Guest post by instructor Cole Kazdin.
In preparing for my spring class, Defeating Distractions: Creating a Writing Practice, I reached out to Samin Nosrat to talk about writing. The chef, bestselling author and Netflix star of Salt Fat Acid Heat, recently announced she’s working on a new book, What to Cook – quickly adding on Instagram, “I am a painfully slow writer, so please do not write to ask me when the book is coming. I promise everyone will know when I know!”
We will all happily wait.
“I was just trying to preempt,” she laughed, when we talked on the phone later that day about the new book. “It’s coming!” Every writer has a unique way of working (or not working). Between writing, cooking and traveling, Nosrat graciously took time to talk about her own writing practice, procrastination, and figuring out what works.
CK: Where do you write?
SN: An office, with maybe 20 writers. We work in individual offices, so I can close the door. If I worked from home I’d never get anything done. The community has been a huge part of what’s enabled me to keep going. Watching how different writers treat their work has been really informative and instructive for me. It taught me – this is work. This isn’t like, “when inspiration strikes!” (She laughs)
CK: The whole “waiting for the muse idea” stops so many people from writing, I think. So often, it’s sitting down when you have no ideas, and it’s awful.
SN: It’s the worst. It’s so painful and awful. But I think you have to treat it like a full-time job otherwise it will never get done. That was really hard for me because I didn’t make any money at it for a really long time. So I had to cook to make money. And it took me years to realize I need a day in between, switching from work to my writing mindset. I had to give my brain space to quiet.
CK: What is your writing practice now? Do you work by the project or deadline?
SN: Basically I only function on deadline. I really take it to the wire. It’s so brutal. I hate myself the whole time. But I don’t know what else to do. I think deadlines are super, super, super important.
CK: Do you ever write without a deadline or write morning pages?
SN: Never. I’ve bought that book (The Artist’s Way) four times, but I’ve never done that. Every time I’m like, “I’m going to be that person!” But I’m just not that person.
But I’m always jotting stuff down. I always have a notebook. I have a journal under my bed. I use the notes app on my phone. Often when I’m walking – even from the office to my car, I’ll have an idea. But I don’t have any sort of discipline. I have no discipline!
CK: Do you have a favorite way of procrastinating?
SN: I mean- the internet’s really the most evil one. And endless research. Where I tell myself I’m not procrastinating, and I let the research go on forever.
CK: How do you overcome distractions?
SN: Some days I don’t and then I feel really bad about myself. I use the Freedom app – I find it to be really helpful. And – I don’t know – (she thinks for a moment) – Shame?
CK: What helps when you’re stuck?
SN: I keep a quilt and pillow in my office. It took me a really long time to realize this, but if I don’t know what I’m writing about, if I am just circling around – I can’t do it. I need to know what the point is. If things are not happening, I actually lie down in the office and meditate. I used to be embarrassed by it, because I’m like – People will think I’m taking a nap! But then I was like – Who cares? I have to do this weird thing so I can figure out what I’m doing. And that’s a really important part of the process. Sometimes it’s meditation, other times I read. When I’m reading, I trip over something and I feel it in my gut and I’m like – Oh, I got it! Then I sit down to write.
Thanks to Cole for sharing this great interview. If you want to hear more writers taking about their process, check out our podcast The Write Process, where writers do a deep dive on one of their projects and how it relates to their career.