Getting It Down to Work Through It: Writer Josh Russell

Devin McGlon

Josh Russell, novelist and professor at Georgia State University, visited LaGrange College on September 19th to speak at a Cultural Enrichment event. After speaking, he took some time to talk about his path to becoming a writer.

Russell began his journey in the late 1980s while he attended the University of Maryland. At the time, the university had a prestigious journalism school. The school required a certain GPA and for its students to type sixty-five words a minute on an electric typewriter. Russell applied even though he did not have the typing skills.

After failing the typing test a few times, Russell decided to go a different route. Luckily, he was in a creative writing class he enjoyed and decided to change his major to English. It was then he became very serious about writing.

During his junior and senior years of college, Josh had the great fortune to study with professor and novelist, Howard Norman. “Working alongside Howard Norman, it became very clear to me that this is what I wanted to do,” explains Russell. 

Each of Russell’s three published novels had a very different, difficult process. He has since adapted to that difficulty, and it doesn’t surprise him. “I get this vague, large idea that I then have to think through as much as I can before I start making notes and figure out the shape of the book,” he notes.  

Russell also explains that his process to writing a novel isn’t only different with every book, but also changed when he had a kid. 

“I used to be a writer that sort of knew where I was going, so I just sat down and worked in that direction, but that changed when I had my daughter,” he says. “I no longer had that free time to just sit and write. I had to begin thinking things through from start to finish before I began writing.” 

For example, his novel My Bright Midnight begins when a German immigrant comes to New Orleans in 1920 and ends at the conclusion of WWII. But as he wrote it, it became clear the story was about something else.

“After 9/11, I began to notice a difference in people and their responses to immigration. Seen as such a positive thing when I was a child, changed to such negativity, I realized that after 9/11 people were no longer scared of larger groups but individuals,” Russell comments.

Russell’s advice to those who are aspiring writers is to write the book, poem, or article that you would want to read. Not one that you think someone else would like to read or that you think could get published. 

“I think the sincerity that goes into something that you are interested in writing about really shines through in the writing and makes it that much better,” he explains. 

Russell also suggests having a routine. Give yourself a certain amount of time or pages to sit down and write each day. 

Along with writing, Russell is also interested in visual art. He enjoys visual art more than reading other books, because when he reads a book he really enjoys, he has a bad habit of picking up that author’s sentence structure. However, when he looks at visual art and gets inspired by it, he isn’t stealing sentence structure. 

Outside of writing and teaching at Georgia State University, Russell also enjoys printmaking, traveling, and being a parent. Russell also enjoys writing about the things worrying him. Getting it down on paper helps him to work through it but also makes him not feel as guilty for worrying so often.

Devin is a freshman from Valley, Alabama. She intends to major in English with a minor in Biblical Studies. She is a member of L.I.F.T., SGA Senate, and Phi Mu.

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