Brad Meltzer got 24 rejection letters before becoming a bestselling novelist.
“I was determined not to struggle,” he said.
Except he did… we all do. But with Brad, I feel I’ve never met someone this determined to do what he loves…
When he started writing, he had no idea what he was doing. And he didn’t have a plan.
He was in law ( out of fear). This goes back to the “not wanting to struggle,” thing. But luckily, he quit before it could begin sucking his blood.
He started with a story about two kids living in Michigan.
“Everyday I started to fall in love with talking to these imaginary people,” Brad said, “Everyone always tells you to find what you love and then find someone to pay you to do it. I didn’t know what I loved, but I found it in talking to these characters.”
He went to the University of Michigan, so that’s where the inspiration comes from. But he’s making these characters up. It’s sort of a twist on “write what you know.” It’s a new formula:
Write what you know + drift off.
“I was young and stubborn,” he said.“The week I got my 23rd and 24th rejection letter I said ‘If they don’t like this book, I’m gonna write another and if they don’t like that book, I’m gonna write another.’ I didn’t care.”
He cared more about making it than he did about rejection. That’s part of it. But I still needed to ask, “What gave you this persistence? I mean how did you push yourself to continue?”
“When you have nothing, you fight harder than anybody,” he said.
“Did you have nothing?
“My family had nothing.”
I made him paint me the picture.
“I grew up in Brooklyn. And Brooklyn kicked my family’s ass. It just did. It was a mess. My dad at 39 years old lost his job. He had two kids and he said ‘It’s the do over of life, I’m gonna start over from scratch’. He had $1,200 to his name. He had a car. And we drove down from New York to Florida. And he said we’re gonna start over from nothing.”
They lived with their grandparents. Because they didn’t have enough money for a security deposit. Brad was 1 of 6 people living in a one bedroom apartment.
“I remember my dad’s first job interview. He was interviewing for a job at an insurance company. But the interview was in a Wendy’s. We used to pretend not to know him. I would sit on the opposite side, watching him be interviewed. And go ‘My god, my life is being decided in a fast food restaurant.”
This struggle was going to make him the writer he is today. But Brad didn’t know it at the time.
“I’m a thriller writer,” he said. “I’m looking for that moment where real life just becomes something beyond.”
He broke down the process. It starts with a need.
“Everything you do is a need,” he said. “And I think that my ability to tell a story and observe comes from those needs at that point in my life,” he said.
I thought it was fascinating to hear him talk about writing as something OTHER than a creative tool. He told me how he used it for control. And certainty, sustainability.
“Even though I love writing and the creativity,” he said, “there’s a part of me that realizes it’s a need of my own control to offset the chaos.”
“Do you think it’s that connected,” I asked.
As a thriller writer, Brad gets to tell everybody exactly what to do. Every character, every scene, every building. He controls it all.
So he gets his first book published (He just kept writing. And then it eventually happened. He kept writing books because he didn’t care if they didn’t like them. He was young and stubborn.)And then he wrote a second book “Dead Even”, which became a “New York Times” bestseller.
I needed to find out his secret. How did he go from “just getting started” / just doing what he loves with zero expectation of success to New York Times bestselling novelist?
And that’s what you’ll learn in this interview.
But I’ll tell you one more thing before you listen. (This goes back to persistence.)
He said, “Whatever I do, I throw myself into it until I’ve learned and mastered it. And then I can write. I can only write about what I feel like I really know. I can’t make it up.”
And so he wrote about the Supreme Court Clerks while he was in law school.
Then, he wrote his second book was about a married couple (because he got married).
“I just always write about whatever stage of life I am,” Brad said.
He didn’t have to study. Or pay for some professional writing courses. He was in law school, lost and in need of some other life. So he created it.
He found his X-factor deep in the chaos of his own life.
And yeah, he said that he was “determined not to struggle,” but that’s the x-factor.
I guess that’s part of why we all purse different careers. And lives.
To find our own x-factor, too.
Oh! And I’m also going to be uploading it to my new YouTube channel where I’m going to start sharing all the raw video footage from my podcasts. Coming soon! Make sure to subscribe now.
Links and Resources
- The Tenth Justice by Brad Meltzer
- The Millionaires by Brad Meltzer
- The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer
- Brad’s Ted Talk: How to Write Your Own Obituary
- Check out Brad’s website
- Follow Brad on Twitter + Facebook