Aidan Donnelley Rowley is a novelist, the founder of the Happier Hours Literary Salons, and the author of the blog Ivy League Insecurities. The middle of five sisters, Aidan was born and raised in New York City, graduated from Yale University, and received her law degree from Columbia University. Aidan lives in New York City with her husband and three young daughters, whom she’s dubbed the Rowlets.
I met Aidan when I started volunteering at her Happier Hours Literary Salons a few years ago, “The salon was inspired by the theory that fostering opportunities for real life connection in our increasingly digital world makes us all happier.” Happier Hours Literary Salons are monthly get-togethers featuring contemporary writers in intimate conversations about their work. Aidan started Happier Hours in New York City and they’ve expanded to Los Angeles. As a writer, I’ve always been interested in the process of writing and publishing a novel, so I reached out to Aidan to feature her in a Career Profile.
Aidan Donnelley Rowley
Congratulations on your newest book, The Ramblers! I can’t wait to read it! What was the inspiration behind The Ramblers?
Thank you! New York City, where I was born and raised and am now raising my three daughters, was the true inspiration for The Ramblers and ultimately the book is a love letter to my beloved hometown. The story, which takes place over just one week, explores the pulse and pace of this incomparable town, the idea that so much can change so quickly.
What was the inspiration for your first novel, Life After Yes?
I was inspired to write Life After Yes, a story about professional and romantic commitment, because of questions I was asking in my twenties. What do I want in a partner? What do I want in a career? What is happiness and what does it look like?
You worked as an associate at a big corporate law firm before leaving to write full-time. What was your experience as an associate like?
I didn’t practice law for very long – about a year and a half – but my time at the law firm was actually quite positive and pleasant. I enjoyed my colleagues and clients and the stories I witnessed and lived in this high-wattage professional world, but ultimately found that I was far more interested in writing fiction than in practicing law.
I’m sure every single day is different, but what is a “typical” day like for you?
There are no “typical” days and I love this. Each day is a puzzle of sorts where I’m trying to piece together writing time with my girls and my husband. If I am in serious writing or editing mode, I wake up very early, around 4:30 am. The rest of the day is a race between my kids’ two schools and other commitments. I carry my laptop everywhere to squeeze in writing when I can.
When did you first realize that you loved writing?
I’ve always loved writing and my mother (who taught me to write) insists that I used to scribble short stories in the back of our station wagon when I was very young. I credit my lawyering stint, albeit short-lived, with making me realize that I wanted to be a writer though. For some reason, it wasn’t until I was in my sky-scraper office, poring through documents, that I realized what I wanted to do with my life.
What have you learned about yourself as a result of blogging and writing novels?
This is one of my favorite parts of writing, the self-discovery bit. I have learned how central questions and conversation are to my sense of happiness and well-being. Most of my blog posts are about questions that are important to me, questions about identity and time, purpose and place, friendship and family, life and love. And certainly both of my novels are all about the questions and conversations that crop up in life between thoughtful, flawed, seeking characters.
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of writing and blogging?
A continued challenge for me is drawing the line between meaningful vulnerability and privacy. I believe in honesty and telling hard stories, but I also value protecting my privacy and that of my family. There are so many rewards of writing and blogging, really too many to count, but one well worth mentioning: the connection. Connecting with others through my writing, forging real relationships with people I’d otherwise never meet, has been such a gift.
What advice do you have for other aspiring novelists?
Keep going. If you love writing – and I believe that you must – keep plugging away. There will be tough days, days where you don’t write a word, but sitting down to face the blank page or screen, is such an important part of the process. Consistency is half the battle.
One of the things I love so much about your blog, Ivy League Insecurities, is how honest and open you are about your life. Your posts resonate and help people who are going through similar experiences. As a blogger, I sometimes struggle with talking about my personal life and deciding what to keep public and private. What advice do you have for writing personal content and deciding what to share?
Deciding what to share is such a personal thing and often so hard. I feel comfortable sharing more vulnerable bits about myself, but only if I feel like I can do so without hurting others or affecting their privacy. The way I look at it is that I made this choice to be a writer and to expose certain aspects of my life, but my family and friends did not choose to be exposed or to have their stories told. All of this said, I think vulnerability and sharing personal stories can be so richly rewarding and important.
We met because I started helping at your Happier Hours Literary Salons. They are so magical, especially for an avid writer and reader. What inspired you to start Happier Hours?
Thank you! I started my Happier Hours Literary Salons because I was a new writer and about to publish my first novel and I wanted to engage with other writers and book-lovers. I was also deep in the trenches of new motherhood and found myself craving more intellectual discussions about books and ideas that were missing at that time in my life.
What is the most important characteristic for novelists to have?
A vast imagination. It’s no small feat to create a whole new world!
You are also a native New Yorker. What are some of your favorite spots in the city?
Far too many to list, but Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History – both of which feature prominently in The Ramblers – are at the very top of my list. These places have been dear to me my whole life.
What are you reading now?
I just finished Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, which is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.
What is on your desk now?
Books. Always books. A glass hummingbird paperweight. A cucumber candle. Three decorative rocks, each with a word on it. Luck. Wisdom. Bravery. Also a framed print that says: Change Your Life.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Do what you love.
Thank you Aidan! Loved learning more about Aidan? Read her newest book, The Ramblers.
Image of Aidan Donnelley Rowley by Elena Seibert