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‘I basically had a midlife crisis’: Author N.K. Jemisin explains why it’s never too late to quit your day job

The Broken Earth trilogy writer didn’t publish anything until the age of 30. Twelve novels and a MacArthur genius award later, she’s got some tips to share.

‘I basically had a midlife crisis’: Author N.K. Jemisin explains why it’s never too late to quit your day job
[Photo: Daniel Dorsa]
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I didn’t try to publish anything until I was 30, when I basically had a midlife crisis. I was in a city I didn’t like, had not reached various milestones I wanted to reach, and was in student loan debt up to my eyeballs. I actually liked my job [as a career counselor for at-risk populations]. But I’d always written as a hobby, [and] I decided to see if I could make money doing it. I would make sure I wrote one page, or even just 250 words, every day. Counseling is one of those emotionally draining fields where sometimes something terrible would happen at work. I would allow myself not to produce that day. Instead, I would write something completely irrelevant, like fan fiction or essays.

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When I quit my day job [in 2017], my schedule changed. Now, I tend to write in the middle of the day, sort of 11-ish to 4-ish. My artistic inclination is to write late at night, but I can’t be sleeping during the day because I have interviews or grocery shopping to do.

Once I have a first draft, I bring it to my agent or to my writing group and get feedback. Then I take it apart and put it back together. The writing group is diverse across ethnicities and backgrounds, so we’re able to offer critiques on lots of different aspects.

Time she gets up

6 a.m.

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Her relationship with social media

“I use Twitter a lot—about an hour every day. When I was working as a counselor, social media was a support system. Now it’s kind of grim.”

Best habit

“Having spent 20 years in the workplace, it’s difficult not to apply capitalist logic to everything, not to think about productivity in terms of the number of tasks you accomplish during the day. Creative work is not like that. It comes from your deepest self, so you’ve got to make sure that you and your self are right. By right I mean you do self-care, watch your stress levels. I try to make sure I’m doing a workout every other day or walking or taking a bike ride.”

Last thing she does at night

“I write personal stuff, stories for my friends. Or I’ll read books. I prefer to write because I can stop. Sometimes it’s hard to put down a book.”

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Time she goes to bed

10 p.m.