In 1946, George Orwell articulated the reasons why he put pen to paper in an essay entitled Why I Write.
In this Web series, authors talk about their literary habits and reading preferences,
and examine Orwell's question that lies at the heart of being an author—why they write.

Sheng Keyi

Northern Girls


Sheng Keyi is an award-winning author of several novels and collections of short stories. Her breakout novel, 2004’s Bei Mei, is her first work to be translated into English and was published by Penguin as Northern Girls in 2012.


She lives in Beijing.


Why I write
I think I began to write novels because I felt that my life was boring and meaningless.


Do you write every day? What sort of writing habits do you keep?
Not necessarily, but I will press myself to write 1,500 words per day when I am working on a novel so that I am deeply engaged in the story. If I don’t write for a few days or longer, it takes some time to get back into the story again. I used to write immediately after getting up in the morning just like going to work. Now, I usually paint in the mornings and don’t start writing until the afternoon.


Where do you work? Describe the physical domain of your writing space…
I used to write at home, but really I found it was inefficient to write there. Recently, I have got used to the environment provided by cafés and I concentrate on writing for a fixed period of time, while sitting at the window facing a park, drinking juice and listening to music on earphones to drown out the conversations around me.


Worst source of distraction?
Household affairs, and specifically matters concerning my family. In fact, anything needing to be dealt with besides writing seriously interferes with the progress of my work. I have to keep a quiet heart in order to write. For example, I cannot write if I have an interview left unfinished, I can concentrate on writing only after finishing other tasks.


Best source of inspiration?
First, for me, inspiration comes from childhood memories, and then from second-hand experiences derived from activities like reading.


How often do you get writers’ block / doubt your own ability?
There is no structure to this – I sometimes get struck by writer’s block numerous times when working on a novel, but as I am working on my seventh novel now I have learnt from experience that the problem is likely to be resolved so it doesn’t worry me! I don’t think I have ever doubted my ability though.


Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
I love novels and try to read as many old and new novelists as I can, but this sometimes means I do miss things.


Favorite book?
I love the plays of Shakespeare and Tennessee.


Favorite writer?
It is hard to tell who my favorite writers are as there are so many.


The book you should have read but haven’t?
Chinese folk tales and Greek mythology.


You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
My current works may not be superior in quality to the first thing I had published. The initial self is not reproducible, but the self is enriched by experience. Discovering how to tap into and exhibit such richness is an endless problem.


How did you get started writing?
I resigned very suddenly from my job and went to hide in a strange city intent on writing a book – thinking of it now it is a bit weird.


Does writing change anything?
Writing makes my life quiet and pure and it offers valuable freedom.


What are you working on now and when is it out?
The English version of my sixth novel, Death fugue, will be published next year. I am working on another novel and plan to finish it this year, but I am not sure about it yet.


Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013


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Posted on: April 24th, 2013 by JFK Miller No Comments