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Leslie Jamison: Writers on Writing

"No beautiful writing comes from an impossibly perfect world; it all comes from this one: cluttered, obligated, distracted."

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Leslie Jamison


Leslie Jamison’s latest book, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, published in April 2018, mixes journalistic reportage with memoir and literary criticism to explore the experiences of those who have recovered from addiction. Jamison is also the author of the novel The Gin Closet and the essay collection The Empathy Exams, a New York Times best-seller. She is a columnist for the New York Times Book Review, and her works have appeared in publications including Harper’s, Oxford American, The Believer, and elsewhere. Jamison is an assistant professor at Columbia University in New York City.


What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing? 

I used to believe that the best writing had to emerge from a life that had been carefully sculpted to produce the perfect conditions for creativity: long stretches of uninterrupted time, days cleared of logistics and obligations, dentist appointments and school lunches and cardboard boxes waiting to be unpacked. But eventually I learned that no beautiful writing comes from an impossibly perfect world; it all comes from this one: cluttered, obligated, distracted.



How has this helped you as a writer?

After I came to accept that beauty comes from the imperfect mess of living, rather than the impossible ideal of an unencumbered life, it asked me to stop seeing life and writing as antagonists, locked in combat, and to start seeing the ways that even the logistics and obligations of life might ultimately feed into the compost heap of creativity, and certainly that the obligated, beholden life is the only one from which we work – that so much beauty has come from it.

—Gabriel Packard is the author of The Painted Ocean: A Novel published by Corsair, an imprint of Little, Brown.


Originally Published