Last month, I traveled six hours round-trip with my two oldest in tow and my sister along for the ride to meet one of my writing idols, Emily Giffin.
It may sound crazy, but I first fell in love with Emily’s writing with her book, “Baby Proof” and I’ve been addicted ever since. And perhaps just as compelling as her writing, I’ve been drawn to her story as an author. She unabashedly describes leaving her career as a successful lawyer in New York City, a job she has said made her absolutely “miserable” and moving to London to write full-time.
She has no guilt, no regrets, no apologies for wanting to become a full-time writer–and for making that happen.
Of course, I find her journey (and her crazy awesome success) as a writer fascinating and I love how real Emily is about her career, how open she is with fans, and how her love for what she does genuinely shines through. Which is why, when she came to my home state of Michigan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. We turned the trip into a fun girls’ getaway, complete with my daughters’ dream come true of a hotel that had a water park and and two indoor candy stores, and I got to settle into the audience and pick up on these three writing tips from Emily Giffin herself. Oh, and of course, get to snap a super pregnant picture with her at her book signing after the lecture. (P.S. She is so tiny in real life I felt like my arm was going to smother her. Not cool.)
1. Make a plan. After racking up tons of debt from law school, Emily didn’t drop it all to run off and write. Instead, she set a plan to pay off all her school loans first, all while writing on the side and knowing that her big break would come soon.
2. Set a deadline. Once Emily had worked long enough to pay off those student loans, she kicked Operation Become a Writer into serious action. She quit her job as a lawyer and moved across the country, to London, to write her first novel. That novel was never even published, but it did lead to her second, “Something Borrowed,” which became a worldwide success and was even made into a movie. Crazy acclaim for a first-time, then-unknown writer. Emily chose to move because she wanted a fresh start and to fulfill a dream of living overseas–all inspiration and fodder for her writer’s mind. And she didn’t dawdle; she gave herself just under a year to finish the book.
3. Understand the industry (and luck). One of the most helpful pieces of advice that Emily gave during her talk was for writers to understand the publishing industry. When you have a novel that you are shopping around, either to an agent or directly to a publisher, you need to realize that only one editor at a publishing house is reading it. And that one editor, with his or her personal preferences, moods, biases, and background, is making the sole decision to take on your novel or banish it forever. So even if it feels like you’ve been rejected by all of New York City, in reality, you have been rejected only by a handful of people–definitely not a true representation of the entire publishing industry. Morale of the story? Sometimes, it really takes a lucky break with the right person and if you are rejected, it just might not be all you.
4. Forget formal training. It took me a while, but I finally got up the nerve to ask Emily the burning question that I had–did she take any formal writing training or fiction writing workshops before she wrote her novels? And the answer was, surprisingly, no. I mean, obviously, she’s a whip-smart woman (evident within about two seconds of meeting her, I might add), but more importantly, she trusted herself and she trusted her story. Formal training, tons of workshops, and all the credentials in the world just aren’t as important as a compelling story.
5. Don’t let kids stop you. It’s not always talked about, but Emily actually has three young children–two of whom are twins and all of whom were very little when she started writing. When one audience member asked how she juggles motherhood and work, Emily just waved it off. “Oh, just like anyone,” she said and then told a funny story of how her six-year-old didn’t recognize a picture of her in a magazine when she was all made up. I love her fresh approach to juggling kids and work because we all do it, it’s not always glamorous, and more importantly, it’s not an excuse. We can reach our dreams, young kids or not.
And the biggest takeaway from Emily’s lecture for me?
She wrote her first novel at age 29….
Which means, I best get crackin’, huh?