rough draft

Lisa Taddeo’s Writing Routine Involves Lucky Charms and Her Daughter’s Tears

This is Rough Draft, in which our favorite writers get to the bottom of their own craft. From preferred writing drinks to whether or not you really need to carry a notebook, we find out all the ways they beat writer’s block and do the work. Lisa Taddeo—the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller Three Women—returns with Animal, out today. The novel examines female fury through the lens of Joan, a protagonist who transforms from prey to predator after a traumatic childhood experience. Before settling in with Animal, discover the process that helped Taddeo to bring it to life.


JULIANA UKIOMOGBE: Describe your ideal writing atmosphere.

LISA TADDEO: Absolute quiet. No music, no birds, no pain, no joy.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you eat or drink while you write? If so, what do you like to have?

TADDEO: Hot coffee, then peach iced tea. Re food: see next answer.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you ever smoke or drink while you write? How do you think they impact your writing?

TADDEO: Sometimes I smoke pot, and sometimes it helps me crack the code, but most of the time it makes me sleepy and deadline-averse. And so hungry that I eat interesting things. Salmon roe on chips with sour cream. Chocolate melatonin bites. Cocoa powder, plain from the jar. In the mornings, my daughter will find an empty box of Lucky Charms in the garbage and she will cry.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you keep a notebook and/or journal?

TADDEO: I take notes on my phone or I dictate them to myself while driving around. Everything is always for a book or story or script or article, I have never taken notes just for myself. But I do keep a diary for my daughter. I write in it every day so that by the time she is able to take it over, there will be a sort of starter kit there for her. I want her to be the journal writer I never was. I want her to write for herself.

UKIOMOGBE: What’s your favorite quote?

TADDEO: “I have suckled the wolf’s lip of anger and I have used it for illumination, laughter, protection, fire in places where there was no light, no food, no sisters, no quarter.”  — Audre Lorde

UKIOMOGBE: Whose writing do you always return to?

TADDEO: Natalia Ginzburg.

UKIOMOGBE: What books did you read as a kid/teen? Have your thoughts about the writers changed?

TADDEO: Lots of Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King. Lots of mysteries and horror. John Saul, John Grisham. Shirley Jackson. As I’ve gotten older, I found myself infinitely more drawn to female writers. I find the stories of women to hold myriad complexities. Take “Wants” by Grace Paley, as an example. An entire existence is contained in a little over a page. Women writers can effortlessly put several decades of life into one tiny sentence.

UKIOMOGBE: Which writers inform your current work the most?

TADDEO: Lucia Berlin and Natalia Ginzburg.

UKIOMOGBE: How many drafts of one piece do you typically write?

TADDEO: I don’t write in whole drafts. I revise in chunks, so I’m not really sure what the answer is. Less than one or more than a thousand.

UKIOMOGBE: What would the title of your memoir be?

TADDEO: I’ve Spent My Whole Life Worrying I’d Die of That, Until Suddenly Dying of This.

UKIOMOGBE: Who’s your favorite screenwriter? Can a movie ever be as good as the book?

TADDEO: William Goldman wrote the best screenplay ever written, The Princess Bride. Yes, the movie can be as good as the book. It can be better than the book. Screenwriting is its own art, with its own set of skills and tools. I find it hard as hell but wildly rewarding when done right. I so very much admire Paul Thomas Anderson and Emerald Fennell and Phoebe Waller-Bridge and the Safdie brothers.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you consider writing to be a spiritual practice?

TADDEO: I think so.

UKIOMOGBE: Which writers would you choose to have dinner with, living or dead?

TADDEO: Raven Leilani, Stephanie Danler, Adam Ross, James Salter, Lucia Berlin, William Trevor, Alice Munro, Joy Williams, and Barry Hannah.

UKIOMOGBE: What advice do you have for people who want to be better writers?

TADDEO: So trite, but read everything.

UKIOMOGBE: What are some unconventional techniques you stand by?

TADDEO: I write better after I have showered, but before I have eaten.

UKIOMOGBE: Can great writing save the world?

TADDEO: I think honest writing can make people feel less alone, and I think if everyone in the world felt less alone, then yes, we’d be heading in the right direction towards saving the world.