John Grisham (born in 1955) is the bestselling author of The Firm, The Client, The Runaway Jury, and A Time to Kill.
Here are six of his wonderful quotes that will help inspire your writing!
1. I seriously doubt I would ever have written the first story had I not been a lawyer. I never dreamed of being a writer. I wrote only after witnessing a trial.
Some writers write because they feel compelled to. Because to not write is like death to the soul. They simple have to write to survive, to stay a sane person, to engage in the world in a way that makes sense to them.
I am one of those people. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. And for ten years now I’ve written almost every day. Fiction. Non-fiction. Poetry. Screenplays. I love to create. I love going to bed at night knowing I created something new today, and there’s a huge level of excitement for what I’m going to create tomorrow.
But some people come to writing from a different angle, the way John Grisham did. Some don’t necessarily think of themselves as writers for many, many years but experience something so extraordinary or devastating or life-altering that the blank page feels like the best way to get their thoughts down. That kind of writing is just as valid as any other.
And if your talent shines through, you’ll likely be writing lots more in the years to come!
2. It’s hard to read good fiction when I am writing, because if it is really good I catch myself sort of inadvertently imitating a great writer.
This is an interesting perspective I haven’t really thought deeply about before, but in a way, he’s right. If I’m in the middle of drafting my latest novel, it doesn’t really help me to read a work of literary genius during that time because it might do one of two things.
- Reading that masterpiece might depress me in knowing if I live to be 1,000 I’ll never be able to write something that amazing, and hell, I might even lose my enthusiasm for the story I’m writing or possibly stop writing it completely.
- Reading that masterpiece might make me start imitating the author’s voice on the page of my latest novel, whether I want to imitate it or not.
The truth is that with everything you write, you want your own voice to come through, not anyone else’s. As soon as you start imitating someone else, your work dies a little.
I prefer to read non-fiction when I’m writing my latest work of fiction. I won’t ever find myself imitating that kind of writing, and I’ll still be able to get lost in a really cool story without worrying about it having a negative effect on the manuscript I’m currently drafting.
3. I can’t change overnight into a serious literary author. You can’t compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not.
There’s something to be said about recognizing your shortcoming as a writer. It’s not the end of the world if you recognize early on that you are not, and never will be, a literary genius.
I’ve written twenty novels in ten years. I have lots more novels in me I’m excited to write. And I’m perfectly content knowing I’m in no way, shape, or form a literary genius. I’ll likely never write a novel in my lifetime I feel is even close to a level of genius or a masterwork or anything like that.
You can work really hard and love what you do while recognizing that your talent and skill can only take you so far.
At the same though it’s important to remember you can always get better at writing, you can always be reading and studying, you can try to get more literary in your work year after year. You can get better.
I read my first three novels now and think, yikes. I read my newest novel, which I’ve been hard at work on for three years, and think, much better. I’ve improved considerably. I want to improve with every new novel.
As long as you’re growing, and want to keep learning, there’s no telling how stellar your work can get after awhile.
4. Nobody wants to read about the honest lawyer down the street who does real estate loans and wills. If you want to sell books, you have to write about the interesting lawyers — the guys who steal all the money and take off. That’s the fun stuff.
Grisham makes an interesting point here about character. About how most readers have no interest in reading about the nice, honest guy who does everything right and is happy and is successful, nothing bad or corrupt ever happening to him. That story’s going to get old for your readers real fast.
The protagonist of your story doesn’t always have to be a total mess of a person. It can be someone who’s honest and kind and always wanting to do the right thing. You can totally write a main character who is a decent person with honest intentions.
But the readers will abandon you if that character never gets into trouble or finds a major compelling conflict. Something horrible needs to happen. Something exciting or surprising needs to take place that prevents your protagonist from getting what they want.
Your readers are always desperate for good conflict. You want suspense and tension on the page. You want readers to be engaged from sentence one.
And at the end of the day, the more complicated your protagonist is, the better.
5. I always try to tell a good story, one with a compelling plot that will keep the pages turning. That is my first and primary goal. Sometimes I can tackle an issue-homelessness, tobacco litigation, insurance fraud, the death penalty-and wrap a good story around it.
Especially when you’re in the business of writing fiction, your goal first and foremost should be to tell a good story. You shouldn’t have a message you’re trying to shove down the reader’s throat. No matter genre it is, no matter what topics are dealt with, tell a good story.
Often you can tackle a major issue in your fiction that affects millions of people around the world, and do it in a way that makes your readers think differently about the issue. You can totally get away with doing that if you have a considerable amount of skill and talent.
The important thing to remember is that if your readers don’t involved with the story itself, they’re not ever going to care. They’re never going to make it to page 78 or page 150 or page 220 where you tackle that issue. If the reader gives up on your story, you haven’t done your job right.
So tell a good story first, and then present issues worth exploring around that good story. Doing so will bring you more success in the long run when it comes to your fiction writing.
6. I used to walk in a bookstore and see all these books on the walls. And I would say, ‘Who wants to hear from me? What do I have to add to all of this?’
We’ve all had that moment at the bookstore. I’ve certainly had my share of them. I remember walking around a Barnes & Noble in early 2010 thinking about maybe writing my first novel and yet wondering who in the world is going to care what I have to say about anything.
There are so many books in the world. So many writers who have succeeded, and so many who have failed. I was scared to write my first novel because I wasn’t sure anyone would give it the time of day.
And you know what? Nobody really did give it the time of day. Because the story had problems. And it wasn’t well written.
But I’ve improved in my writing skills considerably ten years later, and now I write every day without that constant voice in my ear telling me nobody wants to hear from me, that I have nothing to add to the conversation.
You know what? Here’s the honest truth — some people might not care to hear from you, but many people will. If you speak from your heart, if you speak truthfully, if you put a spin on a story we’ve never really seen before, people will sit up and take notice.
You have to be ready for lots of rejection. Lots of people who won’t give a shit about you or your writing.
But if you stick with it long enough, eventually enough people will care about what you have to say. And then you can really get to work.
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