Behind Her Eyes: Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt
Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

My first introduction to Donna Tartt was reading The Secret History. It was one of the most intense and beautifully written books I had read in years. I distinctly remember the photograph of her in the back of the book; a mysterious, stylish woman who I believed had a lot going on behind those green eyes.

Even today, with all the wonderful technology we have at our fingertips, I still feel that she has a mystique and I absolutely love that. We live in a world where people reveal their lives online (drama included) – I find that rather crass. As a writer myself, I am intrigued by her writing process and not what she had for breakfast.

Over the years I have picked up a few little things about her that may be useful for writers out there.

Read, Read Read

What I feel is very much a parallel between myself and Tartt (and for many writers) is her love for reading. As a child, her excitement for stories was endless and I also remember spending a great deal of time reading and absorbing every word. Even now I love becoming utterly absorbed with both wonder and the inspiration to write something myself.

Timing Means Nothing

I see certain authors produce book after book after book. This isn’t a bad thing nor is it a criticism, but it is also interesting when discussing the creative process of someone like Donna Tartt because for her – timing doesn’t really matter. You can go as fast or as slow as you like; you are in the driving seat. Tartt has indeed taken ten years to write a single book and yes, this can be frustrating for the reader but when she does produce work; it is perfect. Find your perfect and work at your own pace.

Get Out Of Your Head

Write what you know. I hear that phrase all the time and although I have employed that in some of my past work, I have concluded that I don’t want to write or hear about myself; I want to create other worlds. I want to create people I have never met or maybe create a persona based on the intriguing woman I saw in the street the other day – stepping away from yourself can lead to creating so much more than what is in front of you.

Solitude Isn’t Lonely

Writing is an extremely lonely job. Tartt has been quoted as being reclusive but this isn’t the case, she does indeed like to go out but she does find real life a little distracting sometimes and is solely dedicated to her work. As a writer, I do believe it is important to create your own space and to dedicate time solely to your literary pursuits.

Keep A Notebook

Notebooks -ah the feel of a new notebook. Tartt works extensively from her notebooks, using it wherever she may be. Each note may vary and may not be suited to the current project she is working on but every thought is noted down nevertheless. Buy a notebook, something you can pop into your pocket or your bag and write whatever comes into your mind; capture that sentence you heard on the bus or little pieces of imagery that inspire you and put that into words. Everything must be captured, and nothing lost.


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