Emily Gould is a popular New York City blogger. She has a book, And the Heart Says Whatever, coming out in May. It’s a memoir/essay collection about, among other things, being a young writer in the big city.
Did you find it difficult to go from writing blog posts to working on a book-length project? It’s probably a generally accepted idea that everyone has their ideal writing length. Some people’s sweet spot is 140 characters and that makes them brilliant Twitterers or Tweeters or whatever the fuck you call it. And some people’s sweet spot is between 500 and 1000 words and that makes them a good blogger. And some people’s sweet spot is 70, 000 words and that makes them a novelist. I definitely thought of myself as a blogger. Not only that, but I thought that the more I edited something the worse it got. First-thought best-thought was something I believed in that turned out to be not true. Actually, it’s completely the opposite. I still do the impulsive bloggy writing, but I think of it as a different genre of writing that’s meant to be viewed in a different way.
What way is that? When you read something online it’s competing for your attention with every other thing that exists online at that moment. When you’re reading a book, you’re just reading a book. The choices in play are different. I think acknowledging that fact as a writer is going to result in different kinds of writing.
Did spending more time editing your work have a greater effect on things like word choice and sentence structure or on the ideas behind the writing? It’s hard to explain. When I read my book now I can see the cumulative effort that went into it and all the writing decisions I made. I really pared things down. I’ve been finding over and over with interviews that I can’t actually explain how I do what I do in any useful way. I do know that sometimes I’ll look at something I wrote when I was blogging professionally that I thought was really good and now I think it seems disposable. Blog posts are like turnovers: They’re delicious right when they come out of the oven but they pretty quickly turn into a desiccated husk.
Some of the places you wrote for had a very specific editorial voice. Has it been hard to find your own voice? That’s a really good question. I think I’ve actually always had a hard time fitting my voice into a house style. But it can be fun to have constraints. It makes writing like a puzzle — how can I do what I do within certain rules? But some constraints come more naturally than others. A friend of mine recently asked me to write a front of the book celebrity interview piece for a gay-ish style magazine and I couldn’t do it. It was too hard. It was a lot easier for me to just do my own thing. My own house style has superseded any rules that I was interested in.
You write a ton. Is quality control an issue? Yeah. I’ve been blogging a lot less over the past year. I don’t know if that has to do with working on a book and consciously deciding to do less bloggy writing. There’s a desire for immediacy that blogging satisfies for me — and I think it always will. That’s one of the problems with traditional journalism. I wrote a really long book review that I thought turned out well and there was a point after I’d been working on this thing for two and a half months when I was like, “I want people to be able to read it right now!” But then of course it wasn’t even going to come out for two months after I was done. It was this total blue balls feeling.
To what extent is your writing personality a conscious construction? I wish that I could construct a persona. I’ve talked to other people who do things similar to what I do and some of them very clearly said they were constructing an alternate self in their writing. I guess on some level that might make it easier to read negative comments about yourself. But whenever I’ve tried to adopt the attitude that my writing is being done by some other “me” it’s been really stressful. I couldn’t have a job where I had to do that all the time. It’s too exhausting.
Having finished a book, can you see yourself ever going back to blogging full-time? I don’t think so. It seems very been there, done that. I have a hard time keeping myself interested in things I don’t really want to do. If I can’t write about the things I want to write about, in the way I want to write about them, then I’ll make money some other way. There’s no point otherwise. It’s fun when you’re in your early 20s to prove you can get someone to publish your words, but once you get over that it becomes more about figuring out what’s important to you as a writer.
What’s the last creative thing you did? Wow. Last night, at around 1:30 in the morning, I got out of the shower and noticed that my cat had left a toy in the exact center of the bath mat — like a little gift for me. I thought, “Oh, you’re so generous and so thoughtful.” [Laughs] Thinking up that little scenario was the last creative thing I did — which is maybe a little embarrassing.