My Email from John Grisham

This morning I told my wife I got an email from John Grisham. She just looked at me, waiting for the punch line. I said I don’t know why John began the message with “Dear Reader,” but I was willing to look past that. John was obviously reaching out to me, a fellow writer and author.

Seriously, though, at some point I did sign on to Mr. Grisham’s email list, so his holiday greetings and reflection on his writing career did land in my email inbox a few hours ago. Whatever you think of his work, whether or not you’re a fan, I think John offers some nuggets for all who write for fun, work, publication and more.

I offer a few thoughts below, but first the note.

* * *

December 19, 2013

Dear Reader,

This is the time of year for taking stock and giving thanks. As I’ve said many times, I feel extremely lucky to be able to write books that entertain so many people. Thank you for buying them. I am delighted you enjoy them.

Twenty-five years ago, I suddenly found myself staring at the opportunity to walk away from a less than prosperous law practice (which I did without even turning off the lights) in order to sit alone for hours each day writing stories. I feel privileged, even blessed to have spent these years doing what I dearly love. And it is still tremendous fun. The words and ideas are flowing faster than I can write.

Through twenty-eight books for adults and four for kids, I have enjoyed every day at the typewriter (or keyboard or whatever writers call these things these days). The creating, plotting, editing, promoting, and, yes, the selling, are as exciting today as they were twenty-five years ago.

As I approach the slightly mature age of 59, I catch myself looking back, but also looking ahead. What will I be doing at 60, 65, 70, or 80? If I’m healthy, I plan to be writing legal thrillers, sports books, kids books, comic novels, short stories, maybe even screenplays. If I have learned one thing so far, it is that I cannot predict where the next story will come from.

But there are a lot of stories to be written. As long as you are there to read and enjoy them, I promise to keep writing.

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy holiday season.


* * *

Obviously, John Grisham is wildly successful in a commercial sense. He doesn’t have to write another word to make a living. He has ample money to do, I expect, pretty much whatever he pleases. I imagine his wealth and fame have led to many new experiences and provided access to lots of high-profile people.

But, according to his above message, one thing John Grisham still wants and lives to do is to sit down at his keyboard and write. It sounds like John plans to write many more books because, in his words, “the creating, plotting, editing, promoting, and, yes, the selling, are as exciting today as they were twenty-five years ago.”

I saw John Grisham last March in Charlottesville at the Virginia Festival of the Book. He was on stage with Frank Deford, Jane Leavy and David Zirin. The moderated conversation focused on sports stories but veered into other topics.

I recall a few of John’s comments, or at least a few that stuck out for me. He never expected the chart-topping, head-spinning success. Never. Like many of the rest of us, he just wanted to write and hopefully make a living.

I remember this fairly distinctly. John said that when the crazy success came, he thought to himself, “Don’t screw this up,” or “I better not screw this up.” John didn’t want the money and fame to cause him to lose his way like has happened to so many others in various fields of endeavor. He was determined to keep his head down, to keep writing, to keep doing his work.

I think that’s a great mantra for all of us who write. If we follow that example, we’ll also be successful, even if we don’t make it onto the bestseller lists.


Writing Routines: Scott Turow

Turow - Portrait
Scott Turow.

Scott Turow, the bestselling author of Presumed Innocent and other legal thrillers, has a new book out entitled Identical. At, Noah Charney asked Turow about his life as an author and attorney.

Here’s a peek into Turow’s writing time:

Describe your morning routine.

It’s not really a routine, because the pace is so likely to vary, but the greater portion of days finds me up by 7 and looking through three newspapers over coffee. By no later than 8:30, I’m at my desk, writing. I think the truth, to be brutal with myself, is that I spend no more than 45 minute out of every hour actually getting things down on paper. The rest of the hour goes to email or phone calls. But this does not prove that technology has intruded on my life, since years ago I’d just spend that 15 minutes wandering around the house, often ending up at the refrigerator.

Apparently, Turow is adept at handling distractions, also saying, “I can take a call from a client in the midst of writing a sentence and complete it as soon as I put down the phone.”

How does Turow determine if he has had a productive writing day?

No page or word counts, but I have to keep my ass in the chair, which is hard at the very start of the process. If I allow myself to become distracted, as I’m inclined to do at that point, then I’m disappointed in myself.

A Chicago native and Cubs fan, Turow still enjoys practicing law and has been a member of a famous authors rock band called the Rock Bottom Remainders. Other band members have included Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry and Mitch Albom.

6 Questions from a College Student

This Q&A is different. I’m answering the questions rather than asking them. A college student at Fort Hays State University interviewed me for a class called “Leadership in Information Technology.”

Besides learning a bit more about me, maybe the Q&A will spark some new thoughts about you and your work.

Q. What roles do you play in your business?

NEIL SAGEBIEL: I wear all the hats, from marketing my services to doing all aspects of the work (research, writing, editing, etc.), including things such as book promotion and media. I manage all the business relationships. I handle all financial aspects as well. Again, I do it all. My cats are no help at all.

Q. How would you describe your management style?

NS: I’m pretty easy to work for. I know myself fairly well by now, after nearly two decades of self employment. Ha! I’m pragmatic and usually steady and sufficiently focused.

Q. How do you think vision is created and communicated?

NS: In my case, it’s understanding how my skill set and interest in communication and my passion for storytelling can serve a market. For someone like me who is a solo creative professional, it’s more intuitive and internal rather than a formal process or a company statement of some kind. I tend to gravitate toward markets that allow me to earn a living and find fulfillment as a writer.

Q. What is the best way to create “buy-in” and loyalty within an organization and with your readers?

NS: Always treat them with respect. Show that I understand something about them and their interests. Tell them great stories and always strive to offer something valuable in the communications I create.

Q. What is the best way to motivate people in your experience?

NS: As a communications professional, I think it’s paramount to be a good listener. You need to get to know people, and treat them with respect. Find out what their interests and wants are, and how you can help them. If you want them to do something, you need to communicate it clearly, including how the outcome will benefit them as well as others.

Q. What are your thoughts on the challenges involved in working in the information industry with ever expanding market and technology parameters vs. working in an industry with defined technology and market parameters?

NS: It can be hard to keep up, and sometimes technology advances such as the proliferation of social media can seem like a barrier to making truly valuable connections. Many people are overwhelmed with information these days, in large part because of the Internet and technology. It can be hard to break through. At the same time, the tools are available to everyone, so it also creates an opportunity. That has been the case for me.

Q&A: Robert Bruce, 101 Books

Robert Bruce is a full-time writer who lives in Nashville and works for Dave Ramsey, a personal finance guru with a nationally syndicated radio show. I met Robert (virtually) several years ago while we were both blogging about golf. In 2010, Robert, “a former English major who loves to read,” launched 101 Books. The blog took off and has thousands of avid readers and followers. This Q&A is excerpted from 101 Books, with Robert’s permission.

Q: What’s the point of 101 Books?

ROBERT BRUCE: Other than reading through 101 books, all on Time Magazine’s list of ALL-TIME novels published since 1923? I like to read. I like lists. I like big projects. I like blogging. Why not? When I started the blog, I thought I’d simply write a “review” of each book, with a related post here and there, maybe once a week. But the blog slowly morphed into a 5-day-a-week deal, and I’m loving it.

Q: If the Time Magazine list is 100 Books, why is the name of your blog 101 Books?

ROBERT BRUCE: I explain this a little more in my first post, but basically the list only includes books published since 1923, which was the year Time Magazine started. Ulysses just missed the cut because it was published in 1922. Since it’s widely regarded as the greatest novel in the history of the history, I decided to include it.

Q: How do you have time to read that many books?

ROBERT BRUCE: Great question. I don’t necessarily have time, but I make time. I read during my lunch break, for about 30 minutes, and I read at night after my wife and kid have gone to bed, for about an hour. Reading and running are my two hobbies right now. I think everyone needs a little breather, a little downtime, to re-engergize the batteries. Reading is one of the ways I do that. Continue reading “Q&A: Robert Bruce, 101 Books”

Alice Munro: “It Just Seems Impossible”

Alice Munro became the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her daughter woke her in the middle of the night to deliver the startling news.

“I had forgotten about it all, of course,” Munro told CBC News early on Thursday morning. “It just seems impossible. A splendid thing to happen … More than I can say.”

Munro, 82, is known as Canada’s Anton Chekhov. Chekhov was a Russian author who excelled at writing short stories, a literary legend of the form.

“My stories have gotten around quite remarkably for short stories,” Munro told the Canadian news service. “I would really hope that this would make people see the short story as an important art, not something you play around with until you got a novel written.”

The new Nobel Prize winner will soon have more books in circulation, according to Publishers Weekly.

“Vintage will be reprinting 100,000 copies of Munro backlist,” the industry publication tweeted, “which includes 14 story collections. All reprints will have a Nobel seal.”

Tom Clancy: “Just Tell the Damned Story”

Tom Clancy at Boston College. (Burns Library)

Bestselling author Tom Clancy died on Tuesday night. He was 66. Seventeen of his novels were No. 1 New York Times bestsellers.

Here’s Clancy’s advice to writers from a 2001 Writer’s Digest interview:

Keep at it! The one talent that’s indispensable to a writer is persistence. You must write the book, else there is no book. It will not finish itself. Do not try to commit art. Just tell the damned story. If it is entertaining, people will read it, and the objective of writing is to be read, in case the critics never told you that.

Clancy fans can look forward to one more novel. Command Authority will be out in December.