Writing advice from John Grisham

We were lucky enough to hear best-selling author John Grisham speak when he visited Amsterdam in November 2019.

Since he published his first book A Time to Kill in 1989, Grisham has sold over 300 million books worldwide—figures that put him among the top 50 best-selling authors of all time. And at nearly 65, he’s still going strong. He starts a new book every year on January 1st.

Below our favourite pieces of advice from that talk.

  1. Find a good beta reader – “Find someone who loves you, wants you to succeed and who will be brutally honest.” Grisham’s beta reader, whom he credits with a great deal of his success, is his wife Renee.
  2. Figure out where you’re going – “Don’t write the first scene until you know the last scene.” This doesn’t work for everyone, but Grisham says this practice has helped him avoid writer’s block. “If you always know where you’re going, it’s hard to get lost.”
  3. Establish a routine with some momentum – “Write at least a page a day.”
  4. Don’t forget about character, even if you’re writing a thriller – Grisham says he struggles with character development since his books tend to be driven by plot and suspense. But he acknowledges it’s still critical if you want to engage your readers. He advises, “You have to slow down and sit and spend time with your people. Start with character sketches and add to them.”
  5. Let your imagination go – Many of Grisham’s stories were inspired by real-life events, but for him, imagination is still paramount. “The thing about fiction is you don’t have to research; you can just make it up.” For his first book A Time to Kill, he started with the facts of a particular case and then thought “What if?”

Thank you to the John Adams Institute for making Grisham’s visit (and that of so many other wonderful authors) possible.

8 January 2020

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