Gary Shteyngart’s Guide to Being a Novelist

Scott Indrisek in Asylum:

ScreenHunter_01 Jan. 15 08.50 Most struggling novelists are penniless, pathetic, poorly dressed wretches who piss and moan about how no one appreciates their “Art.” Thankfully, “Absurdistan” author Gary Shteyngart isn't most novelists. The Russian-born scribe makes a handsome living off bestsellers that satirize ethnicity, love, Jewish identity, Iraq war contractors and everything in between. “I don't know what explains it,” the novelist told us, “but [my books] do sell in the hundreds of thousands, and that enables me to really keep my caviar ratio up.”

We asked Shytengart to share some secrets of the writing trade, from appropriate booze choices to matters of dress — and let's not forget the importance of a little depression and tragedy. “If you're happy, things are not going well,” he advises. “Stop being so goddamn happy! Unless you want to join the Obama transition team, this is not the field for you. It's all about despair.”

Have a Daily Writing Schedule
“Take a lot of Xanax in the morning to really calm the hell down. Try to wake up no later than 11. Work from 11:30 to 4:30, then go see the shrink, then meet some friends for drinks. Find a good bar where everyone knows your name and you can get a nice buyback. Try to relax. This is the major problem. Writing is both boring and stressful, it's the worst combination. Sometimes I go to the gym, but it's very hard to lift things there, because they're so heavy.”

Finding Inspiration
“I think all good books come from heartbreak. Focus on the worst thing that's happened to you — usually it's interpersonal. Could be your parents drank themselves to death; an ostrich killed your baby brother. Or focus on the worst, horrible break-up. Go off from that. Feel something. It's very hard to feel something these days because we're living such electronic lives; everything's just some weird electronic echo. Try to access what human beings used to have — emotions. Go from there.”

Coping with Writer's Block
“I don't have it. Often what I write is crap, so that's not writer's block, that's writer's crap. You know what I do? I take long showers, sometimes three hours long. It's really helpful.”

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