Interview: John Fitchen

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Editing—working to make the writing as clear as possible, and the pure joy of finding the mot juste.

Were there times when you thought of giving up on this project and if so, what helped get you through?

I sometimes felt that it would never get done, but family and friends would boost me up. My wife, Ellen, would say to me, “Tell me the story.” So I’d go back to the telling of tales. It came down to just putting pen to paper, whether it was bunk or not. The trick was to transition words from my mind to the paper with fidelity. When this happened, I remember being very optimistic about it being done way before it was; something that I believed would take a few days would take weeks or even months.

It came down to just putting pen to paper, whether it was bunk or not.

What is your writing process like? Are there specific quirks, tricks, rules, or habits you have?

I’m retired, so I have adequate time to write. I write in spurts. Writing this book reminded me of writing grant proposals: I’d know that it was time for the next chapter because there’d be a tension, a feeling of “I’ve got to move on.” With a grant proposal you have a deadline, so what’s in common is tension—the grant proposal had a real deadline and the book had a self-imposed deadline (many of them). It was liberating to realize that I didn’t have to write sequentially. I’d hand-write first drafts late at night, then type them, during which I’d tweak the writing.

What is your editing process like?

I’d hand-write, type and edit, discuss with Ellen, modify accordingly, then go through in detail with Katharine. More than once. This final stage was very open, animated, no-holds barred. We worked as a team to make the writing as clear as possible.

Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

“You can observe a lot by watching” – Yogi Berra

What has surprised you about the writing and publishing process?

How much there is to do after the writing process! More editing, design choices, images (scanning, formatting, copyright permissions), pricing, marketing/promotion. Thank goodness for Inkwater.

What advice or wisdom would you like to pass on to others?

Find good assistance! Readers, editors, PR/marketing.

About John Fitchen

John H. Fitchen, MD, is an Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. After nearly twenty years in academics, he accepted a leadership role at Epitope, Inc., the Portland-based biotech company that developed OraSure, the first and only oral HIV test. He is the author of Birding Portland and Multnomah County, and has published articles in The AtlanticBirdingThe New England Journal of Medicine and dozens of other peer-reviewed medical journals. He is an avid birder and lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife Ellen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *