E L James: I’ve only written short stories – and not the Fifty Shades of Grey stuff – because I thought people would call them feminist, so they didn’t. But now, I realise women must really value that other stuff too, right? I’ve wondered about it a lot.
Her novel, State of Wonder, was rejected by every publisher in the world and eventually found a publisher at Amazon.
Ann Patchett: I didn’t have any particular preconceptions when I started writing – I was trying to write stories. I got it. I like it. I like trying to write novels and stories because I think they do have a little bit of everything.
State of Wonder, for example, is about writing – and I think most fiction is about something. If you want to write on children, you should write children’s books. If you want to write on things like nationalism, you should write about that too. It’s important to see it as a place to be. It’s not just about observation.
It’s about imagination. Of course, there are plenty of places for that imagination to go.
Ann Patchett: It’s so important for fiction to be good and for us as readers to know where it’s coming from. It’s about believing in the novelist.
And the same goes for me with writing essays. Every time I talk about one of my essays, people say, “Oh, that’s you – you write a column for the New York Times.”
And I go, “That’s the exact same thing, and there is no difference at all.” And so in the essay you’re trying to evoke that environment that you are in.
I will get up in the morning and go through my life in miniature. I’m a patient person, so I sit down and I listen to my life and my work for a couple of hours each day. I do the same thing.
And then, when I’m done, I give it to people. I don’t think that an artist should be that powerful.
If you’re going to write, you shouldn’t have the power to just say anything you want to say.
You should be directed, and that’s where my writing has led me. It’s led me to explore loss, and love and loss of freedom. I mean, this is what I actually think about.
And so I make a list and, over and over, I go through my brain and go through my life and try to write about what’s in front of me at the moment.
I write one thing at a time. In fact, if I tried to write all of this stuff in one fell swoop, I think I would have gotten a bit overwhelmed.
I’d probably need a good Xanax. But what I have found to be a good rule is to write one thing every day and just get in the flow.
It’s a mantra, you know? That’s my rule.
I don’t sit there by myself, but I do have the list at the bottom of the page, and so I try to get that in my head first and then I make notes in my journal, and then I make the final corrections. It’s a process, but it’s fascinating.
I think a good quote is, “I never saw my works as acts, that was the beauty of writing.”