Meet Anne T. Donahue
Anne T. Donahue is a writer and the author of NOBODY CARES, a book that we care about very much. We interviewed her about everything from work rituals to how to strategically slot in your post-sandwich nap.
Tell us a little bit about what you do and why you do it?
I write a lot! Most of the time, actually! But I also hang out on panels and chat onstage and host events and screenings and Q&As when somebody asks me to. Mainly, I do things I love and I do them because if I couldn't or didn't, I'd probably combust. Also, I'm qualified only to have this job. Or, maybe more specifically, I'm qualified only to be myself. I'm a complete failure at being anything else.
How do you get ready to start working? What does "the zone" look like?
Let me just say that when I was in high school, a friend was dating a guy who started staring at someone he hated when they were all at Golden Griddle. And my friend just kept asking, "What are you doing? Who are you looking at?" And he wouldn't answer. And finally after they left, he got super mad in the parking lot and said, "You can't talk to me when I'm in the zone!" Which I think about all the time, but especially now.
Anyway! Every day is different. I love a routine, but my routine has to change a little bit or I begin to feel a little claustrophobic. No matter what, I wake up, usually have a headache because that's what being an adult is, check my email on my phone, check Twitter and Instagram, then make a coffee. (Instant, because I'm lazy and a child.) I've learned that I tend to work a bit better if I begin right out of the gate; if while drinking my first cup, I'm also getting back to editors or writing a piece or crossing things off my to-do list. It's almost like as soon as I get ready for my actual day, I just want to nap. So I try and pour as much productivity into the morning as possible so that if after getting ready and eating lunch, I can take a little nap or read a book I've been sent or do only super mundane tasks.
So I guess my Zone looks like unnecessary chaos. I try to cram as much work into about three hours when I get hungry for lunch and then tell myself I will get even more done after I've bought a sandwich at the grocery store. This is a lie! I am a liar! I lie to myself constantly! But the panic of being like, "I still have to write an essay and I accidentally just had a post-sandwich stress nap!" usually ensures I reach my deadlines because I start working faster -- kind of like how everybody at Dunder-Mifflin works better after Michael Scott makes them watch Varsity Blues. But I also recently instilled a new rule! I can make evening/night plans, but no daytime fun plans (minus exceptions). So there's an immediate deadline. Office hours give me structure, and then within that structure, I operate like a mad woman.
Tell us about any work rituals you have.
Oddly, doing laundry? If I'm really bogged down and feeling overwhelmed, I'll do a load of laundry so I feel like I'm being productive. Or I'll do the dishes. Or I'll tidy up or Swiffer. I like to create the illusion of how capable I am! Today I re-folded my jeans and took the garbage to the chute. Also, starting my day with the stupidest tasks on my list ("RSVP to screening!") makes me think I have! it! going! on! So then something daunting feels manageable. Or a little more manageable. Or like it's my only choice because I've done the million things I padded my planner with and I need to be competent for real.
It also depends on where I am. If I'm at my apartment and it's nice outside, I'll work on my balcony and hang with the pink flamingos and look at the river and pretend I'm on vacation. If I'm at my parents', I'll work at the kitchen table so I have access to coffee and snacks. Or, I'll work at the desk in my room there, which is new! I got it for my birthday this year because I've learned from two winters living alone that nothing is more depressing than sitting at your dining room table, by yourself, writing into the night because the sun sets at like, 2:30. My family lives so close that I figured I might as well create as many spaces as possible where I can work and avoid isolating myself in total darkness like a vampire. Plus, I like my family. And there's a cat (named Barry) there!
What are three items you absolutely need in your workspace?
My phone! Or I will perish. A beverage, usually sparkling water. To be honest, I've gotten really off coffee (outside of the first one of the day) this year. I have one in the morning, but then my next caffeine fix will be iced tea or Coke or something. Coffee's too . . . harsh? Or something? Anyway, this is clearly a life change that I'm working through. But the last thing? Hm. Oh, my planner! Which includes pens and highlighters and stickers, as everything is colour-coded because I'm psychotic. I need the illusion of controlling every tiny thing about my life (and preferably also the lives of others), and my planner fulfills that need.
If there's one defunct magazine you could bring back to life, which one would it be and why?
Is it embarrassing to say Seventeen? That was the first "cool" magazine I read! I loved it so much! But I'd want the 90s-era version of Seventeen. Which is probably because I'm using nostalgia as a coping mechanism to get through the days. I hate myself for getting rid of my old magazines. But I'm a Virgo who has no emotional attachment to 98% of items, so when I start cleaning out closets and drawers, I am ruthless.
You're a big TV person and I love that about you, I often try to spot a pattern when you share what you're watching. Is this something you do before work, after work, to wind down, does it aid the writing process? Hinder it?
Okay, so if I ever post what I'm watching during the day, I've probably put something on that I think I can work with in the background and I am 100% wrong. Like, this week I put on Dazed and Confused because it's a summer movie and it feels like summer and I was ready to fall into a pile of nostalgia. But also, I had a deadline. So I completely fucked up that deadline by spending way too much time watching Dazed and Confused. I know this is a thing I do, but I will do it again and nothing's going to stop me.
So I guess we can say that daytime watching hinders the process. Because I stop the process altogether (or write like, one sentence in an hour) while telling myself that I can totally handle being distracted by one of my favourite movies or TV shows.
But if I post something at night, I'm usually not working. I don't like to work too much at night because I can move too quickly into "unhealthy work habits territory," so whatever I'm watching is usually to unwind or recharge or forget or fall asleep. I mean, there are obviously exceptions and sometimes I'll take a day off and work at night, but there needs to be a little bit of a reprieve somewhere. Right now, I'm re-watching Bake Off because it's a source of joy and beauty. I've found the busier I am, the more I need my "recharge" choices to be nothing to do with my life -- like, they can't be comedies I love or great dramas (those I'll catch up on over a Saturday/Sunday morning) because I'll think about them too much. It has to be TV with no stakes. I love all the bakers, don't get me wrong, but I'm not watching and thinking, "Oh shit, what an amazing joke" or "Ah! This series arc is incredible!" Which keeps my brain wired instead of lulling it to sleep like a tiny child.
You have to share a desk with three people dead or alive. Who would you choose and why?
Well frankly I would rather be one of the dead people (more specifically, a ghost) in this scenario because the idea of sharing a desk makes me feel anxious about how messy everybody but me is. But! I would choose . . . hm. Rihanna! Because I think she works the hardest and even if her desk was messy, it would make sense and add to the creative process. (Like you know every paper has a purpose.) Also, I would like to be all, "WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON!!!!" over and over so she'd have to eventually give in and tell me because I'd get so annoyed that she'd be desperate for me to just shut up. So I'd become her confidant, and then inevitably learn through that position that she plans to flee our shared desk because I'm just too much. Which I would understand because it's true.
WHO ELSE. Hm. Reese Witherspoon, because I'm convinced we're equally Type-A and would both get an inordinate amount of work done with no bullshit involved. Also, I want her to be my friend because she's Reese Witherspoon. In grade 12 I actually got my haircut like her look in Sweet Home Alabama which was nothing short of tragic because I do not have her hair, I do not look good in short hair, and I didn't have a stylist at my disposal every day to ensure I didn't look like a 17-year-old weirdo convinced people were mistaking her for Reese.
And Harry Styles. I like having a work crush and while I don't know what he'd do at the desk per say, it would break up the day because I'd spend at least a few hours weekly making him fall in love with me. And honestly I deserve this.
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
I just finished I'll Have What She's Having by Erin Carlson about how Nora Ephron changed the rom-com game, and it was the BEST. Watching? I just started Crashing because I'm trying to learn how to be Phoebe Waller-Bridge through osmosis. And what else. Oh! Sabrina the Teenage Witch! It is very comforting to watch something from 1996 while making a list of all the pieces you want from the Gap.
DID YOU KNOW "Basic Bitch" was a term inspired by me?
Oh, and listening! Kacey Musgraves and this new playlist I made, in which every song is of the "YOU CAN DO IT!!!" variety. I love an anthem.
The e-email jargon you hate the most?
Honestly, if you don't use an exclamation point in your email I will assume we are enemies and begin plotting accordingly. Even just a "Hey!" or "Thanks!" Like, what the fuck? Are you afraid of seeming not-terrible?
Also, shut up with "best" and "regards" and any send-off other than, "Thanks!" or "Cool!" or "Let me know!" Imagine I said "BEST REGARDS" to you in-person? You'd smear a hamburger all over my face and I'd deserve it.
What are three things on your current to-do list?
WELL DON'T MIND IF I LOOK. Okay, so I've separated some columns. I'm going to spare you the list of bills I need to pay, but right now I've got "Pitch [various outlets]", the name of a piece I've got to start and movie I have to watch, and I have to invoice. So to answer your question: my to-do list is so boring I will need to take a post-sandwich nap after revisiting it with you.