No Magic Formula, Just Hard Work: The Freerange Interview with Emily Rapp

by Marie-Hélène Westgate
March 28, 2013

In her memoir Poster Child, Emily Rapp writes about believing that “happiness and fulfillment hinge upon radical transformation.” Her first book chronicles her experience living with a congenital disorder that has caused her to wear a prosthetic limb since the age of four, when her left foot was amputated.
Rapp’s second book, The Still Point of the Turning World, is about her son, Ronan, who at nine months old was diagnosed with a degenerative disorder known as Tay-Sachs disease. Rapp lost her son just a few weeks ago, right before The Still Point of the Turning World was released.
Her memoir, which manages to be both ferocious in its grief and quietly hopeful, has generated an outpouring of interest and empathy among readers. On NPR’s Fresh Air last weekend, Emily Rapp spoke about loving a dying baby, and while it’s clear she can discuss even the most wrenching of topics with disarming grace, I limited my questions for this interview to the subject of Rapp as a writer.
Freerange: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Emily Rapp: I always thought I wanted to be a writer, but my childhood friend showed me a letter I’d written her in which I talked about my ardent wish to become a makeup artist in Hollywood. So I guess the writing dream came a bit later. I think I wanted to read books for a living as well, and so that also translated into a desire to become a writer.
Freerange: When you were starting out as a writer, did you ever lose faith or feel you wanted to give up writing?
ER: Of course. Before I sold my first book I’d been living on my credit card for almost a year, and I thought, okay, this is it. If something doesn’t happen I’m going to go back to school and do something else. I sold it a few months after making that declaration, but I had always had a few Plan Bs.
Freerange: What changed after the publication of your first book?
ER: Not much, really, only it started four years of writer’s block. I don’t know why — I think I hadn’t allowed myself to get hooked into another project, and there was a massive fear of failure after that first book. The biggest thing for me after that book was published was acceptance into a world of writers I really liked and respected. I was also able to get teaching jobs, so that was important for me as well.
Freerange: How would you describe your writing process?
ER: Manic. There’s not much strategy until the editing process begins.
Freerange: How does your life change when you’re being highly productive as compared to when you’re in a creative lull?
ER: When I’m highly productive I feel alive, and the other aspects of life that might normally bug me don’t matter anymore. When I’m not working everything tends to feel dull, and not as interesting, and I’m not as happy.
Freerange: What’s your greatest struggle as a writer?
ER: Time.
Freerange: What do you envision for yourself in the next five years?
ER: I want to be happy, that’s all. I want to enjoy writing, enjoy my students, and enjoy my life.
Freerange: What do emerging writers need to know?
ER: That there’s no magic formula; it’s just about hard work. I also think it’s important to try and spread opportunities whenever you can to other writers.