How I Write: Janet Fitch
Published: March 30, 2007
For Janet Fitch, the bestselling author of White Oleander, inspiration comes through, rather than before, the act of writing. Fitch writes with a raw intensity and grandeur that expresses her love of language and showcases the artistry with which she explores, as she puts it, "the richness of life." White Oleander, Fitch's first novel, published in 1999 when she was 43, became an Oprah's Book Club selection and later a movie. The major theme of her second novel, last year's Paint It Black, is, she says, "What happens to a dream when the dreamer is gone?" The 1980s post-punk era of Los Angeles (where the author lives) provides the backdrop for this accomplished novel. An artist's suicide is the catalyst at the heart of this tale of love, loss and transcendence. With lyrical precision and masterful shifts in time and perspective, Fitch chronicles the aftermath of the loss on the lives of two vastly different women.
In addition to her two novels, Fitch has published stories in literary journals such as Black Warrior Review, Rain City Review and A Room of One's Own.
I started writing because I was an unhappy, angry little kid who was ignored. I didn't like being ignored. I wanted people to see the world through my eyes. I write now because I love the beauty of this world, and I want to explore it in my writing. I want to take the time to see and take things in. I really appreciate all the textures of life. I'm greedy for everything. The way the light shines on the leaves of a tree, how something smells. I want to capture that. I want to find words for that. Now I write to explore the richness of life, the full range of human emotions. I think people crave that.
We live in a very controlled, air-conditioned, sterile existence of gray and beige, and I think people are starving for a stronger, more vivid connection with life. I like to give people back that connection in my writing
I'm a creature of habit. I work every day because I only get ideas when I'm writing. I start with a highly charged situation or an interesting character. I'm not one of those writers who gets ideas while in the shower. Even if I do get some grand inspiration, it's never useful. My experience has been that these ideas generally lead to a dead end. Inspiration comes through the act of writing. Like they say in sports, you have to "suit up and show up."
With writing, 90 percent of it is about your level of craft. Do you care about the music of the language? Do you care about the word choice? Are you portraying things as vividly as you possibly can? Or, are you rushing to find out what happens, or are you spending time enjoying getting there? Amazingly, every once in a while you get it right. It's like listening to a great jazz group. If they play together regularly, there are those occasions when something magical happens.
The way I start in the morning is that I rewrite everything I wrote the day before. It helps me to get back into the text. I clean up the language, or perhaps I'll see a new direction I'd like to follow. This constant recycling spurs on my writing. ... Revision is a constant part of my process.
I read constantly. However, I'm a very restless reader. I'm always looking for something. ... I'll read the first 20 pages of a zillion books until finally I find what it is I'm looking for. That's the way my reading goes, as opposed to reading entire books. When I'm writing, I tend to read some of my favorite writers. Also, I like stories of high drama, so I read authors like William Faulkner, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Joyce Carol Oates.
First, the thing to remember is that writing is writing. It's a process. It doesn't get easier once you're published. It's always the same. A writer is a writer, whether they just started or they've been doing it for years. If you're writing now, you're already in the club.
Secondly, writing takes time. Spend a little time every day writing in some capacity. Don't wait until you have five free hours on the weekend. The longer you put off writing, the more daunting it seems. Write every day. It's easier to keep a patient on life support than it is to resurrect the dead.
--Posted March 30, 2007