“To become a writer, you have to have talent, desire, and more than that,
the need to put things down on paper.”
Mary Higgins Clark
We’d all do well to listen to Mary, because she knows a thing or two or three about writing. She thinks of herself as a storyteller and she’s written more than 30 books. Collectively, they’ve sold more than 100 million copies. She’s been a best-selling author since the 1970s, although her first novel was a flop. At 83, she’s hard at work on her newest book. She started writing at six and used to get in trouble with the nuns at her high school because she was penning stories instead of paying attention in math class.
I know all this because my friend and writing group buddy David and I just spent an entertaining and inspiring evening with Mary and her novel-writing daughter, Carol Higgins Clark. What I loved most about this event was the joy and pleasure that both Mary and Carol find in their work.
Happy writers! What a treat it is to spend time in their presence and peek into their passions! Whether they are writing solo or teaming up to co-author novels, Mary and Carol are clearly having a ball. They love what they’re doing and have fun while they’re doing it — not a bad recipe for a wonderful writing life. A few tips from this dynamic duo:
Use everything: When she first started out, Mary worked in an ad agency, where she sat in on meetings and practically got a college degree in how to write appealing copy and what not to do as well. Later she did a stint as a stewardess. She used what she learned from these jobs in her writing.
Find stories everywhere: The idea for Mary’s book called Just Take My Heart came from a newspaper article she read about the strange changes that heart transplant patients often experience. Another novel idea was triggered by a talk she heard given by an FBI agent on the perils of online dating.
Ask questions: The best writing advice Mary ever received came from an instructor who encouraged his students to ask “Suppose…” and “What if…” Mary added a third question: “Why?” — and has used these three simple queries to trigger many of her story ideas.
Keep going: Mary’s first short story languished for six years and garnered 40 rejections before it sold for $100. Her first novel took three years to write and sank like a lead balloon. One editor dismissed her work as “light, slight, and trite.” But Mary persevered. Her debut suspense novel, Where Are the Children?, received a $3,000 advance. Two years later, her second novel sold for $1.5 million.
Enjoy the ride: Have fun and take pleasure in your creativity. Write on!