Creative Writing

Things We Carry: Stephanie Danler

Things We Carry is a series of short interviews with current students, faculty, and alumni of the Creative Writing Program. These conversations are interested in the tactile elements of writing: what do we hold essential? What tools do we need in order to create? The things we find essential to our writing process reflect our beliefs about craft and process. 

This week, we were thrilled to hear from Stephanie Danler, a memoirist, novelist and screenwriter and an alumni of The New School.

Where & when are you writing these days? 

You can find me during business hours (aka preschool hours) in one of two places: the first is an office I have in Silverlake, in a falling apart mid-century building. It’s a co-working space filled with writers and I have my own desk, and the whole building has a shabby, romantic quality. 

Then recently I set up a desk in my daughter’s room. I need a standing desk for my body, but I find them so ugly. I ended up getting a work bench from Home Depot that I can crank up and down. It’s the least offensive and someday my husband can have it. 

I will still occasionally go to a coffee shop or a library. That’s a relic from my New York City writing life and it invigorates me when everything feels stale. 

Do you have any tools or tokens that are essential to your writing?

No music, but huge Bose noise canceling headphones. They’re my cocoon. Always lots of water: either my large water bottle or a glass mason jar with a straw. I drink green tea all day, often out of my pink Workaday Handmade mug. I’m always looking for extra large mugs. I carry multiple notebooks with me everywhere: a moleskin journal, a large paper moleskin for projects, a small paper one for lists, and a large legal pad for everything else. And a bunch of index cards. Seriously I carry all of this, it sounds absurd but it’s my process. 

Pen and paper, laptop and wifi, or a combination? 

Definitely both. But I do need to work with my hands. Someone I know called it an “analog workstation” and I like that. I write things out, cross them out, take up space on a page. I write on a computer, but that part is often a bit faster because I’ve drawn myself a map longhand.  

Do you have any habits or rituals that help you get grounded before you start writing? 

Palo santo or incense if I’m at home. Sure, part of it is for energy cleansing, but mostly I love to open all the windows in the morning and create a blank slate for the day. 

If I’m at the office, I’ll often lie down in my car (I keep a pillow in the trunk, and recline the driver’s seat) and do a 10 minute Headspace meditation. 

You’ve been given a backpack and are being sent to a desert island for thirty days of uninterrupted writing time. What do you put in the backpack? 

Every single one of my books (500-600 ish? I haven’t counted in a while) and my large Hydro Flask water bottle. My notebooks. An eye mask for napping. 

Are there any words or quotes that you find essential to your writing practice?

“Light clarity avocado salad in the morning.” It’s the first line of an untitled Frank O’Hara poem. If my writing doesn’t have that kind of presence, I’m not there yet. I also like to print out art related to my projects. Sometimes a Helen Frankenthaler painting, or Cecily Brown, or Ana Mendieta. I like to have a visual component to my corkboard. 

Stephanie Danler is novelist, memoirist, and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. @smdanler everywhere, and for a more comprehensive view. 

Things We Carry is an interview series produced by Stuart Pennebaker.

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