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4 Great Essays From Jodi Picoult on Writing

Yesterday, I took a detour north of our Cincinnati office to see Jodi Picoult speak at a luncheon event hosted by Thurber House literary center in Columbus. I’ve long been a fan of Picoult’s work, and her latest, Small Great Things, just debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times bestsellers list.

I was intrigued by the format of her latest tour, which largely features Picoult in conversation with other accomplished writers on stage. (Here it was Katrina Kittle, a former Thurber House writer-in-residence and five-time published novelist.) The result was an engaging forum, particularly given the complex and emotional issues surrounding race that are at the center of her new book. Picoult spoke in compelling detail about her research and the transformative journey she undertook in crafting the story.

Jodi Picoult on writing

Jodi Picoult in conversation with Katrina Kittle

Picoult's 3 Pieces of Advice for Writers

She also talked about the writing life, sharing that she was rejected by more than 100 agents (99.9 of whom are no doubt kicking themselves now) before landing her first book deal, and offering simple but true advice to aspiring writers in attendance: 1. Take a workshop. 2. Read a ton, and figure out where you want to fit in. 3. Write every day if you can.

“Writing is not a very glamorous job,” she assured the crowd. “You’re alone a lot of the time, and hungry, and thinking of chocolate.”

Amen to that. (*Takes a quick chocolate break.*)

Picoult's "This Writer's Life" Column for WD

Picoult’s ability to get to the heart of the writing life is well known in our office, because what you might not know is that from 2006 to 2007, she penned a column called “This Writer’s Life�� for Writer’s Digest. I joined the magazine as chief editor in 2008, which means I missed my chance to work with her—a fact that still pains me today.

I told Picoult so when I had the chance to meet her afterward, and she was ever gracious as she signed my book. Then, as I turned to leave, she called me back. “I still get Writer’s Digest, you know,” she said, smiling.

That alone made my three-hour round-trip drive well worth it.

So I thought I’d offer you your own daily boost by Picoult, via this quartet of her wise and wonderful contributions to the pages of WD over the years:

  • On the Road Again,” in which Picoult humorously and wisely debunked some of the myths surrounding book tours, and discussed the pros and cons.
  • Going Global,” in which she shed light on the surreal experience and unexpected benefits of having your work translated and/or published abroad. (Fun fact: she was a hit in Australia before U.S. readers caught on.)
  • The Fact Behind Fiction,” which offers some earlier glimpses into her immersive approach to research. (Here’s a favorite bit: "Coincidentally, when you’re ghost hunting, you’re often also trespassing.")
  • Picoult returned a few years after her column ended to pay tribute to her "Top 10 Writers I Admire, and Why" (a sound guide from which to assemble your own reading list, in my humble estimation).

Picoult herself, of course, is on many other writers' top 10s—and deservedly so.

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Yours in writing,

Jessica Strawser

Editorial Director, Writer’s Digest magazine

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Learn more about my debut novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU, forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press in March 2017. (Now available to add to your Goodreads shelf or preorder from Amazon or other fine retailers!)

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