In the late 1980s, with a busy day job as a lawyer and a couple of young kids at home, John Grisham started to write his first novel.
Every day, for the next three years, Grisham woke up at 5 am to write a page of what would eventually become the bestselling novel, A Time to Kill, which was published after being rejected by 40 different publishers.
His second novel, The Firm, was the breakout success that enabled Grisham to quit his day job and pursue his passion for writing full-time.
After publishing 40 novels and with more than 300 million copies of his books in print, Grisham sticks to his daily writing regimen. “Write a page every day”, he advises at the top of a list of eight writing tips he published in The New York Times recently. “That’s about 200 words, or 1,000 words a week. Do that for two years and you’ll have a novel that’s long enough. Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.”
Since publishing A Time to Kill, Grisham has written one novel a year.
The lesson for writers and other creative types is clear: If you want to turn your passion into a full-time career some day, practice your art just a little bit each day. And don’t give up.
This is just one of the several practical strategies that bestselling author Jeff Goins shares in his new book, Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age. The book’s thesis is simple but powerful: you don’t have to buy into the centuries-old myth that artists must starve to pursue their passion. Real artists, Goins argues, can make money, and should make money. Real artists don’t starve; they thrive.
In his meticulously researched book, for which he read over 100 biographies and interviewed dozens of people over a period of nearly two years, Goins lays out 12 principles every thriving artist lives by. He calls them the “Rules of the New Renaissance.”
Each principle contrasts a commonly held misperception about artists with a principle he derived from his research, starting with what Goins calls “The Rule of Re-creation, which says that you are not born an artist. You become one.”
“At any point in your story, you are free to reimagine the narrative you are living. You can become the person you want to be, even if that means adopting an entirely new identity – or a very old one. This is the moment of decision, when who you are and what you want meet,” he writes.
So what are some practical steps for changing your personal narrative and transitioning into your new identity?
“Often we think it’s the giant leaps that lead to this kind of reinvention, but usually it’s a series of small steps,” Goins writes. Grisham became a writer by “stealing away a little time, thirty minutes to an hour each day. That was it. With a growing family and a new career, it would have been reckless to quit law and become a full-time author. In fact, that wasn’t even his goal; he was just writing to see if he could do it. He took one step at a time, and three years later he had a book.”
“More often than not, our creative dreams aren’t launched overnight. They are built gradually. When you are in a season of life when you can’t dedicate hours a day to your craft, it can feel like you’re standing still. But at those times, when the odds are overwhelming and the busyness is suffocating, you still have something to give. The effort may seem small and insignificant, but the work adds up.”
In his New York Times list of writing tips, Grisham has one more nugget of advice about being consistent: “Write your one page each day at the same place and time. Early morning, lunch break, on the train, late at night – it doesn’t matter. Find the extra hour, go to the same place, shut the door. No exceptions, no excuses.”
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