June 05, 2016

How I write

I don't really remember writing my first book. I remember everything before the writing and everything immediately after the writing, but trying to remember the writing process itself, I draw a complete blank.

Here's what I do remember: I procrastinated finishing my proposal for weeks and weeks (six, to be exact) before my ever-patient agent, Mel Flashman at Trident Media Group, called me one Friday and asked, "What are you doing on Sunday?" Nothing, I replied. So she summoned me to the bar at Eleven Madison Park where, over the course of the afternoon and many, many, many cocktails, she asked me questions and I answered them as she took notes on a yellow legal pad. In the evening, as we exited the bar, she ripped off the dozen or so pages she'd jotted down, handed them to me and said, "Type this up."

After the book was sold and contracts were signed, I had about five months to turn in a manuscript to my editor, the amazing Kathryn Huck, who was the executive editor at HarperCollins at the time. I was still working full-time at the New York Post and am a procrastinator by nature, so didn't start writing until about a month out from the due date. The night before my manuscript was due, I really only had about 72 pages down. But that was when my computer (a blue Toshiba PC) bit the dust, died, fried itself, never turned on again. I was up all night totally freaking out, and at 10 a.m. the next morning was at the Apple store in SoHo buying a new laptop. I emailed my agent, who emailed my editor, who gave me a five week extension, which pinned my final manuscript deadline on the last day of September 2005's New York Fashion Week.

Now, during fashion week at the New York Post that season, I was not only covering shows all day and writing show reviews in the afternoons and evenings, I was also writing a daily fashion gossip column—I can't remember what it was called in its first iteration that season, but in later years it was renamed "The Hi-Lo" for no good reason except my surname is Lo and my editor thought the title was amusing. So that meant that after a full day at shows and filing reviews to deadline, I would go out to events and parties, gather items, file for first, second, and third deadlines (the Post was printed in three editions at the time, with closing times of 8:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m, and 1:30 a.m., respectively). By the time I got home after attending my last party of the night (sober because I was meant to be writing a book) and phoning in my last items, I was beat—but would stay up until three or four in the morning writing, to finish my manuscript in time.

No wonder I don't remember the writing process.

Somehow it all worked out. I handed my manuscript in on the last day of fashion week around 3 p.m. and immediately went home and passed out for 15 hours. My book was published on May 6, 2006 and that morning I did my first live TV segment ever when I was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America.

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the times in my life when I've been most productive, longform writing-wise. There are really only two time periods I can think of: the first, when I was writing my first master's thesis and spent ten hours each day for months on end reading and writing in the Bodleian Library; the second, when I procrastinated my book twice and basically wound up writing it between midnight and 3 a.m. during fashion week. I guess the takeaway here is that, for me, it's not the circumstances and environment that matters when it comes to being productive—it's a looming deadline that, if missed, would result in scary consequences.