how i get it done

Gillian Flynn Spends Her Days With Some Pretty Dark Characters

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Heidi Jo Brady

Whether she’s crafting Miles Bron’s murder-mystery weekend, hosting a cruise, or writing a best seller that redefines the publishing industry, Gillian Flynn always has something going on. And that something’s always a little dark, and it always ties back to her first love: stories. For screenwriting the 2014 film adaptation of her novel, Gone Girl, she was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe; for writing multiple episodes of HBO’s limited series Sharp Objects, she was nominated for an Emmy. She also penned the screenplay for Steve McQueen’s 2018 thriller, Widows, and was the showrunner on Prime Video’s sci-fi drama Utopia in 2020. She has her own eponymous publishing imprint at Zando, which debuted earlier this year with the nun-detective novel Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy. The second title, Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi’s foreboding translation mystery, The Centre, will be released July 11. “When I was asked if I wanted to have my own imprint, I was like, ‘Let’s get more voices out there,’” Flynn tells the Cut. “That’s really what I’m excited about doing, and what I want to do, because I don’t know necessarily that I would have been able to publish my first book in the marketplace that we have now. It’s just harder and harder to get in.”

As for the million-dollar question: When can we expect Flynn’s long-awaited follow-up to Gone Girl? “Pretty soon,” she says. “It’s what I’m primarily working on right now. I feel like I’m in a really good place where I know what it is and I have that first draft and can really start playing.” In the meantime, she’s reveling in the “pure joy” of getting to read up-and-coming voices for her imprint and Donald O’Connor’s comedic stylings (which is also how she unwinds after writing about ~unlikable female characters~ all day). Flynn lives in Chicago with her husband and two kids. Here’s how she gets it done.

On her morning routine:
I used to stay up until about 3 a.m. writing. That’s my natural circadian rhythm. But I’ve got two kids who I want to see and hang out with in the morning, so I usually get up around 7 a.m. I’m a big putterer. I putter around for a bit, rearrange stacks of papers, clean up the counter. I deliberately don’t read or watch anything, because I need my mind clear. Then I sit down and make a list of what I’m going to write that day and what I need to get done on a personal level so I’m not having this worry in the back of my head about what I have to do.

On prioritizing:
Prioritizing basically means whatever has the most pressing deadline on any given day gets done. Some days, I have complete quiet and I can get my head back in my novel. If I’m on deadline for a script, I have to hop in, because studios aren’t really the most patient! I like that because it reminds me of my time at a weekly magazine when you were assigned a story that you had to get done in a single day. If I’m having a chill day and my mind is open, I’m gonna read some books for the imprint. If I’m really ratcheting and I’ve had a lot of coffee, let’s do the screenplay. Or I’ll work on the book if it’s calling me back, which is always a good sign.

On the division of labor in her home:
My husband does the majority of the logistics with the kids — he’s the one who takes them to the dentist and remembers when they have a playdate — and then I will swoop in and be fun mom. So in some ways, it’s the reverse of the traditional roles. It’s very equitable. He really takes care of the left-brain household stuff, and I take care of the right-brain stuff. That’s kind of how it’s divided up.

On the people who help her get it done:
I didn’t have an assistant until a couple of years ago, but I realized I’m not an organized human. Once I started doing the imprint, especially, I knew I needed help. Now I have a wonderful assistant named Kendall. He ran my whole office on Utopia and did it with such efficiency. He also helps me with Zando. He’s a brilliant, aspiring writer, and he’ll read a lot of things for me. And my kids love him, so he can hang out with them if I need a little bit of extra time. He really can do it all! We had a nanny when the kids were really young, before they started school. We stopped during COVID when we were homeschooling them. Then they got older and they were able to have more agency and figure out things for themselves. We also have someone who helps us clean, because sometimes I don’t want to dust. I like vacuuming!

On maternity leave:
I was in the middle of writing Gone Girl when I had my son. I was a first-time mom, so I was doing everything by the book: I’m going to take three months off and just hang out with him. I didn’t do anything. And then I came back to Gone Girl, and I had no idea what I was trying to do with it! I was partly brain scrambled, so I had to junk a lot of it because it wasn’t good. With my daughter, I had her right before the Gone Girl movie came out. I did my first interview for it four days after I had her, and I was a wreck. We had to do it close to my house because my boobs were gigantic and I had to nurse. The premiere was in New York, and I was running all over the city pumping. My DNA is all over New York. I can’t commit a murder there — they would find me pretty easily!

On enjoying her success:
I did not grow up with money. We were a very frugal household and very aware of money, almost down to the cent. I had two jobs forever. I was giving plasma at one point. Admittedly, I usually spent that money on beer. But I was not comfortable for a long time. I was working an extra job so I could live in New York and have a magazine job. And then when I progressed up the ladder, I was writing books on the side. So when I got money, when Gone Girl came, I found it embarrassing. I finally had someone come in and clean my condo once a month, but if my mom was coming, I’d schedule it around her visit because I didn’t want her to know. It took a very long time to enjoy it at all.

On criticism:
I’m pretty good at taking it because I was a critic. With Gone Girl, I’ve had people tell me that they hated it. Firstly, that’s a really interesting thing to say to someone’s face! But it means that someone has thought about it and reflected on it and felt it. I’d much rather have that reaction than a mediocre one.

On ambition:
I’m extremely ambitious. I never think that’s a bad word. Sometimes when it’s applied to a woman, there’s a dash of the derogatory. But I think I’m a good writer, so it doesn’t bother me that that’s what I want to be ambitious about. I’m really not ambitious about anything else; I’m a huge failure at most things I try to do. I’m taking piano lessons right now, and my brain cannot wrap around it. Ambition is why I’ve been able to get to where I am. And I’m never apologetic about where I am because I worked my ass off to get here.

On doing less:
So, 2022 was my year of not getting it done. We got the kids back to school after the shock of homeschooling. Previous to that, I’d been showrunning and doing two movies, and I ran out of brain. I would sit in front of the computer with the cursor blinking and almost cry. I was emotionally and physically exhausted, and I’d never really had that happen before. It was both unnerving and really cool. I was like, I’m just gonna be a sloth for a bit and binge-watch whatever I want and read in the bathtub for hours! I avoided work. Writing felt very hard. What I learned from that is to be a little easier on myself. It was more personal than a career thing.

On unwinding:
I have a very specific ritual because I’m usually in the minds of humans who are very dark, and I don’t want to take that upstairs with me because I have a husband and two children who are waiting for a normal human being to come up. (My office is in the basement, so I literally ascend to the regular world, to the domestic part of my house.) I want to be Gillian and mom at that point, and not the monster writer, angry, sad person that I’ve often been all day. So I take 30 minutes at about 5 p.m. when I stop writing and try to do something that makes me happy. I love watching old-school, golden-age-of-Hollywood dancing, so I’ll watch Gene Kelly or Donald O’Connor do a number from Singin’ in the Rain, which always makes me so happy. I have a serious crush on Donald O’Connor, but I don’t think it’s going to work out because he’s passed on.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

How Author Gillian Flynn Gets It Done