Lisa See is a Chinese American author of six novels, including the international bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Peony in Love (2007) and Shanghai Girls (2010).
Why I write
I write because when I don’t write I have nightmares. When I’m writing, I’m in a dreamlike state all day, so that at night I can sleep peacefully. I also become obsessed with things and writing allows me to explore and release with those obsessions.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
When I’m working on a book, I write every day. I don’t write by the hour though. I write by the word. My goal is 1,000 words every day. That’s only four pages. Sometimes I can do that in about two hours. Sometimes it takes eight to ten hours. It all depends on the day.
Worst source of distraction?
Anything and everything!
Best source of inspiration?
Travel, music, and walking. Travel, because I need to see and experience a place before I write about it. Music, because it allows my mind to soar. Walking, because it gives me absolute quiet time to solve problems with plot and characters.
How often do you get writers’ block / doubt your own ability?
I’ve never had writer’s block. (That’s one of the benefits of 1,000 words a day. I just have to do it whether I want to or not.) I doubt my ability less than I used to. Now I know I have to cut to the bone to write. It’s not easy (or fun) but I know that if I can do that, then the writing will be good.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
Favorite Chinese writer?
Du Fu in the past, and Amy Tan in the present.
Best book about China?
This is an impossible question. I could probably pick one for each region and era. Right this minute I’m very enamored by Hungry Ghosts by Jasper Becker. It’s the best book out there on the famine during the Great Leap Forward.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. I used a line from that book as the epigraph for On Gold Mountain. “Fooling around in the papers my grandparents, especially my grandmother, left behind, I get glimpses of lives close to mine, related to mine in ways I recognize but don’t completely comprehend. I’d like to live in their clothes a while.” I feel like I have lived those words myself in all my books.
My mom, Carolyn See.
The book you know you should have read but haven’t?
Journey to the West.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
Oh, brother! (It was about birth control on the college campus.)
Does writing change anything?
Writing has certainly changed my life. It’s made me happier, calmer, busier, more exhausted, more anxious, and more elated on a daily basis. But I think – I know – that reading written words can be transformational. Reading written words allows you to connect to characters – whether real or imagined—and by extension to the human condition. It can open worlds within you and open worlds that are beyond your realm of experience.