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7 Things I Learned at Tea with 'Everybody Rise' Author Stephanie Clifford

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As a young female professional in the field of print media, there are a lot of things that I dream of one day accomplishing. Like reporting for The New York Times, publishing a novel, and starting a family, to name a few examples. Recently, I was invited to an afternoon of blowouts and champagne at Drybar followed by afternoon tea at The Plaza with Stephanie Clifford—a woman who has already achieved all of these goals. 

After Stephanie graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, she went on to become a senior writer at Inc. Magazine. Stephanie then joined The New York Times staff in 2008, where the Loeb-award winning reporter is still employed. She now lives in Brooklyn with her family (her husband, young son and two cats) and has successfully managed to balance motherhood, reporting for the Times and writing her soon-to-be-released novel, Everybody Rise.

Between bites of delicious éclairs, macarons and tarts, we discussed Stephanie's new novel, her experience as both a reporter and a novelist, and her advice for ambitious young women hoping to follow in her footsteps. Here are a few of the major things I learned during our conversation. 

1. Everybody Rise is one of those books that you just can't put down

I was sent a copy of Everybody Rise about a week before meeting Stephanie for afternoon tea, and I can tell you firsthand, I did not even need that long to devour this book. I read the whole thing in one day while soaking up the sun at the shore, and it was the perfect beach read. The story draws you in, and you can't stop reading—you just have to know what happens!

"Everybody Rise is a book about fitting in and figuring out who you are," Stephanie explained over cucumber sandwiches. "It follows a 26-year-old named Evelyn. She's from Maryland, she moves to New York and is trying to find her place here. She ends up thinking she's found it when she falls in with this old money set-driven job. In order to fit in there, she begins lying—she changes the way she dresses, she changes the makeup she wears, she changes her hair. The lies get bigger and bigger until she has to reckon with the sort of made-up life she's come up with." 

Basically, if you loved Edith Wharton's House of Mirth (or if you were obsessed with Gossip Girl), then you should read this book ASAP. 

2. It's all too easy to get caught up in trying to prove yourself to others

In the novel, Evelyn desperately tries to gain acceptance from an old-money crowd and to prove to them that she's worthy of being a part of their world. In Stephanie's bio, she mentions that as the class of the "new rich" became more prevalent, social anxiety has heightened to new levels. When I asked her if she thought that led to a lot of people mismanaging their money to try to play catch-up with the old-money crowd, Stephanie said absolutely. "I think especially when you're trying to show who you are through what you're wearing or through the brands you're associating yourself with, which Evelyn does try to do, you can get caught up in it really, really easily, as she does," Stephanie said. "She starts spending, and spending, and spending." 

But of course, this isn't something that is just specific to Manhattan. "Even if it's not New York high society, we've all had that moment where we're trying to be somebody we're not or trying to fit in with a clique that's not really for us." 

3. Everybody has to start somewhere 

Stephanie may have achieved levels of success that young writers (like myself) only dream about, but when she first arrived in New York City after graduating from Harvard, she wasn't quite where she wanted to be. "I definitely felt like an outsider," Stephanie said. "When I came to New York, I had a really hard time. I couldn't get a job for two years. I was barely making rent. I didn't have enough money to go out with my friends. I felt like I didn't see that reflected anywhere—in stories like Sex and the City, it was like, 'Cities are so glamorous. They're so easy.'" 

Photo Credit: Elena Seibert Photography

4. If you want to write a novel, find time to work on it every day

The idea of balancing motherhood with a full-time career as a successful reporter is enough to make most women's jaws drop. But to write a novel on top of all of those major responsibilities? It's almost unheard of. When I asked Stephanie how she managed to balance all of these endeavors, her answer surprised me. 

"My advice is to fit it into everyday life. When I started this and put it aside, I kept being like, 'Well, if I'm going to write, I need a summer off. I need, you know, a cabin somewhere where I can really write.' That's just not feasible for most of us," Stephanie answered. "So squeezing it into daily life actually took some of the pressure off, because I did have a job—I wasn't dependent on this for money." 

But when did she possibly find the time to work on her novel every day, between caring for her child and reporting for the Times? "For me, the only free time I had was two hours a day, and that's not a lot for writing. For a reporter, the most predictable time is early morning," Stephanie said. "I just started to figure out what window I could predict. I realized if I had to get up every morning and decide if I wanted to write, I wouldn't do it. So my deal with myself was I just had to sit there for two hours. If I didn't do anything, if I stared at the ceiling, that was fine. That just sort of took the choice out of it. It became a habit and set up the space to be creative." 

5. You should also make a specific space for yourself to be creative 

Stephanie talked about how when she started writing her novel, sometimes she would also have to work on things for the Times from home—so she just put her laptop on her lap and did her work from there. But she started to realize that she needed the space where she wrote her novel to feel different from the space where she completed her usual work from home. She knew she needed to make a specific space for herself where she could feel inspired to write her novel.

"So, I put some plants in the window, and I faced the window," Stephanie said. "I would make sure never to do Times stuff in that particular spot. I would actually turn my chair around if I was working on Times stuff, so that it would be a serene and a saved creative space."

6. The biggest difference between reporting and writing a novel is the pace 

At this point, Stephanie has written for plenty of different mediums. From editing Harvard's school paper to writing for Inc. Magazine to reporting for The New York Times and now writing a novel, she has tried her hand at all different kinds of writing. When I asked her what the differences between these mediums were for her, she offered a simple answer. 

"The pace is the biggest difference. When I went from the monthly magazine to a daily newspaper, that first month, you just don't know what's happening. It's writing a story a day basically," Stephanie answered. "With a novel, it's much more drawn out. You're doing it at your own pace. You're not on a deadline."

However, Stephanie did find a few similarities between these mediums. "A lot of the attention to dialogue is the same. I think because I was used to listening to people talk and writing it down, that was helpful in terms of the dialogue in this book."

7. You'll know you've made it when you see someone reading your book on the subway

Some days, writing can be hard. Inspiration can elude you and you can face writer's block that inhibits you from making progress on the novel that you've been working hard on for months, or in Stephanie's case, even years. During those days, what was the moment that Stephanie thought about to inspire herself to keep moving forward? Was it the thought of reading the letter announcing that she had been published? Was it the image of her book in the store? Nope. 

"It was seeing it on the subway," Stephanie said with a laugh. "I always have a 30-minute commute, and I always have a book in my hand. I miss my stop because I'm reading. I always thought, 'If this becomes a book one day, I will see it on the subway, and that will be the coolest thing.'" 

There you have it, collegiettes! When you buy Everybody Rise once it is released on August 18, read it on your morning commute and you might just make Stephanie Clifford's day. 

Or, instead of buying it yourself, enter below to win a free copy of Everybody Rise now!Everybody Rise Giveaway


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