By Clare Moore
Throughout your life you read hundreds, probably thousands of books. Of those thousands, a hundred become your favorite. Out of those hundred, maybe five are special. The books that change you, so you’re a different person after you read them than you were before. For me, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was one of those books.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of Markus Zusak’s internationally acclaimed book, which he’s celebrating with a book tour in America. Since he’s from Australia and rarely makes it to the States, I knew I had to get to one of these events and see in person the man whose book changed my life. I was not disappointed.
He began his talk at the Norman P. Murray Community Center in Mission Viejo with a story, which I am not going to repeat because I could not do it justice and I don’t have an adorable Australian accent. But he used this story to illustrate his 4 keys to writing well:
- Use stories from your own life.
- The small details make a story believable.
- The unexpected outcomes are what elicit reactions from your audience.
- Edit well.
I was so struck by this points, and how well illustrated they were in his story that I felt I had to share them with other aspiring writers. As Zusak pointed out himself, writing is not about being brilliant or doing something complicated. The key to good writing is to do the simple things well, which he does in The Book Thief by following the four points he outlined.
Another tip he shared that I think is good for aspiring writers is to hear is to be selfish. Now, this doesn’t mean don’t share your dessert, but it does mean that you need to safeguard your time. If you’re going to finish writing your book, you need time to actually write it, and that means that sometimes you have to be selfish and hoard your time. It might mean getting someone to babysit your kids for a weekend so you can be alone to write. It might mean not hanging out with your friends at the mall on a Saturday because you need to finish a chapter. Value your time, and guard it well.
Another tip, which ties into his 4th key of writing, is to realize that writing is rewriting. The whole room cringed when he talked about writing long sections of his novel only to toss it all away, but writers have to be able to throw things out even when it’s painful. Editing is how stories become good, and more editing is how they become great.
Note on over editing: you can make things more perfect by editing too much, but that doesn’t necessarily make them more right.
Lastly, I’ll share one more insight from the man, the myth, the legend. Writers need chaos. Just like necessity is the mother of invention, problems are the mother of writing. Writing isn’t about imagination, but crises. It’s solving problems that leads to imagination through creative ways to solve the problems. That is how we get stories.
I won’t share much about the actual book because I don’t want to spoil anything. If you haven’t read it, go do so now! It is a masterpiece written by a master writer, though he’s so humble he would never admit it. But if you’re looking for a book to help you understand the art of writing and telling stories, this is one you need to check out. Because, as Markus Zusak said, The Book Thief is about stories. It’s the story of Liesel and the stories of the people around her. And, most importantly, it’s about how telling her own story is what saves her in the end.
Check out Markus Zusak’s gift for oral story telling and his awesome accent in this Ted Talk in Sydney.
Clare is one of the two fabulous editors behind Ampersand. She’s also a quadruplet, a Lord of the Rings nut, a teacher, and a dedicated Dodgers fan. She highly recommends reading The Book Thief and guarantees that it will change your life. If it doesn’t, you’re reading it wrong.