Milk Fed Author Melissa Broder Likes to Write at Funerals
This is Rough draft, in which our favorite writers get to the bottom of their own craft. From favorite drinks for writing to whether or not you need to carry a notebook, we get to see all the ways they beat writer’s block and get the job done. This week, we speak with Melissa Broder on the occasion of the pocket release of her novel Milk fed. The book follows Rachel, a young Jewish woman who navigates the depths of desire, hunger (both physical and emotional), and desire while embarking on a ninety-day communications detox. Broder will also publish a new anthology of poetry, titled Superdoom, August 10. Here, discover all the elements that helped her get there.
JULIANA UKIOMOGBE: Describe your ideal writing atmosphere. What gets you in the mood?
MELISSA BRODER: Definitely not an office. I prefer to write in places where I’m not supposed to write (like the bathroom at a funeral) because then there is less pressure. Less emphasis on perfection. When I lived in New York, I wrote poems on the subway. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2013, it was no longer safe to write in transit (typing poems while driving on the 405 is not recommended). So I started dictating my work using Siri and the Notes app. Line breaks are gone and the language has become more conversational. This is how I started to write prose. As far as edits go, I email myself drafts every few paragraphs and watch them as PDFs because it gives me some distance from what’s on the page. A new eye. I also reread myself aloud. I treat prose like lyric poetry. I punctuate for the rhythm. It all happens in bed. As for the mood, I don’t expect it. I am motivated by the fear of not creating. Also, the wisdom of not escaping. The writing is happening today whether I’m in the mood or not. It happens in small chunks – 40 minutes, three paragraphs, whatever doable amounts I set myself for the days of the week (and it’s still doable amounts until the last few months of edits when I get there. live full time). But it’s happening.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you eat or drink while you write? If so, what do you like to have?
BRODER: Coke Zero.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you smoke or drink alcohol while you write? How do you think they impact your writing?
BRODER: I chain chew nicotine gum. I haven’t written without nicotine since I was 16 (cigarettes are long gone, but chewing gum is forever). I’m not clear on the exact impact of the eraser on my writing because I never do without it. But I think it’s a matter of focus. Also, little dog treats to stay focused.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you keep a notebook and / or diary?
BRODER: The internet destroyed my newspaper. From Private to Public: A History of Reward-Based Conditioning and Dopamine Receptors.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you prefer handwriting or typing?
BRODER: I do it all, baby. Dictation for prose drafts. Entry for modifications. Handwriting for inspired moments in meditation.
UKIOMOGBE: What’s your favorite quote?
BRODER: “When the demigods go, / The gods come. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
UKIOMOGBE: Who do you always come back to when writing?
BRODER: Lately, Marguerite Duras.
UKIOMOGBE: What’s your favorite book to reread?
EMBROIDER: Goodbye, Columbus: and five short stories by Philippe Roth.
UKIOMOGBE: What books did you read as a child / teenager?
BRODER: My father passed away in May. I used to steal all of his books when I was a teenager. At the time, I was just thinking: escape. Now I reread his library and think: Dad was there.
UKIOMOGBE: Which writers inform your current work the most?
BRODER: What if I told you a few books that I read last year that I loved. I bet these inform my work. Also, who doesn’t love a list?
Problems by Jade Sharma, Loggers by Thomas Bernhard, The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas, Summer rain by Marguerite Duras, Fish soup by Margarita Garcia Robayo, The pure and the unclean by Colette, Hell by Eileen Myles, Dear by Colette, 10:30 am on a summer night by Marguerite Duras, 100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell, The life of the spirit by Christine Smallwood, Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Leave the company by Tao Lin, To the friend who didn’t save my life by Hervé Guibert, Accumulators by Kate Durbin, Correction by Thomas Bernhard, The death of Ivan Ilich by Leo Tolstoy, Desert loner by Edward Abbey, Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima.
UKIOMOGBE: How many drafts of a piece do you usually write?
UKIOMOGBE: What would be the title of your memoirs?
EMBROIDER: Am I tired or dying?
UKIOMOGBE: Who is your favorite screenwriter?
BRODER: My favorite movies are The great Lebowski, groundhog day, and Harold and Maude.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you see writing as a spiritual practice?
EMBROIDER: Of course. There is alchemy involved. Repetition. Faith. And we must leave room for mystery.
UKIOMOGBE: Which writers would you choose to dine with, alive or dead?
BRODER: Isaac Bashevis Singer for dinner. Sexting with Emily Dickinson and Lord Byron. But not dinner.
UKIOMOGBE: What advice do you have for those who want to become better writers?
BRODER: Write from the pussy. I laugh. It depends on the person, their strengths and weaknesses. As universal: read and write.
UKIOMOGBE: What are the unconventional techniques that you defend?
BRODER: Low self-esteem.
UKIOMOGBE: Can good writing save the world?
BRODER: I think we should define save first.