How I Write: Thisbe Nissen
Published: November 19, 2001
|With The Good People of New York, her first published novel, Thisbe Nissen has impressed critics with her discerning eye and smart, sassy voice. The novel is several stories in one--an absorbing tale of marriage, divorce, relationships, adolescence and coming of age in New York City. Among Nissen's strengths are vivid characters and an impressive emotional sensitivity that yields dead-on observations of teenage angst; a husband with emotions "so masked in a lifetime of politeness they'd lost the ability to affect him anymore"; a woman who reclaims her largely ignored Judaism and wears "her freshly excavated piety like a new blouse from Bendel's." Nissen grew up in Manhattan, graduated from Oberlin College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and was a James Michener Fellow. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.|
Credits: Novel, The Good People of New York (2001, Knopf); short story collection, Out of the Girls' Room and into the Night (Anchor), which won the 1999 John Simmons Short Fiction Award.
Why: I write to make sense of the world around me, to sort through and distill what I take in, trying to understand it. I've often had the sense that something isn't real until I write it down. Writing is one of the only things that has ever just made intuitive sense to me; it's how I process the world.
How: Sometimes I write longhand--stories seem doable in longhand; sometimes I work on a computer--it's easier to handle the bulk of a novel on a word processor. Mostly, I try to let whatever's coming just flood its way out, and then I deal with the mess later. I like mess. You can find a lot of good nuggets in the junkyard. Once I've got something, I just keep working it over until I've reached that precarious place where I think maybe it's good, and I think that it's going to lose whatever glimmer of hope it has if I muck with it anymore. Then I try to make myself stop futzing. I find that if I'm too sure of where I'm going with something, then I don't have much interest in going there. The discovery is what's exciting.
When and where: I'm not one of those writers who adheres to a strict schedule, though sometimes I wish I were. I write when something inside me needs to get written. Since writing really is the way I make sense of the world, and since the world rarely makes much sense on its own, I find I can write pretty much anywhere, anytime.
Ideas: Ideas are everywhere! I'm baffled by so many things I encounter in a normal day, it always feels like I've got more ideas than I could ever actually manage to grapple with and get written down.
Advice: Just write! I think one of the most inspiring things I've ever read about writing is in an essay by Gloria Anzaldua. She says: "Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don't let the pen banish you from yourself."
Photograph by Sandra L. Dyas
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