Florian Schneider - Live First, Write Later (Novelist)


I find inspiration in my inner demons and my pain. Sounds very histrionic, I’m aware, but as anyone who’s ever made the effort to read Marcel Proust will know it always seem to be the darker periods of our lives that make us grow and learn, and rarely the more blithe and carefree ones.

1. Tell us more about your background and journey.

I grew up in Germany. I don’t mean for the following statement to sound self-pitying, but I think I can safely claim to’ve been a rather recalcitrant—and sometimes bullied—oddball who never quite fit in; not in my school, nor in my hometown or country, and, as it eventually turned out, not even on my continent. 

After high school, I eschewed any further formal education and set out with grand ambitions to become a self-taught photo journalist—with less than moderate success. After a few of years of traveling around and failing to get any publication credits in big magazines or newspapers, I ended up becoming a commercial photographer in, first, London, England, then Los Angeles. In the past two decades, I’ve shot ad- and PR campaigns for most major American TV networks, as well as many advertising agencies and music labels. 

2. When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

It was a gradual process, one that started with a vague desire to tell stories that are deeper, more profound somehow, than the kind that can be put into one photographic image at a time. After many years through which I’ve lived a quite nomadic and unstable life, I find myself compelled to spend my years from hereon out more settled-down while trying to assess and analyze the myriad of mental stimuli I have received—and, by virtue of my youthful cluelessness back then, probably not fully understood—throughout my younger years by incorporating them into my books.

3. Is it a financially stable career?

Writing as a career is about as financially stable as are all creative pursuits, like acting, painting or singing: a fortunate few—not all of whom, to put it mildly, are necessarily the most talented ones—manage to get rich with their respective craft, whereas the vast majority does not. I’m most certainly not the first person to advise that wanting to be a writer (or artist) should come from a place of deep desire to express oneself, not with the predominant objective to make lots of money with it. If the latter happens to turn out to be the case, splendid, but it should not be the first priority, or else one sets oneself up for disappointment or, much worse, mediocrity. 

4. Who is your favourite writer and why?

If you asked me that question on ten different days, you’d probably get ten different answers, depending on my daily mood. However, the American author Bob Shacochis would be among the first who leap to mind. His novels are sweeping, intricate, filled with heady prose, and—a crucial element for me to consider any book worth reading—always capable of showing me an aspect of the human condition and the world I hadn’t previously known or thought about. 

5. Where does your inspiration lie?

Are you ready for an old cliché—which, like so many old clichés, springs from the truth? I find inspiration in my inner demons and my pain. Sounds very histrionic, I’m aware, but—as anyone who’s ever made the effort to read Marcel Proust will know—it always seem to be the darker periods of our lives that make us grow and learn, and rarely the more blithe and carefree ones. 

The good news—at least for me—is the fact that I have ultimately reached a state of being truly happy and fulfilled, although this took some time: after having spent many years struggling with abysmal loneliness, depression and anxiety, I met my incredible wife—who, after growing up under, shall we say, less-than-stellar circumstances in 1960s/70s Mexico, and being completely on her own since well before she was of legal age, has found success in the United States without a shred of outside help—which completely turned my life around. 

So now I can sit and spend the (hopefully still) second half of my time on this planet writing from a place of happiness while utilizing my earlier tribulations as fodder for my (sometimes vaguely semi-autobiographical) tales.

6. What piece of advice would you like to give to future aspiring writers?

At the risk of sounding trite because I’m sure this has been said many times before: Live first, write later. If you’re young and aspire to become a writer with authority and depth, be curious; travel if you have the chance, meet as many people from as many different backgrounds as you can, explore cultures, ways of life, and vantage points other than your own, and try to gain a deeper understanding of the world and its inhabitants. Hone your sense of empathy—your ability to see ‘the other side’ and understand their views—which I find to be the most important skill for any novelist. 

7. Which is your favourite book and why?

It’s impossible for me to pick one favorite book. However, the contenders for the top spot are invariably the kinds of books that expand my horizon, teach me a new angle I had never before considered, and dare to be in the vanguard. 

I’m noticing that the older I get—and thus the less time I have left—the less I’m interested in wasting time with petty things. Eleanor Roosevelt said that great minds discuss ideas while average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. I’m nowhere near arrogant enough to think of myself as a great mind, but I will continue to aspire to become something vaguely reminiscent of one. Not mere recollections of events, nor gossip about people—and certainly not things—are what interest me. It is ideas, and any book that shows me new ones is bound to be a favorite of mine.

Florian Schneider ( Novelist)

- Interviewed By Pratibha Sahani