Eight Writers on Writing
When I first decided I wanted to make a career out of writing books, I subscribed to Writer’s Digest magazine because I thought it might help me become a better writer. While the articles about such things as plotting and characterization may have helped a little, what I really liked were the stories about successful writers. I couldn’t get enough of that. Before long, I was browsing through bookstores looking for biographies about writers and keeping an eye on television news shows like 60 Minutes that occasionally featured an interview with a bestselling novelist. I loved hearing about how they broke into the business, how their narrative voice developed over time, and what tips they had for people like me who were still at the “hope and prayer” stage of our writing careers.
Nowadays it’s a lot easier to find interviews and background information on successful writers. All you have to do is study the programming guides for cable networks like The Biography Channel or search the Internet. Most successful writers love to talk about the craft and the business of writing, and if you’re trying to break in with your first book, you would do well to pay attention to what they had to say. To get you started, I found some links for you.
Unless you’ve been living on the moon for the past decade or so, you probably know that J.K. Rowling is the British author best known for her Harry Potter fantasy series. She formed the idea for the story during a train trip from Manchester to London in 1990. Her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was rejected by twelve publishers before it was picked up by Bloomsbury, a small British publishing house in London.
- 2000 Rowling interview
- Writing Quips and Tips from J.K. Rowling (2009)
- “Ten Things J.K. Rowling taught me about writing” (2009)
Nora Roberts is a bestselling author who’s written over 165 romance novels. Her writing career had an unlikely beginning during the blizzard of 1979, while she was housebound with her family in rural Maryland. She needed to find a release, and during that fateful February storm, she finally turned to writing and fell in love with it. Several rejected manuscripts later, she published her first novel, Irish Thoroughbred, in 1981, and from there she went on to become the queen of romance.
George R. R. Martin
Martin is a science fiction, fantasy, and horror author best known for his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Always an avid reader and comic book fan, he started writing short stories in the 1970s. Even though one of his stories was rejected 42 times by various magazines, he was not discouraged. When his story With Morning Comes Mistfall was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards and then lost, he took the defeat in stride and with good humor. Martin never gave up, going on to write and publish his first novel, Dying of the Light, in 1977.
According to Patricia Cornwell’s website, “Her first crime novel, Postmortem, was published by Scribner’s in 1990. Initially rejected by seven major publishing houses, it became the first novel to win the Edgar, Creasey, Anthony, and Macavity awards as well as the French Prix du Roman d’Aventure in a single year.” Cornwell is known for her thorough research and accuracy.
King’s books have sold more than 350 million copies. Can you imagine that? He’s a nice guy, too, from what I can tell, and he isn’t shy about giving tips to new writers.
- 2009 Writer’s Digest interview with King
- I mentioned Stephen King’s book On Writing in an earlier blog post. Here are some excerpts.
Follett is a Welsh author whose books have sold more than 100 million copies in genres ranging from espionage thriller (notably The Key to Rebecca) to historical novels (The Pillars of the Earth – what a great novel!). His early career started out in journalism and then book publishing, and he began writing fiction as a hobby in the 1970s. What motivated him to become a novelist? “The spur was a financial crisis. My car broke down, and I couldn’t afford to get it fixed. And another journalist at the newspaper had written a thriller and the advance he got from the publisher was £200, which was pretty much exactly the amount of money I needed to get my car fixed. I did not figure that out until life began to show me I was a so-so newspaper reporter, and as a novelist I might have something special.”
Piers Anthony is a science fiction and fantasy novelist best known for his Xanth books.
Gaiman is a science fiction and fantasy author, known for his comic book series The Sandman and novels American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, and Good Omens (co-authored with Terry Pratchett). Gaiman started his career in journalism, writing articles and book reviews and conducting interviews in an effort to make connections and learn as much as he could about the literary world.
Look up some of your own favorite authors and find out what they have to say about writing. If you’re serious about writing, it will be well worth your time.