Author Jami Attenberg on What It Means to Be an Adult
What does it mean to be an adult? That’s the question author Jami Attenberg asks in her latest novel, All Grown Up. The book tells the story of 39-year-old graphic designer Andrea Bern, who eschews the traditional milestones of adulthood—marriage, children, home ownership—and searches, with mixed results, for her own sources of fulfillment. Watch the video above to hear Attenberg’s thoughts on what it means to be “all grown up.” And check out the interview highlights below for some handy tips for aspiring novelists (hint: try writing by hand).
mental_floss: Your protagonist, Andrea, is 39 years old and still trying to figure out what it means to be an adult. Why choose that age?
Jami Attenberg: Andrea is 38 at the beginning of the book, and then turns 39 and 40 very quickly. I have her 40th birthday come and go, and it’s really a very small section of the book. I wanted to show that it’s not really that big a deal. You can choose to be an adult at any time in your life. You can get over your issues any time you choose, and 40 just happens to be that age [for Andrea]. But it’s kind of significant in our culture, more for women than for men, since we have a biological clock, and pressures surrounding that. I’ve created a character who doesn’t care about having babies or getting married. It doesn’t really mean as much to her in the book, and I’m trying to show why it doesn’t really matter.
mental_floss: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Attenberg: I teach a little bit, and the best advice that I have for writers is to just sit down and do the work. There are no shortcuts to writing a novel, or an essay, or a screenplay. Whatever it is that you’re trying to put out into the world, you just have to sit down, and write every single day. That’s how I get everything done. There’s no cheating. My process is: I read first thing in the morning, anything but the internet, because I find that tightens up my brain a little bit. I try to take a walk, and not take my phone with me. There’s a lot of turning off screens. And then I write by hand until I think I’m done.
mental_floss: Why write by hand?
Attenberg: Writing by hand is a totally different experience than typing. It uses a different part of your brain. For me, in a really pure and simple way, when I’m typing into a computer, and a red line shows up, telling me I’ve spelled something wrong, it feels like someone else’s voice in my head. Whoever programmed Word is correcting me, and correcting my way of thinking. When I hand write, I have no red lines, and I’m able to make mistakes if I want to, and be more experimental. I find that when I type directly into the computer, I want my writing to be perfect. And I don’t think any first, second, or even third draft needs to be perfect.