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Lesley Arfin is everything any aspiring writer wants to be. She’s stylish, smart, funny, a little punk, and a lot NYC. She almost reminds you of a younger version of Californication’s Hank Moody. You might recognize her from her mega popular Vice column turned book “Dear Diary“. She’s also contributed to Street Carnage, Thought Catalog, Jezebel, Nylon, and many more of your favorite publications. But most recently you would find Arfin in the writing room for HBO’s “Girls“, the Lena Dunham created sensation that nobody can stop talking about. Read on for an interview with Lesley, and you will start to understand why we consider her one of the best writers working today.

Serial Optimist: Hey Lesley! Are you more of an optimist, pessimist, or realist, and why?

Lesley Arfin: Optimist because why not? Life is beautiful.

SO: Agreed! You graduated from Hampshire College. Tell us a little bit about who you were in college, what kind of things you were into, and what you aspired to be at the time.

Lesley: I was: drunk, fat, insecure, funny, addicted, dramatic, poetic, more drunk, more fat. I was into “Strangers With Candy” and karaoke and my friend Jesse Pearson who I looked up to. We thought we were cool (we were). I aspired to move to New York City and be a writer (I did!).

SO: As far as professional writing, would you consider your column “Dear Diary” for Vice your first real big break?

Lesley: Absolutely.

SO: What was the process like having “Dear Diary” transition into a book? That must have been a dream come true.

Lesley: It was exactly that! A true dream. I was sick of doing the column every month but had this idea for how to turn it into a book as sort of closure. Vice had coincidentally just teamed up with MTV Books so it was perfect timing. I will never forget that experience and am grateful for it everyday.

SO: Do you remember the first article, or first anything you wrote, that you finished and thought, “Wow. This is really good. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Lesley: Yes. My first article was about a fashion label called “Imitation of Imitation of Christ,” which I thought was really funny. There was a big art scene in New York during the early 2000’s and things were usually very sarcastic, ironic, dirty, offensive–all that kind of stuff. Imitation Of Christ was a label started by Tara Subkoff and Matt Damhave who were very ‘on the scene,’ but then there was this secret team called IOIOC that sort of made fun of what they were doing, which was great because IOC was making fun of what that fashion industry was doing, but in doing that, they became very fashion-y and not as subversive. This was my first published article ever, it was in Vice. I had turned them on to these guys, which made me feel cool because I assumed Vice knew everything that was cool. In all fairness, they did know a lot more than I did, they just happened to not know about this.

Gavin edited it of course, which was my first taste of “WTF have you done to my work you asshole?” which was a wonderful lesson. I’m making this answer long because I haven’t thought about it in so long. I was so happy when it came out. I didn’t tell anyone in my family either. I was so happy it was embarrassing for me. Imagine that?

SO: How do you think social media has changed the process and development of writers? You’ve written for some stellar websites, do you credit online media to your success to some degree? I think it’s a great platform for aspiring writers to use, but some seem to believe it makes a lot of people just think they can write, without actually picking up books and reading, or getting an education, you know, the old school way. What are your thoughts?

Lesley: Hmm well, yes I absolutely credit online media for some, if not most of my success. Magazines like Vogue or Vanity Fair weren’t going to hire me to write, my skills were not of that caliber. Before the Internet that’s all there was, pitching to different print magazines that came out once a month. It was very competitive and I was never a good journalist anyhow. The internet has created a space for writers like me, this weird world that’s not (only) fiction or news. Writers who are poets but not poets at all. A new genre maybe? What a wonderful time it was when I started my first blog (it was on diaryland.com <http://diaryland.com> ). And websites put out content every day rather than once a month. So work, although not as lucrative, became plentiful. I was “in demand” as a writer which never would have happened in the print world. I was a “Vice writer.” The only place for me then sadly was Vice (they paid like a penny a word).

One thing I don’t believe in is writing for free. Just like the screenwriters guild, I wish there was a union for print and web writers. It lowers the standard of information when a site or magazine doesn’t have to pay a writer. Why would someone hire me for $100 per post when someone else will do it for free? Sure, they’ll do a shittier job, but it will be gone in 15 minutes anyway. It’s all for advertising and “hits.” There’s a union for everyone else, why not us?

Now I don’t care if people “think they can write”. What’s the difference? If you write, you write. If you write well, you write well. So you never read Moby Dick? Cool, me either, who cares? If writing was based on how much or what we read, or “old school education”, I guess I wouldn’t be a “real” writer. Maybe the Notorious B.I.G. wouldn’t be either. What’s the difference between “acting confident” and actually just being confident? There is none. Same with writing. There’s no need to snob it up.



SO: Well said, perfect, actually. “Girls”. Wow. Just truly so good, the first season is amazing. How did you become involved with Lena Dunham and the show?

Lesley: I have an agent, Dan Shear, who kept encouraging me to write a pilot, saying it was the only way I would ever get a job on TV and start making more money. So, full of fear, I slowly started to write one. It wasn’t good. When I heard Lena was doing “Girls” (I loved Tiny Furniture), I started writing that pilot in a frenzy. With lots of notes and revisions I submitted it, as well as Dear Diary and some essays. I got the job. Getting that call was one of the happiest moments of my life! I couldn’t dream up a show I would rather work on.

SO: Can you describe what the writer’s room is like on “Girls”?

Lesley: Picture a UN conference with better snacks.

SO: Do you have a favorite episode of the first season?

Lesley: It’s a tie between “Vagina Panic” and “A Party In Bushwick aka The Crackcident”.

SO: What are some of your current blogs or online publications, and what websites do you check out most frequently?

Lesley: I mostly try to contribute to Rookie, Hello Giggles, Street Carnage, and Thought Catalog. My most frequented websites are Twitter, Deadline, and Netflix.

SO: Who are some of your must-follow people on Twitter?

Lesley: @lenadunham, @campsucks, @shinyunicorn, @debschonthego, @paulrust, @humblebrag, @jakefogelnest, @whitelightning, @katearfin, @imaliwaller, @albz, @williamstrobeck, @brillapalooza, @chrissiemiller fuck I know I’m forgetting people. All the real pithy funny people you already know. Twitter is annoying. I really only write on it, barely read it.

SO: What song are you playing on repeat at the moment?

Lesley: You & Me” by Penny and the Quarters.

SO: An all-time favorite of mine. Describe your perfect NYC day and night.

Lesley: Buying something and not feeling bad, reading at dusk, walking to meet my friends for dinner and hanging out doing nothing. It’s always summer. 84 degrees. A lot of good jokes are happening. No showers. All love. Nice breeze to fall asleep into clean sheets and a 24-hour marathon of the Real Housewives or something.


SO Note: Check out lesleyarfin.com and follow her @lesleyarfin.