Writing is a skillful art. But it’s not as flashy as playing a musical instrument or sand-painting. One reason for this is that we’ve all been taught how to write in school.
So, when we think about writing a novel — and you have thought about it if you’re an avid reader — we expect it to be easy. But it’s not. Unlike other art forms, you cannot teach writing.
If you have ever given writing a shot, the first hurdle you bump into it is finding your niche. Who are you writing for? Once you figure that out and write your first draft, a bigger hurdle arises: How are you going to get published?
John Grisham jumped both hurdles over 30 years ago. Since then, he’s become a household name with 28 consecutive number one fiction bestsellers. But he wasn’t a hotshot from the get-go.
During his childhood, the world didn’t have much in terms of technological entertainment. All John Grisham’s household had was a radio they used to tune into the St. Louis Cardinals games. So, he and his family members amused themselves with an ancient form of entertainment: storytelling.
Fast forward to adulthood, after getting sick of criminal defense and personal injury litigation, John polished off his storytelling chops and started writing.
During one of the trials at the DeSoto County courthouse, he witnessed a gut-wrenching testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim. He pondered the thought of what would have happened if the girl’s father had murdered her assailants.
And that’s how Grisham found his niche with his first book, A Time To Kill; he combined his knowledge of the American legal system and the art of storytelling the novel, and many more since.
To pursue his newly-found purpose, he woke up at 5 am to write before heading off to his 60-to-70-hour-per-week job. It took him three years, the support of his wife, and his desire to say “I wrote a book” to finish his first novel.
Then his second hurdle hit. Rejection letters piled up, which surprisingly, gave him hope. He thought he wasn’t good enough, but his wife came up with a solution. And it worked.
Since then, Grisham has written 46 books in total, including his breakout hit The Firm and other movie adaptations such as The Client, The Pelican Brief, and The Chamber.
In today’s episode, John Grisham joins Kelly Corrigan to talk about his creative writing process, addressing controversial and difficult topics through fiction, and how seeing the work of others can be demotivating. He also gives his own strategy that got his first book published.
Highlights from the conversation:
- How Grisham learned to craft compelling story plots
- Why should you always have an adaptable creative process?
- The role his wife played in his success as a writer
- Topics and themes Grisham would like to explore further and write books about
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