honest, just my truest self. And that becomes "the voice."
Ideas: Much of the time, I'm writing about my life my experiences, and myself. So there's really not much of "an idea." I mean, I'm lucky (or not, depending on how you look at it) to have had a life just packed with odd experiences. It's not like I've gone out seeking bizarre experiences. I just seem to be a magnet of sorts. So for the most part, I don't have to do much thinking at all. I just think back and the stories come into my mind immediately. Now, with fiction, it's different. The idea can come from anywhere at all. Often, there's an element of inspiration versus sitting down and thinking, "OK, what would be a good novel?" I have to be really moved by the subject in order to live with it and inhabit that world, for so long.
When and where: From the moment I wake up until very late at night. Not steady, but throughout the day, in between other tasks. If I am really focused on something (and have the time), then I will write nonstop for 15 hours or so.
Writing process: Well, stories or fiction may require research. I'm currently researching a rather ambitious project, a novel. I guess it would be considered a "departure" for me. And it is, in that I am spending so many hours every day reading material that is really rather dry and somewhat technical. So it's possible I'll spend quite a bit of time-maybe a year or more-doing this research before I write a single word. With nonfiction, with memoir, it's just much easier and faster.
Advice: Write every day. Read great books and also bad books, because you learn so much from both. But writing every day is the secret. I mean, writing a book is an enormous accomplishment: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It takes everything you have. There's no way you can pull off such a performance without any practice. Writing is like weight training, in this respect. You need to build your strength and confidence.