Sara Benincasa on Being a Writer
(And Other Awesome Things They Don't Teach You In School)
by RJ Newell
Sara Benincasa is a vivacious comedian and author of Real Artists Have Day Jobs (and Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School). She is currently busy promoting her new book, adapting one of her novels into a television series and making waves as an advocate for mental health awareness.
Her tweets are hilarious, her blog posts are thoughtful, and her books have been wildly successful.
Yeah, yeah. Queen B[enincasa] is a total writing BAMF. Meanwhile, I can’t decide what I’m writing to save my life.
Darling writers, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably procrastinating on something and you just want all of her secrets already. Couch rats, rejoice! I was recently #blessed to sit down with the lady herself and ask her all the things!
Here’s Benincasa's take on genre, routine (or lack thereof), and success for the indecisive.
RJ Newell: What genre of writing would you like to be best known for?
Sara Benincasa: “Ooh, this is a tough one. In terms of written content, I wish to be known and loved and worshipped as a literary demi-goddess for my nonfiction work. But I also want to be a highly acclaimed creator, writer, and executive producer of television and film that brings me loads of cash. So the answer is: lots of genres.”
What was/is your biggest obstacle at the beginning of your latest project?
“My latest project is adapting my novel DC TRIP to a feature film. Most authors don’t adapt their own work. I had to do a pretty good job of convincing the producers that I could in fact adapt the work. I guess I sold them on it, because I’ve got the paycheck and the contract to prove it. After that, the trouble was fear of failure. I feel better about it now that I’ve handed in a giant initial vomit draft. It’s good, but is going to get so much better with editing.”
In terms of voice, how has your writing changed over the course of your professional career?
“I’ve gotten better about self-editing, to be sure. I’ve gotten more economical with language. I’ve relaxed into my writing. I discovered that my favorite way to write is to act as if I’m having a lovely conversation with a friend at a dinner table…I hope I always continue to improve as a writer (and human, of course).”
What does your daily writing routine look like?
“There’s no routine, actually. Depends on the assignment. I’m usually late with assignments, I can say that much. Not charming.”
Is it a challenge to focus on one project at a time? Or are you a good multi-tasker?
“I get bored focusing on one project at a time. So I multitask a LOT. In four years I’ve published four books and adapted one as a TV pilot and another as a feature film script. I also perform here and there, speak at colleges and universities, travel, act, do advertising work for sweet dinero…lots of stuff.
“My challenge of late is to winnow down the work to what really pays and what really matters. Ideally, these two things are the same. Not always. But more and more, thank goodness.
“I’m a hard worker, but success in this world requires a bit of luck as well. And talent. But don’t discount luck. That’s frustrating and awful and amazing and wonderful. It’s not entirely within your control. Isn’t that a bit freeing, in a way? I mean, it’s also shitty. You must do what you do as well as you can and keep your eyes on your own paper as much as possible. We all get envious sometimes because we are human, but we can use that as a guide to where we ought to put our efforts next, methinks.”
What kinds of stuff do you read, and how often?
“Lots of Internet things. Wahoo! Short form stuff, mostly. Short articles. Self-help books, certainly. “Real Artists Have Day Jobs” is my attempt to honor and subvert and mock the self-help genre all at once.
“When I’m stuck I go to Pablo Neruda. A teacher in high school suggested it and I’ve never forgotten it.”
Is there a writing genre that you’re interested in, but haven’t yet tried?
“Yes. Science fiction.”
How important have blogging and networking been for you?
“It has been extraordinarily important. It has, in ways big and small, made my career. I’m very talented and smart, but there are plenty of smart, talented people who haven’t had the opportunities I’ve had. And part of that is luck, as I explained before. But part of it is that my mother and father taught me how to network and I learned early on that I was the only person who was going to promote myself — until I proved I could make money for various companies and brands and media outlets. At that point, publicists started coming into play.
“…If you don’t believe in your own work enough to promote it, give up and do something else.”
Do you have any advice for a new writer trying to decide on a genre or platform?
“Try them all.”
Special-est of thank yous to Sara Benincasa for her wit and wisdom. If you would like to read her books, go to an independent bookstore or Amazon.com. For even more action, go to http://www.sarabenincasa.com.