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Remembering Nora Ephron: Before all the Hollywood Success

Nora Ephron died yesterday at 71.

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In her career, she worked as a journalist before reinventing the modern romantic comedy (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally) while writing everything from novels and essays to stage plays.

WD is saddened by her passing, and our thoughts go out to her sister Hallie (who we have worked with over the years) and the rest of the Ephron family.

Here, in Nora's honor, are some of her words from an interview we did way back in 1974—when she was 32 and a successful freelancer, before all the Hollywood success that was to come.

Here’s how writer Rex Reed described her work back then: “Great, chunky spoonfuls served in tasty style by a fresh, inventive observer who stalks the phonies and cherubs alike, sniffing them out like a hungry tiger, clamping her pretty teeth down in all spots where it hurts the most, then leaving all of her victims better off than they were before they met Nora Ephron.”

 *

“Well, it’s just that my point of view happens to be faintly cynical or humorous—and just the way I see things and that’s how it comes out when I write it.

“You better make them care about what you think. It had better be quirky or perverse or thoughtful enough so that you hit some chord in them. Otherwise it doesn’t work. I mean we’ve all read pieces where we thought, Oh, who gives a damn.”

When asked about writer’s block, and what happens when she’s completely cold and stuck on a piece—
“I am never completely cold. I don’t have writer’s block really. I do have times when I can’t get the lead and that is the only part of the story which I have serious trouble with. I don’t write a word of the article until I have the lead. It just sets the whole tone—the whole point of view. I know exactly where I am going as soon as I have the lead. … But as for being cold—as a newspaper reporter you learn that no one tolerates you if you are cold. It’s one thing you are not allowed to be. It’s not professional. You have to turn the story in. There is no room for the artist.”

“I think that readers believe that a writer becomes friends with the people he interviews and writes about—and I think there are some writers who do that—but that hasn’t happened to me. I do think it’s dangerous because then you write the article to please them, which is a terrible error.”

When asked about her writing routine—
“I don’t have much of a routine. I go through periods where I work a great deal at all hours of the day whenever I am around a typewriter, and then I go through spells where I don’t do anything. I just sort of have lunch—all day. I never have been able to stick to a schedule. I work when there is something due or when I am really excited about a piece.”

When asked what her main distraction was—
“Life. I mean the main thing that distracts me is the pressure to go on with one’s life. That you have to stop to have lunch with someone or you have to take the cat to the vet …”

Her advice to young writers—
“First of all, whatever you do, work in a field that has something to do with writing or publishing. So you will be exposed to what people are writing about and how they are writing, and as important, so you will be exposed to people in the business who will get to know you and will call on you if they are looking for someone for a job.

“Secondly, you have to write. And if you don’t have a job doing it, then you have to sit at home doing it.”

*Special thanks to Dylan McCartney for his help on this post.

Zachary Petit is an award-winning journalist, the managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine, and the co-author of A Year of Writing Prompts: 366 Story Ideas for Honing Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block.

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