Sarah Knight is the internationally bestselling author of the No F*cks Given Guides, a series of humorous, profane, and practical self-help books that includes The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, Get Your Sh*t Together (and the Get Your Sh*t Together Journal), and You Do You. Prior to her career as an ‘anti-guru’, she was a book editor in New York City for fifteen years, working with authors such as James Lee Burke, Chris Cleave, Jessica Knoll, Rosamund Lupton, Jay Rayner, and many more. Today she lives in the Dominican Republic with her husband, two feral rescue cats, and a sh*tload of lizards.
As a huge fan of Sarah’s, it’s a real honour to interview her on the blog and this is one of the most (not surprisingly) inspiring interview of the entire series. What a woman!
Describe a typical day for you?
One of the greatest joys of my life—and benefits of having left the corporate world behind—is sleeping until the sleeping is done. Which means I don’t set an alarm unless I have something specific to do (and something important enough to have agreed to set an alarm for such as a podcast interview, a flight, or a boat trip. Whenever I get up, I put on the coffee, feed the cats, and spend about an hour checking/updating my social media feeds while caffeinating. Oh, who are we kidding? Two hours.
If I have a book to write, I usually work for four or five hours on that, mix my customary 4:00pm Aperol spritz, and keep going for an hour or so while the ‘talent juice’ does its thing. I tend to wait until evening to shower, as I get a bit sticky working outside all day on the terrace. Then, either my husband cooks dinner—he’s quite the chef—or we go out with friends, ideally in time to watch a glorious sunset from our favourite beach bar. I spend as much time outdoors as possible to take advantage of the weather in the Dominican Republic, where we moved (from NYC) in early 2016.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
I’m proud of having graduated first in my class in a small, rural town and being admitted to Harvard University, and of having been elected the first female president of Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals while I was there. The successes I achieved in my career as a book editor were shared with the authors whose books I championed—among them Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, which was the bestselling debut novel in America in 2015. And of course my own books have made their mark; I’m thrilled to have joined the ranks of the authors I once edited.
But I also count leaving my editorial career behind to work for myself—and subsequently leaving New York behind to pursue a dream of living on a tropical island—as huge achievements. Not because they happen to have worked out really well, but because they were difficult and risky and brave decisions to make, and I made them anyway.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
Keys, phone, wallet, sunglasses, debit card, cherry ChapStick, at least three drugstore lip glosses, Neutrogena pressed powder, Advil, a phone charger, a packet of Imodium (I do live in a third world country…), and a bandanna to lay across plastic chairs and keep the backs of my legs from sticking when I’m wearing short-shorts.
What are your ambitions in life?
I want to live the life that makes me happy, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it—and quitting a really successful career to go freelance or leaving behind an objectively ‘fancy’ life in New York City to be sweaty, sandy, and clad almost exclusively in flip-flops and a sarong was certainly part of that. I want to be someone who does the right thing ethically and morally. I want to keep writing books. And I’m really hoping that someday these cats I rescued from the mean streets of Las Terrenas will be willing to sit in my lap and cuddle. So far, they remain wary.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
I was fortunate to know a lot about the publishing world by the time I wrote my first book, because I’d been working intimately with writers and agents and for major publishers for a decade-and-a-half. In fact, I probably knew at least a little bit about every part of the process except literally how it feels to put your butt in the seat and produce a book’s worth of words every day, on a deadline. That was a serious amount of pressure—especially with The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck,which I had to write in one month.
Probably the most valuable thing I learned wasn’t until I wrote my second book and felt like I could actually take a day off! The day after THAT was so ridiculously productive that I finally realized time away from a manuscript isn’t just an indulgence, but also necessary (for me, at least) to get some distance and regain some verve for the material. I guess what I’m saying is: don’t write a book in a month if you don’t have to, kids.
What helps you when self-doubt sets in (as it does for all of us)?
Ha, well, that’s usually the signal that it’s time for a day off! When I start to get paranoid that my editor doesn’t like something I’ve sent him or that readers won’t like the book I’ve been slaving over, I remind myself that if history is any guide, I’m probably in the clear. (I also remind myself that I’ve been here before, and those paranoid fears never amounted to anything.)
I’m a big fan of self-care, too. I suffer from anxiety and panic disorder, for which I take daily medication, but I’ve learned that I need to do more for myself when I’m feeling low—whether it’s looking at the ocean, eating a bag of Doritos, going to bed early, or zoning out on a lounge chair in the sun. I know what makes me feel good (or at least better), so when the internal alarm gets triggered, I engage in those activities. In my latest book, You Do You, I wrote about the time I smuggled a litter box into my corporate office, filled it with sand from a craft store, and put it under my desk so I could take off my shoes and put my feet on the ‘beach’ just to stay calm during the work day. If that isn’t dedication to self-care, I don’t know what is.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I kind of studiously avoid thinking about it, to be honest. I have a book contract that takes me through the next three or so years, so I know what I’ll be working on for a while, but that’s about it. I don’t have any desire to make a big physical move again any time soon, but I also live in a place that could easily be wiped out by a major hurricane—two category 5 storms barely, and I do mean barely missed our town last year—so who knows?
What advice would you give a budding author?
It’s important to relish the successes as they come—finishing a rough draft, polishing a proposal, getting an agent, getting a book deal, having your work valued by a publishing team, seeing the cover art come to fruition, etc. As an editor, I watched too many writers ignore these smaller achievements in favour of hoping to hit the New York Times bestseller list and then being gutted when they [almost inevitably] didn’t. Publishing is a business and career full of disappointments, so making the most of each milestone is good for morale.
Also: READ WIDELY. It’s so important to know what’s out there, what other writers are doing, what publishers are publishing, what readers are responding to. It can be difficult to focus on reading when you’re in the depths of your own manuscript, but take the time to do it—it will benefit you enormously in terms of learning craft, but also in terms of understanding the market into which you hope to publish. Believe me, you’re going to need it.
Finally, happiness is…
Freedom. Sunshine. A spritz in my hand and a cat on my lap.
Photo credit Alfredo Esteban Photography.
Excitingly, I also have the complete bundle of Sarah Knight’s bestselling books including: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F***, Get Your S*** Together, You Do You and Get Your S*** Together Journal, available for you to win worth £48.96.
They will LITERALLY change your life!
Ends at midnight on 4 August 2018.
No cash alternative.
If the winner doesn’t respond within 7 days of the email being sent, a new winner will be selected.