Everyone Starts Somewhere

My awesome sister-in-law sent me an interesting and uplifting NYT column written by a very famous author. You may have read (or own) a dozen of his law-focused novels, or watched these books become great movies like “A Time to Kill” and “The Firm.”

Know his name? Yep, it’s John Grisham.

Grisham said that he wasn’t born a lawyer (thank goodness) or an author. He had lots of piddly jobs along the way including flower water-boy, asphalt layer and underwear salesman. But throughout his life he took lots of notes and listened to good story tellers. The rest of his story goes like this:

Like most small-town lawyers, I dreamed of the big case, and in 1984 it finally arrived. But this time, the case wasn’t mine. As usual, I was loitering around the courtroom, pretending to be busy. But what I was really doing was watching a trial involving a young girl who had been beaten and raped. Her testimony was gut-wrenching, graphic, heartbreaking and riveting. Every juror was crying. I remember staring at the defendant and wishing I had a gun. And like that, a story was born.

Writing was not a childhood dream of mine. I do not recall longing to write as a student. I wasn’t sure how to start. Over the following weeks I refined my plot outline and fleshed out my characters. One night I wrote “Chapter One” at the top of the first page of a legal pad; the novel, “A Time to Kill,” was finished three years later.

The book didn’t sell, and I stuck with my day job, defending criminals, preparing wills and deeds and contracts. Still, something about writing made me spend large hours of my free time at my desk.

I had never worked so hard in my life, nor imagined that writing could be such an effort. It was more difficult than laying asphalt, and at times more frustrating than selling underwear. But it paid off. Eventually, I was able to leave the law and quit politics. Writing’s still the most difficult job I’ve ever had — but it’s worth it.


It took Grisham three years to write a novel that didn’t get picked out of the slush. He had a great education and natural ability, but he wasn’t published immediately. Writing is hard. Breaking into the publishing business is difficult. But if you have a story to tell, do it! Someday in some way (whether your name is on the cover of a book or not) your efforts will be worth it.

(This is where you hear the intro cords to “Don’t Stop Believing” or “Keep Holding On.” The Glee versions are my favorites).

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