Taylor Jenkins Reid: How I became a bestselling author
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Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest best-seller (and fifth book) “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” — which took inspiration from Old Hollywood glitz and glamour — comes out in paperback later this month.
Reid’s novels have made numeours “best books of the summer” lists and are popping up on things like Amazon’s Best Books of 2017 and Entertainment Weekly’s “Must List.” On top of being a mom to baby Lilah, Reid is an essayist with work in the Los Angeles Times, Glamour and Marie Claire and is a writer on Hulu’s “Resident Advisors.”
In this interview, the author talks about writing, morning tea, self-imposed deadlines, being unabashedly individual and letting the universe guide you. This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
QUESTION: Who has been your biggest mentor?
ANSWER: I worked for two casting directors when I was younger, and their names were Sarah Finn and Randi Hiller. It was my first job out of college, at a casting agency, and I worked for them for three years, and they were so supportive and believed in me so much and in anything I wanted to do — even if it wasn’t working for them. I have felt that my entire career came from them.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: I wake up when my daughter wakes up, which is normally far earlier than I want to wake up. We hang out, have breakfast, and then I get to work around 8:30 or 9 a.m. I sit at my desk with my iced tea (and probably some Diet Coke) and my dog, and I work on my book of the moment, or publicity, or a screenplay that I’m working on until at least lunchtime. I usually go to lunch with my husband because he also works from home. Then, we come back, and I do that same thing for the afternoon and stop promptly at 6. That is when I’m taking care of my baby, which is a new thing for me, because I used to be able to work until 9 or 10 o’clock at night.
Q: What is your writing process?
A: When I’m working on my books, I’m very regimented. I start with my idea, and I know how the story begins and the story ends. But what’s in the middle, I don’t know. So, for my first drafts — which can take anywhere from four weeks to eight weeks — I write a certain amount of words per day, and that’s what I have to get done.
So if that takes me four hours and I happen to have a few hours free in the afternoon, then good for me. I’ll try to catch up on books that I’m blurbing or something like that. But, most of the time, it takes me a full day. Every single day, I’m waking up, and I don’t know what’s happening in the story, and I’m sitting down, and I’m figuring it out — Monday through Friday, 8 to 6.
But then, once the first draft is done, I’ll do second, third, fourth drafts in a similar manner: I’m going to get this many chapters done today and allot myself very strict deadlines that, most of the time, have absolutely no consequence if I break them, but I know that I’ve broken them, so I stick to them.
Q: What does your career path look like, from post-college to now?
A: It took a lot of zigs and zags. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had vague ideas, but I had a really hard time pinning it down.
So I always try to tell people — especially when they’re coming out of college — you have time to figure this out, and the universe will guide you.
I started out and took a job as a casting assistant in movies, and I did that for three years. I loved it, but it was also very stressful, and I knew it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I quit that and took a desk job at a studio and did that for a few years. I moved to the tech industry, an entertainment company that I worked with a lot in casting that knew me, and I did that for a while.
I started writing books in my spare time, and I knew that it was something I loved to do, but I still didn’t know if it was something that I could ever make a living from. I then took a job in education and worked at a high school for a little over a year, and it was there that I sold my first book. That led to another thing, which led to another thing, and that opened up the opportunity for me to write full-time.
I’ve been writing full time since 2012. But it took me a couple of times in trying different things before I figured out exactly what I loved doing.
Q: What are your go-to songs or podcasts?
A: “You Must Remember This” by Karina Longworth. I listened to that podcast so much before and as I was writing “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” because it’s all about scandals and events from classic Hollywood. And I’m still listening to it now.
Q: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
A: Yesterday, I finished “Circe” by Madeline Miller, and I am a diehard Madeline Miller fan. Her first book, “The Song of Achilles,” came out in 2011, and it’s the book that I’ve been telling every single person in my life to read.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
A: Develop a voice that is uniquely your own, and only you can provide it. If you can offer something that no one else can offer, you have something that no one else can teach, and that is the most important thing.