How I Write – Kathleen Heil


When/how/where do you write?

In general I write first drafts of prose and translations on my computer, and poems with pencil and paper. I’m a fan of the cheap and elegant MUJI notebooks for poem­ing and note­ taking. Revisions for prose and translation happen from printouts of my typed­-up drafts, whereas poems gets revised once they hit my word processor. I don’t have a set writing schedule at the moment, so the when and how depend on the nature of what I’m working on. I tend to write best from home, especially for bigger projects that require me to get to a quiet space of discovery, though I enjoy doing the more managerial writing tasks (entering edits from printouts into OpenOffice, submissions, emailing) in café settings, where I can feel energized by the buzz around me. For new work, having a block of time and putting my phone in airplane mode or in another room is key. That, and leaving my email inbox and the Internet the fuck alone. Right now I’m living in a sublet with a balcony, so when it’s not too cold I write out here, as I’m doing now. This balcony and the birds and trees beyond it make me all kinds of happy.


Do you eat while you write? If so, what?

Not really, though it seems I am always eating in between writing. Here in Berlin I will go to ALDI to get the Trader Joe’s snack crap that sort of, but doesn’t exactly, resemble TJ’s snacks in the States, though more German and less bourgie.

Do you play music while you write? If so, what?

Not unless I’m in a café, in which case something instrumental if it’s noisy and/or whatever music is on the speakers is distracting, which for me is pretty much anything with words. I was working at a café last fall that was always rocking Kate Bush, which was equal parts delightful and annoying. I think I heard “Running Up That Hill” half a dozen times in one week. I would like to read a novel written by someone listening to Prince on repeat.

What are you reading right now?

Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare, Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, and C.D. Wright’s first book of poems, Room Rented by a Single Woman. So sad she’s not around to give the world more of her work. I had qualifiers written about how awesome these writers are but deleted them, because said qualifiers were vague and empty­ sounding, whereas my enthusiasm for these writers is full and specific and hard to articulate. Dear Reader, I hope you read and love these writers in your own way, too.

Kathleen Heil is a writer and translator of poetry and prose. Her work appears in The New Yorker, FENCE, The Guardian, and many other publications. More at