Thursday, January 31, 2008
I've never read any of his books, but it was interesting to hear author Ken Follett on "Oprah" yesterday. Apparently, he wrote 10 books before his breakthrough, Eye of the Needle. But then it was another 11 years before he wrote his dream novel, the cathedral-building epic The Pillars of the Earth, which also brought him even more success and critical acclaim. I think there are a lot of creative lessons to be learned from his story:
1) It's most important to just get going on a writing career and not worry about being great from the start:
Follett began writing thrillers as a way to help him pay off some bills. Even though his first book got published, he admitted that it wasn't great. But he thought: "Well, maybe if I try harder, I could do something better. My second book wasn't much better, but I gradually improved."
2) You have to follow your muse no matter what your agent or people in the industry are saying about your latest batch of ideas:
When Follett started telling people that he wanted to write a book about cathedrals, they all though he was nuts, saying "'Ken, you've had a lot of success with Nazis and secret agents and spies. And now this is a book…it's set in the Middle Ages, right Ken? And it's about building a church. Are you sure?'" But he did it anyway and was well rewarded for it.
I have to say that his experience is similar to almost everything that I've gone through in my writing career. No one ever believes that I can or should do something before I actually "show and prove" and do it. This is why I love this particular quote from Joel Osteen so much: "Other people don’t have to believe in you in order for your dreams to come to pass."
3) Lastly, I think Follett's story shows that living creatively really involves trusting that life is a journey:
There was no way he could've known for sure what he would ultimately accomplish when he wrote that first book or even when he started Pillars. For that matter, there is no way of knowing if his best book is still ahead of him. The point is that a creative career is made project by project, day by day. You don't always know what's ahead, but you have to trust that it will all ultimately work out.
This reminds me of another of my other favorite quotes, this one from one of those Quotable Cards that they sell at Whole Foods: "Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end."