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Apr 5, 2009

The Secret to Overnight Success

This interview with Arthur Golden, the author of Memoirs of a Geisha is ten years old, but new to me. A friend in a writing group passed the link to me, and I pass it on to you, with these thoughts:

1. This" overnight night success" took fifteen years to research, write, rewrite and sell.

2. Golden wrote a complete draft before he was able to interview a real geisha. "But I wrote a draft based on a lot of book-learning. And I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the world of a geisha was like, and wrote a draft. Then a chance came along to meet a geisha, which, of course, I couldn't turn down. And she was so helpful to me that I realized I'd gotten everything wrong, and I ended up throwing out that entire first draft and doing the whole thing over again."

3. He then rewrote the entire book again, this time changing from third person to first person.

And I also found this insight to the point:

O'BRIEN: What's it like, sitting there at the computer keyboard, trying -- as a white male, trying to put yourself into that skin?

GOLDEN: You know, I think that it's pretty much like writing anything else in fiction, in the sense that even if you sit down and try to imagine a story about somebody who lives on a street you've never seen, you really can't escape the hard work of just bridging this divide between you and an imagined other. And the difference for me was that I had to do a lot of research to put myself in a position where I could begin to know enough about that imagined other to make that leap. But the leap, I think, is the same, really, whatever kind of fiction you're writing.


Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Wow. Great info. I read that book several years ago and really enjoyed it, but the whole time I was thinking, "I can't believe a guy wrote this."

Ban said...

and rome was not built in a day ... didn't it take tolkien 15 years to write lotr ?

Anonymous said...

Good to hear that he had to work that hard and that long on Memoirs, when I sometimes wonder if I'm not cut out for writing because of the struggle I have with it.

Traci said...

That was a GREAT book! :)

Michelle D. Argyle said...

That is one of my favorite books. I've read and watched many interviews about it, as well.

This is an inspiring post! I write about a 50 year old male spy. I'm female. I'm 29. And I know nothing about the CIA. Which is why I've done lots of research and why I'm glad I have a good imagination!

The Screaming Guppy said...

Cool post.

Good thing I don't have to interview any zombies for my manuscript...

That would be awkward. And I would be dead.

Kimbra Kasch said...

It's the same as when people think Stephanie Meyer was an overnight success - not exactly.

The idea was an overnight thing - came from dream but the success part took a little while longer :)

Guess there's still hope.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Fifteen years! I remember reading that book and thinking the story had to be real and Andrew Golden must really be a woman with a pen name. It felt like an autobiography. I love hearing about people who really worked to get there. It's encouraging.

Davin Malasarn said...

That's a great last line from him. It's really nice to see that he isn't building himself up above other writers. I loved the first half of that book a lot.

I've accepted the idea that overnight successes are rarely ever overnight successes. Even young writers who make it big often reveal that they have been writing all their lives. And, time goes by so fast! I've been writing for nearly ten years and I feel like I've barely just begun to learn what it takes to be competent.

Dal Jeanis said...

Great quote!

Bottom line - you have no business being a writer if you can't empathize with people who are different from you.

It's part of the basic temperament necessary for any fiction.