Brenda Janowitz The Novel Revising Phase + Her Advice to Writers Transitioning From Another Career

brenda janowitz-photoName: Brenda Janowitz
Author’s Website, Twitter, Facebook

Hometown: I grew up in the suburbs of New York City.

Based In: After living in the city for 10 years, I’m back in the suburbs of New York City!

Education: I graduated from Cornell and then went to Hofstra Law School.

Favorite Read: Way too many to name! I love books of all types, across all genres. I’ll read just about anything.

If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…Well, before becoming a writer, I was a lawyer, so I guess I’d just go back to that. (Though, I’d really rather not.)

Author Crush: I absolutely adore Elinor Lipman. Her writing never ceases to inspire me. And I’ve had the opportunity to meet her a few times and she is lovely. Just lovely.

Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book You’d Recommend: There are so many great ones out there. When I first began taking my writing seriously, a friend gave me On Writing by Stephen King. I cannot say enough good things about it. I’d highly recommend that one for any writer.

What is the first book-related childhood memory that comes to mind?

So many! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love reading, when I wasn’t completely obsessed with books. A few that spring to mind: reading The Secret Garden when I was a little girl; being called my teacher’s “bookworm” in second grade because I’d read so many books; getting books as gifts around holiday time and birthdays.

Your office…the living room, your bedroom…Where do you do most of your writing?

I have an office now where I write.

Have you developed a writing process that works for you?

I’ve done everything– outlines, no outlines, index cards, character sketches. I will pretty much do anything that helps me tell the story in the best way possible.

Generally, I’ll start off free writing, just putting fingers to keyboard and letting whatever comes out come out. A bit later, I’ll flesh out a bit– do I need an outline? Do I need to put each scene on an index card to see the story structure? Character sketches are a must. Sometimes I do them right in the beginning; sometimes it’s after a first draft.

The one thing I always do is to walk around with a notebook and dictaphone in my pocketbook. Inspiration has a funny way of striking at the most inconvenient times. This way, I’m always prepared.

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So little Brenda had her first children’s performance as Little Rosie. What do you recall from that performance?

The boa. I remember traipsing around the cafeteria in my mother’s high heels and a big fluffy boa. Oh, how adult I felt that day! My older cousin came and took an audio recording of the whole thing. I wish we’d saved that….

It so happens that you practiced law, prior to becoming a published author. Has that background proved to be helpful in book publishing?

Being a novelist takes the same discipline you need to be a lawyer—you have to be able to sit at your computer, by yourself, for hours on end and write. You also have to do a ton of reading. If that’s not law school, I don’t know what is. And that’s the writing life, too.

And while we’re on the subject of law…Brooke Miller, the female protagonist of Scot on the Rocks, is an attorney from Manhattan. Now, is Brooke the character closest to you…like, the most autobiographical, so to speak?

All of my characters are me! I used to joke when I taught writing classes at Mediabistro—even that cabbie at the end of Scot is me! They’re all me!

But seriously, I do think that all of the characters come from somewhere inside me. So, Brooke definitely looks the most like me—she’s a lawyer who attended her ex-boyfriend’s wedding (yeah, I did that)—but she’s still fiction.

What advice do you have for those who are transitioning into writing from another career?

Keep your day job! The writing life is tough. And it’s really hard to make a good living at it. There’s a ton of rejection out there, and the best way to deal with it is to have something else in your life, something else that keeps you going. Otherwise, you’ll never have the stamina to keep writing. It’s just too hard to get discouraged by the negative stuff. I’m a big proponent of having lots of balls in the air—helps you to figure out what’s most important to you. If writing is really important, you’ll make time for it.

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I see there are so many foreign editions of your books. What is the secret to writing a book that foreign-language publishers will be eager to pick up?

I wish I knew! We’ve been really lucky so far placing my books in foreign markets. Crossing my fingers that we can continue that streak!

Do you ever get stalled when writing a book? Writer’s block, some people call it.


How do you usually handle that?

My best trick to get the creative juices flowing is to distract myself—either with a long bath, a quick work-out, or even a coffee date with a friend. Distraction always makes me remember that I should be writing. And that I’m so lucky that I get to write.

What is the revising and editing phase like for you?

Torture! Revising and editing, for me, is the toughest part, but it’s the most important. There’s an expression: writing is re-writing. And that’s true. A book isn’t a book until it’s ripped apart and then put back together.

Recipe for a Happy Life follows the same romantic comedy pattern as your other novels, but compared to your other novels, it seems less screwballish. Will you be going in a whole different direction for your next book than what your fans are used to?

I love that comparison! It’s absolutely true—as my life has changed, so has my writing. I hope that the hallmarks of my first book are still there, like the laughter and the quirkiness, but I’m definitely growing up as a writer. And I do hope that my readers will take the journey with me.

What’s the recipe for a happy author’s life?

Love that question! I’d say time to write. That’s what every author wants.

How did the concept for Jack with a Twist come about?

I’d just finished SCOT and was working on ideas for my follow up. I was on a two-book contract with Red Dress Ink, and they wanted another book about Brooke. I knew that I wanted her to plan her wedding and I knew that I wanted her to litigate the first big case of her career. So, who better to have her litigate against than her perfect fiancée? The idea for JACK was born.

What do you wish you had known before you entered the publishing world?

How hard the business aspect is! You can’t just write the book—you need to be your own marketer, your own publicist. Which is hard for a writer. We are, by definition, people who love to sit alone in front of a computer, in our own little self-created worlds. Going out and promoting yourself in the real world? That’s a huge challenge.

How can new writers get better at their craft?

Practice. Just keep writing. And there’s nothing better than writing classes to get you motivated and help you hone your craft. Even though I teach writing classes, I still take writing classes, too.

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