how i get it done

How I Get It Done: Sex and the City Author Candace Bushnell

Candace Bushnell Illustration: Lauren Tamaki

Candace Bushnell has been writing professionally since she was 19 years old. Over the last four decades she’s authored eight best-sellers including Killing Monica, The Carrie Diaries, Lipstick Jungle, and perhaps most notably, Sex and the City, the basis for the hit HBO series and two subsequent feature films. Bushnell has dedicated the last year to completing her latest book, Is There Still Sex in the City? (out this August). She was also recently handpicked by Cantonese restaurant Hakkasan New York to pen 88 fortunes (to go inside special-edition macaroons in honor of the Chinese New Year). “They wanted me to write fortunes from my experiences, so I just kept thinking about funny internet things, dating life, Instagram,” Bushnell tells the Cut. “I love Hakkasan. I love the Peking duck. I have it with a couple Cosmos, which I still drink.” Bushnell splits her time between residences in Sag Harbor and New York City. She travels back and forth with Pepper and Prancer, her two Standard poodles. Here’s how she gets it all done.

On a typical morning:
I usually get up between 7 and 8 a.m. I don’t use an alarm. I can pretty much wake up when I need to. If I’m in Sag Harbor then I just get up and put the dogs outside, and then I make a cup of Earl Grey tea with a teaspoon of Sugar in the Raw and a wedge of lemon and I go to my computer.

On why she writes while standing up:
I started writing standing up three or four years ago; I read somewhere that it was healthier. I have a little office in my house with a Varidesk, and a large computer monitor, so I don’t work on a laptop. Once I’m up, I don’t usually sit down. The first thing I do is skim-read online newspapers: The New York Times, the Daily Mail, the New York Post, and sometimes Salon and sometimes Slate. And then I quickly scroll through Twitter. I guess it’s just really a way to get the brain going, and then I start writing. I will usually work until 2 or 3 p.m., pending on if I’m on a roll.

On at-home afternoon workouts:
I do stretching exercises. I have a tumbling mat. I used to do somersaults and that kind of thing, but my house out here in Sag Harbor is not quite big enough. I do the plank and I do sit-ups and that’s about 30 minutes. If I’m in the city, then I’ll do some kind of calisthenics. I have a mini trampoline, sometimes I jump on that.

On not eating until 4 p.m.:
I usually eat dinner early because I feel like it’s healthier, but I’m really not even hungry until 4 in the afternoon. I don’t really think about of food during the day. Then, I want to eat. I start snacking around 4 p.m. while I’m making dinner — some nuts or shrimp cocktail. I kind of pretend I have a family, but it’s just me and the dogs … I cook dinner and I watch the evening news and I’ll have a glass of wine or two.

On winding down for the evening:
If I’m really working and I’m really in the head of writing, then that’s where all of my focus is; everything else is just background. And for some reason it seems to take 90 percent of my waking time to accomplish what I need to write, and I don’t know why that is … but it is.

I will happily get into bed at 9 p.m. and read. In Sag Harbor there’s a bookstore called Canio’s. It’s an independent bookstore and it’s a quarter mile from my house. I’ll go there and sometimes I’ll buy three books, and I’ll read for a couple of hours. And then I fall asleep around 11 p.m. and I get up at 7 a.m. and I do the same thing all over again.

On life on the Upper East Side:
The city is a more demanding place to live. I have to take my dogs out five to six times a day, but it’s great to be in the city. I often have meetings and sometimes I’ll go to lunch on the Upper East Side because that’s where I live. I’ll go to Beyoglu or Le Bilboquet. If my boyfriend is in town we will usually meet up around 5 p.m. and we’ll go to dinner. We go out probably five nights a week. We might go to a movie premiere. A dinner. A Broadway show. Maybe a party or event, but usually something that requires dressing up and being very presentable.

On her work wardrobes:
If I’m writing I’m wearing soft pants and usually a sweater and long or short-sleeve T-shirt. And then in the city, it’s the opposite. I feel like I have to pay more attention to … you know, people in the city pay more attention to their appearances, and then that’s fun too — to pay more attention to fashion. If I’m doing publicity, then I get my hair and makeup done. I do it a lot at M.A.C. on the Upper East Side.

On how she gets inspired:
It’s just a lot of thinking. I spend a lot of my day thinking. I walk around. That’s one of the reasons I don’t sit down. I don’t want to have to keep getting up. I do a lot of walking around in my backyard. It’s a little bit of the cliché of the eccentric person.

It’s something that I have trained myself to do. Inspiration comes from doing some work, and then it’s just a problem-solving situation. It’s really about setting up the circumstances, doing a bit of work, taking a break … for me it’s really about being in the head. Sometimes when you look something up on the internet and a little piece of something falls into place.

On staying organized without an assistant:
I don’t have a team. It’s really just me. I had a publicist, but she passed away. I don’t have an assistant. I still use an old-fashioned ink book to write stuff down, but honestly, I can keep most of it in my head. In terms of emails, if you’re not out there, people aren’t contacting you. So, when I’m working, I notice I’m mostly only getting junk emails because nobody needs me. Publishers will, at a certain point, ask for their pages, but everyone assumes you are off doing the work.

On her new book, Is There Still Sex in the City?
I wanted to call it “Middle-Age Madness” because it really started with certain things that happened to me in my 50s: I got divorced, my mother died a couple years ago, and all the sudden it felt like there was something in the air telling me I had to change my life. And I noticed it happening to a lot of my other friends as well. You know, when you’re 35, you don’t think about what your life is going to look like in your 50s, and the thing that people don’t realize is that your life can look very, very different than what you imagined. So, [the book is] really about all of these changes, and dating again in your 50s, and starting over. And it’s about friendship — because you need your friends again in a different way. It’s really about moving from the reproductive lifestyle, to a different time when it’s not about kids, and it is about how are you going to live your life for the next maybe 30 years? And for some it can be very profound. It’s also a really funny book. It’s all about the changing paradigms. There’s a question of, do you even want to have a partner? Are there times in one’s life when you’re better off without one?

On dating apps: 
I’m not going to do it. A lot of people do. A lot of people have found success and you know, if you’re good at dating, you’re probably going to be good at online dating. But, I think, from what people tell me, it seems to take up a great deal of time. Women who I’ve talked to who are in their 20s and 30s seem to be frustrated with the amount of time it takes and the lack of results that it yields. I think statistically speaking you need to look at a lot more profiles to find somebody online than you would in real life. Supposedly men have to set up 1,000 dates to get one date [online], whereas in real life, they have to ask 100 women out to get one date.

On her predictions for the future of dating:
I think there is so much that happens between people on a subconscious or molecular level that can’t be captured online — at least not yet. But the future of dating probably is more and more online. To me, if somebody could figure out a dating app that actually really worked for women — and I don’t know what that algorithm would be — where women could really find guys that they wanted, instead of seeming to just go through a slew of guys that they’re not interested in … I wish I could invent that. I would be a billionaire [laughs]!

On how she feels at this stage of her career:
I feel excited. I feel very excited. I’ve been working for a long time. I have a lot of projects that I’m very interested in doing, but the truth is, I work on a lot of things that probably no one is ever going to see. I make little movies and write songs on GarageBand, and write little scripts and stuff like that. I’ve probably written four or five novels that will never get published. They’re too out there. They are too surreal.

On self-discipline:
You have to put the drama on the page and not in your life so I’m very disciplined. I write seven days a week. I try not to take [time off] because once I stop writing, it’s really hard to get back into it again. And that’s the thing that always is the most worrisome. I feel like I spend my whole life planned around writing. It’s ridiculous [laughs]. I don’t usually get writer’s block. Some days I’ll be like, I got nothing. I. Got. Nothing. And then on those days it’s always kind of sad story of beating yourself up. I just try to keep up with the routine. But mostly I have the problem of I can’t stop writing.

On one mistake she’s made in her career and one thing she knows she got right:
At the beginning of my career — and maybe through all of it — is not having enough confidence. Too much beating oneself up and absorbing negative messages. When I first started out in the ’80s and ’90s there were a lot of negative messages toward women. I was told nobody will want to publish a book about a young woman in New York City. That was before Sex and the City. I guess I wish I knew a little bit better not to listen to the negative voices out there. And sometimes it’s just easier to listen to the negative voices. I think what I got right was not working for a corporation. It just would have creatively killed me.           

How I Get It Done: Sex and the City Author Candace Bushnell