Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Write a Page a Day or You're Not Serious"

My wife and I attended the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville this past weekend, and one of the highlights was hearing native son, John Grisham participate in a panel discussion with Stephen L. Carter.

Both are prolific writers, John Grisham with twenty two novels published and Stephen L. Carter, a William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School with nine novels and six books on policy.

During the discussion, moderated by Dahlia Lithwick, there was some valuable advice I garnered from both writers about writing and about being an author.

John Grisham said he never planned to be a writer - his dream was to become a great trial lawyer. He said he started "playing around" with writing fiction later when he was around 35 or so and found it was "fun" and "really gratifying."

His first book, A Time to Kill, had a print run of 5,000 copies of which, "I bought a thousand."
He wrote a second book and that would be the acid test - if it sold well he would continue as a writer; if not, he would continue as a lawyer. "Besides, I was not happy being a small town lawyer and starving." The second book, The Firm, sold well and later became a blockbuster movie.

When he had reached best seller status with the book, his friend, horror writer Stephen King, called him and said, "'Welcome to the big leagues.' That was nice I thought. And then he said if you want to stay on top you have to do a novel a year so that's what I have done."

Stephen L. Carter is so well known in law circles that he has a Wikipedia entry. He said when he started his career there were maybe two college professors who wrote fiction. Now, he said he is seeing a lot more writing fiction as well as professional journals and books.

He said "writing fiction fills a need in my soul and it is fun to do. If you want to be a writer, it has to be a job. You have to make yourself do it."

John Grisham agrees. "Write a page a day or you're not serious."

Click here to hear the entire one hour panel discussion at the VA Festival of the Book site.
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