The Three Rs: Maria Konnikova

November 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

Maria Konnikova is currently working on an assortment of non-fiction and fiction projects. Her first book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, will be published by Viking in 2013. She writes the weekly “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American, where she explores the intersection of literature and psychology, and formerly wrote the popular psychology blog “Artful Choice” for Big Think. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, The Paris Review, The Observer, Scientific American MIND, and Scientific American, among other publications.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

When I was in third grade, I watched the older kids in our elementary school put on a play. “The Pirates of Penzance,” I think it was. I didn’t understand many of the lyrics—Gilbert and Sullivan can be tough for an unsuspecting seven-year-old—but I loved everything about the show. The words, the music, the characters, the fact that the whole school got to miss class to watch the performance (there was definitely something about the very public nature of the whole thing that appealed to me). I decided then and there that I would write a play of my own.

And I did. It took what seemed like forever to write – and was over in about 20 minutes, if that. But our fourth grade class did perform it, and everyone did come to see us. I think that’s when I knew that the only thing I really wanted to do was to keep writing. Of course, I lost that conviction a few years later, when I started reading some of the great classics of Russian literature—there was the whole I could never write like this, so why even bother? feeling—and decided I’d never write again. But eventually, I got over it.

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?

I tend to wake up quite early and start the morning off with a 7am yoga class. I’ll give myself an hour after class for breakfast, catching up on news, checking Twitter and Facebook, and doing all those other things that I absolutely can’t let myself do when I’m writing. I write until around noon, then reconnect to the Internet for an hour break (I use Freedom to block my connection while I write; I seem to be incapable of resisting the temptation to check email otherwise). I write for another three or so hours in the afternoon, then run any errands that need running—I find it’s refreshing to get outside for at least a little while; otherwise, I can spend the entire day never leaving the apartment—and catch up on email. Then, I read what I’ve written, make any notes for changes, and map out what I want to do the next day. Unless I’m under deadline pressure, I take the rest of the evening off.

Do you type or write?

Both. It depends on whether I’m working on my fiction or my non-fiction. Fiction, I write mostly longhand, then retype. Non-fiction tends to stay mostly on the computer—though I take lots of notes by hand and jot down ideas all over the place. When I edit, I write everything by hand, whether it’s fiction or non. I have to print my writing out to be able to read it critically. I know it seems a waste of paper, but I can’t help it.

What do you read while you’re writing?

When I’m working on non-fiction, I read fiction almost exclusively—a mix of contemporary writing and the classics. When I’m working on fiction, I shy away from modern writers and gravitate to old favorites. And I read a lot of poetry. I find it inspires me whenever I feel stuck creatively.

What have you read recently that you really loved?

I’m not sure if this counts, since it’s not a new release, but I recently re-read Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye and it just blew me away (again). Chandler really deserves more credit for his influence on twentieth and twenty-first century fiction. That style, that dialogue, those characters—the man was a genius.

If I had to pick a recent read of a more modern vintage, it would be Daniel Smith’s memoir, Monkey Mind. Funny, poignant, informative: it’s what a memoir should be.

What are your all-time favourites?

If I had to pick my all-time top five, it would be (in no particular order): Salinger, Fitzgerald, Nabokov, Bulgakov, and Auden. Also, since I’ve snuck Auden in there, I’d probably have to add Brodsky to the mix. And A. A. Milne. What would life be without Winnie the Pooh?

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Read, without question. There are so many books I want to read, and I never seem to have enough time to read them all. Reading would be a beautiful way to spend the rest of my life.

What’s your third R, and why?

It’s not an R, but I would say taking walks. There’s something infinitely relaxing—and often inspiring—about being alone with your thoughts, not going anywhere in particular. I try to walk wherever and whenever I can. But I have to admit, I’m kind of cheating here. I always carry around a notebook and will often write down ideas when I walk—so I guess I’m combining walking with one of the two R’s.


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