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This blog was featured on 09/15/2019
Donna Tartt on Process, Voice and Her Future As A Writer
Written by
She Writes
September 2019
Written by
She Writes
September 2019

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Donna Tartt is loved by readers everywhere. The author of hits like The Secret HistoryThe Little Friend and The Goldfinch, she has staked her claim as one of the best writers of her generation. With the release of the movie adaptation for The Goldfinch, we rounded up some of Tartt's best interview moments throughout the year in order to get to know the brilliant–and oftentimes mysterious–writer a little better.

The Importance of Setting 

The setting in The Goldfinch is essential to the plot of the book. While being interviewed by Medium, she explained why she finds the setting of her books so important:

"My books have all really started with a sense of place. Amsterdam’s a city I’ve spent a good deal of time with, and the germ of this book really began almost 20 years ago with a sort of dark Amsterdam mood. And, I’ve been in and out of New York most of my adult life."

Her Future in Writing

It's clear that Donna Tartt doesn't want to be rushed when it comes to writing her next great piece of fiction. While talking to The Guardian, she explained more about where she sees her writing going:

"I can't think of anything worse than having to turn out a book every year. It would be hell," she says. "Part of the problem with success is that it seduces people into overproduction. When my first book came out, I was very confused because I was thrown into a world that I knew nothing about. I just kind of lived like a student, worked like a student. And then all of a sudden - well, the metaphor that comes to mind is a shark tank. It wasn't quite that bad. But it was a shock. It was a bucket of cold water. People you'd meet and talk to and journalists would say, 'Oh, what are you going to do to top this one? If your name's not out there in two years, people will forget all about you.' I mean, jeez, what are they talking about? William Styron said, when he was about my age, that he realised he had about five books in him, and that was OK. I think I have about the same number. Five."

On Writing Something Unexplainable

During an interview with Bomb Magazine, the editor asked Tartt to explain the seemingly magical ending of her book, The Secret History and Donna had a lot to say on the topic of writing something that doesn't need interpretation:

"Dreams are those dark, fairy-tale woods that we enter every time we go to sleep. All the scary monsters are there—with real teeth and claws—and all the fairy godmothers and secret friends of childhood are waiting there, too, ready to help us whenever we call. You can’t analyze something like that. It’s magic. You simply have to listen to that scarcely audible old call, the one that will always lead you off the safely marked path."

On Voice

During an interview with Medium, the outlet asked Tartt about the creation of a character who struggles with a drug problem and other unconventional lenses: 

"This is something that the novel does better than any other art form: reproducing the inner life and the inner experience of another person, particularly extreme forms of consciousness like grief, dreams, drunkenness, spiritual revelations, even insanity. Unlike movies, where we’re always onlookers, in novels we have the experience of being someone else: knowing another person’s soul from the inside. No other art form does that. And I like dealing with particularly intense inner experiences because I think that in many ways, this is what the novel does best."

The Origin of The Goldfinch

When The Goldfinch was first released, Tartt sat down with the Chicago Tribune to talk about her book and later explaining where the story came from:

"The gestation of a novel is really a mysterious process, although with me story almost always is preceded by place, and with mood. The mood itself will suggest a story: that was true of my first two novels and it's true of this one, too. I began writing this book 20 years ago when I was in Amsterdam — some of the early parts of the book were written in Amsterdam as long ago as 1993. And then, I've lived in New York on and off since 1987. As far as I can tell, from looking back at old notebooks, the book really began with a dark Amsterdam mood, a dark New York mood — contrast between high and low, Europe and America, poverty and wealth, Upper East Side and Lower East Side. But it's really impossible to say exactly what came first, as when I first started writing I didn't actually know I was writing a novel. Many different elements combined unexpectedly in just the right way."

On Her Process

Every writer has a different writing process and Donna Tartt is no different. While chatting with The Guardian, she explained that she is a perfectionist at her core when it comes to writing:

"People say that perfectionism is bad," she says. "But it's because of perfectionists that man walked on the moon and painted the Sistine Chapel, OK? Perfectionism is good. It's all about production and economy these days. I don't want to be the CEO of a corporation, of Donna Tartt Inc. I work the way I've always worked, and I don't want a big desk and fancy office and people answering the telephone."

She also told the Chicago Tribune more about her writing process in an interview after the release of The Goldfinch

"Each book is different from all the others — I'm always starting over again from scratch. If there's any lesson I've learned, it's that writing doesn't get any easier as you go along. In fact, it tends to get harder, as you tend to set yourself harder tasks as a writer than you did when you were first starting out."

Why She Hates Interviews

Donna Tartt is known to be mysterious and doesn't always love giving interviews. While talking with Telegraph, she reveals a bit about why she dislikes interviews:

"When people ask you why you did this or that you’re sort of compelled to make up the reasons. But the real answer is, I don’t know why."

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