Writer Profile: Hannah Orenstein
We are beyond thrilled to launch 800 Words Writer Profiles!
In these profiles, we interview published authors with a full-time writing career, asking them about their writing process, advice, fun facts, and everything in between!
Our first profile is Hannah Orenstein, a writer and editor in New York. She is the author of Playing with Matches (2018, Touchstone Books), Love at First Like (forthcoming in 2019, Atria Books), and a third novel (forthcoming in 2020, Atria Books). She's also the senior dating editor at Elite Daily. Previously, she was an editor at Seventeen.com and a matchmaker at a dating service. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, New York Post, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, The Cut, Bustle, Refinery29, and more.
Ashton and I loved reading Playing with Matches, and we’re so excited to have Hannah with us here today! Enjoy this brief interview with your morning coffee, on your lunch break, or unwinding after work with a glass of wine. Happy reading :)
1. Have you had any definitive moments as a writer? Can you tell us the story (or stories)?
There have been a lot! Writing is a really long, solitary process, so I figured I'd really celebrate and enjoy every milestone along the way, no matter how small it was. I celebrated finishing my first 50 pages, my first draft, my second draft... by the time I landed my agent, I was sick of prosecco. But I don't regret doing that, because it felt good to honor the hard work I had done.
I recognize that this sounds silly, but it was hard for me to wrap my head around what it meant to have a book coming out. I love browsing book stores, and on a certain level, I must have realized that my book could eventually appear in some store someday. The day after my first book published, I went to the Barnes & Noble in my neighborhood with my parents and boyfriend so I could sign some copies. The moment I caught sight of my book on the new releases table, I burst into tears. I bawled for five straight minutes. I think that was the first time it really hit me that my book was out in the world.
One of the most meaningful moments for me was last July 4th weekend. My first novel, Playing with Matches, had come out less than two weeks earlier. I remember sitting on my couch, scrolling through Instagram, and seeing dozens of photos and messages from people reading my book on the beach. To me, there's literally nothing more enjoyable in the world than reading a great book outside on a beautiful summer day, and I felt so wonderfully overwhelmed when I realized that I was helping people have that experience.
That said, writing fiction is not all prosecco and happy tears. There was a moment when I thought Playing with Matches wasn't going to sell (more on that below). I was so unbelievably crushed. A few days later, I got together with another writer friend, and we started brainstorming a new project to co-write together. While that project didn't wind up panning out, I'm so grateful for that moment because it taught me that I wasn't just committed to one story idea — I could push through rejection and find joy in writing, no matter what.
2. What’s the worst story idea you’ve ever had?
Nothing specific is coming to mind, but for about a year after I finished writing Playing with Matches, I wrote nothing good. It's OK to have bad ideas! They pass eventually!
3. What's on your writing playlist?
I wrote PWM to a lot of intense, classical symphonies. I started writing my second novel, Love at First Like, to a lot of chill electronic music, but then I switched it up. Steamier scenes got smooth R&B, party scenes got party playlists!
4. What does your creative practice/process look like? Do you have a writing rhythm or routine?
Before I begin a project, I put together a document with descriptions of each character and chapter. This can take days or weeks to create, but it's so worth it, because it makes the rest of the writing process so seamless. Rather than frantically brainstorming plot twists when I'm exhausted at 11 pm on a Wednesday, I can simply check my outline and see what scene needs to come next.
I like to write on my couch with a cup of coffee. I know some people love coffee shops or coworking spaces, but personally, it's just easier for me to get started and write efficiently when I'm on my own at home — no distractions, no searching for an outlet when my laptop inevitably dies, no putting on pants to go outside, etc.!
5. What’s the best part about where you live?
Fun question! I put a lot of effort into designing my space, filling it with things that make me happy, and making it feel like a home that reflects my personality. I love my rainbow wall of books and the velvet couch I treated myself to celebrate my first book deal.
6. If you could go back two years and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
Two years ago, I had been out on submission with Playing with Matches for about three months. I had been rejected by 14 editors. My agent called and told me our last hope, the 15th editor, wasn't interested. She suggested that I move onto a different project. I felt as if I had poured my entire heart and soul — not to mention 18 months of sweat! — into this manuscript that just wasn't good enough. Worst of all, there was no real reason it wasn't working out; editor after editor just kept telling me it was "so close, but not right for me." I had no idea what to do with that feedback. While I eventually figured out a way forward (and my agent sent the manuscript to another editor who loved it and bought it!), I wish I could go back to that day and give myself a pep talk. A rejection of your work is not a rejection of you, the writer. There are a million reasons an agent or editor might say no to you, and not all of them are personal. They might have a similar project in the works, or they might read your rom-com on the day they got dumped, or who knows what else. A rejection simply means you haven't found the right agent or editor for you yet. Not every person is right for every project.
Hannah Orenstein is a writer and editor in New York. She is the author of Playing with Matches (2018, Touchstone Books), Love at First Like (forthcoming in 2019, Atria Books), and a third novel (forthcoming in 2020, Atria Books). She's also the senior dating editor at Elite Daily. Previously, she was an editor at Seventeen.com and a matchmaker at a dating service. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, New York Post, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, The Cut, Bustle, Refinery29, and more.