One recent rainy Sunday afternoon, I joined other members of the Newburyport Writers group to soak up the wisdom of Boston-based bestselling author Anita Diamant. Anita was introduced by historical novelist Anne Easter Smith.
Our group is made up of fiction and nonfiction writers at different stages of our careers, so it’s safe to say that we’re all in jaw-dropping awe of Anita, who moves through different writing genres with ease. She’s a novelist, journalist, essayist, and the author of five guidebooks to contemporary Jewish life.
Anita’s first novel, The Red Tent, was inspired by a few lines from Genesis, and tells the story of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob and Leah. The Red Tent became an international bestseller thanks to reader recommendations, book groups, and support from independent bookstores, and went on to be honored by the Independent Booksellers Alliance.
My favorite novel of Anita’s is The Boston Girl, which begins when a granddaughter asks her grandmother, “How did you get to be the woman you are today?” I think that’s pretty much what we wanted to know when we came to hear Anita speak, and she didn’t disappoint.
The event was a fundraiser for #authorsagainstborderabuse, the inspired effort of another wonderful Boston-based writer, Jessica Keener, and although it lasted only two hours, Anita generously answered questions about her life and work. Our conversation ranged from how to get through writing a first draft to social activism.
Above all, Anita managed to shatter a lot of myths about writing and offered some solid advice just in time for those about to sign up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Below, I’ve collected some snippets of her advice to keep you inspired.
You can order Anita’s books here. Anne’s new novel, This Son of York, tells the story of King Richard III and concludes her best-selling series, Wars of the Roses. The book will be published November 10, and you can order it here. If you want to check out Jessica Keener’s books, you’ll find them here.
On inspiration and writing a first draft:
“Writing is work, not magic. The first draft is murder. Sometimes it takes me seven times as long as the third and fourth drafts combined.”
On making the switch from journalism to fiction:
“When I turned forty, I needed a change, and thought I’d write a novel. One of my editors said the tools I’d learned as a journalist would help me write fiction. He was right. The biggest thing I took from journalism to fiction is the rigor of deadlines. The hardest thing to do is keep your butt in the chair.”
On writing groups:
“You can’t be an artist in a garret. Find a writing group that will cheer you on.”
On writing a synopsis:
“I don’t use a synopsis. I write the book in order. I work on the start of the book endlessly. Once I’ve got it right, I can keep going, but I go down a lot of dead ends.”
On historical fiction:
“For me, the research I include in the book has to feed the story.”
On how to persist when writing is difficult:
“I go for walks a lot. Ideas, and even phrases, materialize when I’m not struggling for solutions, when I’m outside and moving.”
On activism and writing:
“You can’t change the world by writing, but you can add to the conversation and hope it helps.”