Monday, February 6, 2012

Guest Interview--Dr. Julie Holland, Weekends at Bellevue

photo: Book cover for Dr. Julie Holland's Weekends at Bellevue. 

[Apologies to all, especially Dr. Holland, for the formatting issue the last few days.]

Awhile ago I blogged about the quick and entertaining memoir, Weekends at Bellevue, Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych. ER; you can read that here. (Again, the book is highly recommended, and not just for its subject matter alone. It's also useful in terms of how to write a memoir, especially one that is work-based.) Its author, Dr. Julie Holland, was nice enough to do an interview with me. She graciously and thoroughly answered 10 questions, in addition to the 10 questions from the Pivot questionnaire that James Lipton asks his guests on Bravo's Inside the Actor's Studio. The whole thing is so long that I've decided to break it down in a few posts. Here's a part of it. In these questions, she talks about writing, teaching, and finding the time to do both. I once again thank the author for taking part.

1. With your busy schedule--being the Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine, as well as a professional therapist for your own office--how do you find the time to write at all? (If you could break down your typical day in a timeline, that'd be great to show my students, many of whom insist that they don't have the time to do anything. I'm guilty of this myself, when I'm asked by various editors about my deadlines!)

I’ve always found that the more I have to do, the more I get done. The busier I am, the more efficient I am with my time. But these days I have more free time than I used to. My kids are in school full time, which helps. (Although, I used to get an incredible amount of work done when my daughter took three hour naps. I miss those days.) On the days when I run my private practice, I’ve made a deal with myself. I write or edit on the train ride into the city, as long as I can veg out and watch movies on my laptop on the ride home. That’s worked out surprisingly well.

2. Please share your secrets, or tips for great time management, in terms of how and when you just sit down and write. Also, how do you clear your head of all that went on that day so you can sit down and write--or spend time with the family, etc.?

It’s nearly impossible to do, I know, but if you want to be a writer, you need to devote time to being alone in a quiet place where you can think and type. Writing is a solitary career, though obviously punctuated by breaks where you can do anything you feel like. Sometimes when I’m lying around reading, at least I can rationalize that I’m “doing research for a new book.” Other times, like when I get obsessed and need to watch all six seasons of LOST, I have to be honest with myself that I am “blocked” or “in a slump” or just plain procrastinating, and muscle through it, because eventually I know I’ll get back to my project. I really have to schedule time for writing on my palm pilot and treat it like an appointment I couldn’t cancel. Once I cleared my calendar on my birthday and spent the whole day in my office not with patients, but just writing. That was a great gift I gave to myself. I have good concentration so I don’t need complete silence to work, though I often recommend writing with earplugs to others. I do know writers who treat it like a job, where they sit down at their desk every morning from 9am to noon and don’t sit up until they’ve written X number of pages. Those writers are far more successful than I. Two of my books have been anthologies, which is really tricky because I was waiting for people to turn in their chapters so I could edit them, or write my introductions to the assembled sections. Those books took longer than writing something myself. In those cases, I just made a point of returning each one as soon as it came in. I liked having something new to work on, and editing is way easier than making up your own stuff.

3. You mentioned in your book--Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych. ER--that you'd always wanted to write. Can you explain why that is, and how that feeling originated?

I like to teach, to explain things to people that I’ve figured out. Writing is a great vehicle for that. I’m a big talker, and I definitely look at writing as a form of talking, shmoozing. You’re telling a story. If you can hold an audience’s attention whether at a cocktail party or classroom, you can probably be a writer. I got a lot of positive feedback about my writing from teachers when I was growing up, and also my mother, and I think that probably encouraged me the most.


  1. Congrats on your interview and what a gem of information. Making time to write is easy, but committing to it is a whole other animal.

    "Writing is a solitary career" Can't argue with that. There's a lot of self-undoing, too.

    Looking forward to your next installment.

    1. Thanks for the congrats, Namzola, but the good doctor deserves all the credit here. All I did was ask, and then send an obnoxiously long list of questions.

      The next installment is coming soon.

      By the way, your blog rules. Makes me laugh.