Trained as a lawyer, John Grisham is arguably one of the most popular writers of legal thrillers around. He didn’t begin writing seriously until the late 80s, and his first novel took him 3 years to complete, but he has now penned 40 novels with more than 300 million copies in print.
For any writer looking to emulate his success, there is plenty to learn from this accomplished novelist. Grisham has several tips to share, and here we list the things that have helped him to become a best-selling author.
Little and Often
Grisham is a firm believer in the concept that any aspiring writer should aim to write at least a small amount every day. Around 200 words a day would easily give you 1000 words per week which, if done for two years, is enough for a novel. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is, it is important to find the time to write a little each day, and if the ideas flow and time is on your side, then write a little more. Make it a habit and whether you sit with your morning coffee and write a page, or do it in the evening, making it part of your routine will make it easier to accomplish.
He also feels that using the same location to do your writing each day is a must to help set your routine.
Very soon you will have a full manuscript that you are ready to start proofreading and editing. Ideas are all very well, but if they are stuck in your head and you are not writing them down, then your book is not progressing.
Throw Out the Thesaurus
This is a rule that Grisham believes far too many writers ignore. He feels that words can be divided into three simple categories: the words that we all know, the words we should all know, and the words that very few people know. If you use too many of the last category of words, then your novel will simply not flow well as the reader will struggle to grasp your meaning. If you want to write something that people will read, and enjoy reading, then use the first group with a smattering of the second. Grisham claims this is a trap that many novice writers fall into, believing that big complex words will help them create a bestseller, when, unfortunately, it won’t.
Edit, Edit, Edit
Editing is your best friend when it comes to writing a bestseller. Grisham recommends that any aspiring writer should read through their manuscript several times and look for words that can be cut. “Read each sentence at least three times and see if you can cut any words,” he suggests. He believes many writers use too many words where there is no need – just because you have the space, it doesn’t mean that you need to fill it with excess words.
Although Grisham had a strong background in law that helped him significantly with his novels, he firmly believes that research is key to any great novel. For his own novels, he has read over 100 biographies and interviewed dozens of people over a lengthy period in order to make sure that the details he uses in his novels are accurate. They say you should write about what you know, and in Grisham’s case this certainly proves to be true, but it is worth remembering that there will always be someone reading your novels who knows more than you do, so do thorough research and check facts, as detail is everything.
You don’t have to start at the beginning. The beginning of any plot seems the logical place to begin writing a novel, but Grisham advises that the best place to begin writing any novel is in fact at the end. Write the ending so you know where you are heading and then go back and start with chapter one. The end you have written may not be perfect, but it gives you a real direction for your novel.
If it helps, make a rough outline of where you want your novel to go. This is a common trap that many writers, Grisham included, fall into, especially when it comes to their first novel. When he finished A Time to Kill, Grisham discovered that he had 900 pages that were disorganised at best. To make it a useable novel he ended up cutting around 300 pages. Having learnt his lesson the hard way, he now spends time planning out his novels before he really begins writing them. In his own words, “The more time I spend on the outline, the easier it is to write the book.” His first novel took him three years to write, but since then he has been averaging one novel per year.
There is nothing worse than meeting everyone in the first few pages of a book. Choose your characters carefully and introduce them slowly. Don’t bombard your reader with identities all at once – instead, choose around 5 characters and introduce them properly. Let the reader get to know them before you introduce a few more. Too many people all at once can be confusing in real life, and it is much worse on paper.
Basic Writing Tips
These may seem obvious, but there are a few basic writing tips that Grisham recommends every aspiring author adheres to.
Do use quotation marks for any dialogue. This is important as quotation marks help the reader to understand what is happening.
While prologues may be popular, Grisham advises that would-be writers should avoid them and begin with chapter one. Get into the story as soon as possible.
Read and re-read everything you have written and be your own critic before you give others the chance to be.
One of Grisham’s biggest tips for the aspiring writer is to make sure that you enjoy your writing. Do not rely on writing to provide you with financial security. Find a career you love and keep your writing as a hobby. If you have your income from another source, then you will be able to relax with your writing, making it an enjoyable experience and this should, hopefully, allow you to produce great work.
Do you aspire to be a novelist like Grisham? Will his tips inspire you, or do you disagree with his methods? Either way, they certainly seem to work for the man himself, so he must be doing something right!