coffee talk

Danielle Steel is the best selling author alive, with over 800 million books sold– her rivals include Shakespeare, Dickens + Agatha Christie.  She is also a mother to 7 children… Those 2 facts alone, are breathtaking in today’s time. I emailed Danielle recently and asked her if we could do a Q + A discussing such topics as:  how did you stumble on your career; best daily practices; precision organization; work schedule management; required sleep, daily uniform, women + men; why her books/ characters resonate so deeply with her audience; definition of the modern-day hero; and lastly which gender has it easier…

The answers were so unbelievably thoughtful, that I’ve had to spread them over several days… So please, stay tuned.

A very big shout out + thank you to my favorite, MRS. LILIEN!

I am in my small office in my kitchen in my Paris home. (big kitchen, small office)

Luck in part, I have been very fortunate in my success and career. Other than that, I attribute it to very, very hard work, and persistence. Discipline to make myself work, even on a pretty day when other pursuits beckon, or when I’m tired and would love to have a break. (I finish the work first). Discipline, hard work, and persistence win the prize every time..

I like the choice of word, how did I ‘stumble’ on this calling. My major in college was literature. And all my training was in art and design (at Parsons School of Design). I wanted to be a fashion designer ‘when I grew up”. But the high pressure of the business scared me off (and I wound up in a high pressure field anyway, with very tough deadlines). I am still very drawn to design, had an art gallery for several years, still curate art shows of contemporary art once a year, and do interior design. But I ‘stumbled’ into writing at 19, and wrote poetry for fun before that, and published quite a lot of poetry.

My jobs after college were as a translator, then in advertising and PR. I was a copywriter, and one of our PR clients was a group of magazines. The Publisher suggested that I should write a book, which intrigued me. So I tried it (at 19) and was hooked. It was a long, long time (about another 10 years) before I could make a living as a writer, so I continued to work in advertising, did some free lance writing, and taught English and creative writing at two high schools, and then finally became a full time writer. But I was hooked the minute I wrote my first novel at 19. I didn’t wait to find out if it would be published. I started a second novel the moment I finished the first one. My first novel sold very quickly, the next 5 didn’t sell to anyone (and are still in a box somewhere), which is where persistence came in. Despite the 5 novels that didn’t sell, I kept writing, and slowly, slowly, my work began to gain momentum. My seventh novel sold, and I kept plugging away. If I had given up during the 5 that didn’t sell, I would never have the career I do today (after 123 books). It’s a great lesson in persistence.

I’ll confess. I am relentlessly organized, which can be very irritating to others. I plan months ahead. My first priority is family and family related events. At the beginning of the year, I map out where I want to be when, the kids’ (grown up now) birthdays I want to come home for, and the things I want to do with them (we try to spend all major holidays together, despite all of our busy lives). Those times with my kids are sacred to me. And then I plan out my work, and the books I have to do that year. I block out when I will have uninterrupted time to write. And everything else falls into place around that. But I don’t wait for ‘inspiration’ or having time to write. I block out that time first. (For each book, I do three or four re-writes, have to edit galleys and audio scripts, decide on covers and ads, and I do a little bit of publicity for each book. So it’s all more time-consuming than it appears, and has to be planned. I don’t just ‘wing it’)You have to make choices and sacrifices in life, and I have. My first priority has always been family and my partner/husband, when I’ve had one, and then the work. And it is sometimes very hard to juggle both, as we all know. I’m always willing to sacrifice time for myself, or my social life, for family and/or work. There are a lot of things I’d like to do that I just don’t have time for. For me the work has to come first, in order to meet my deadlines, and maintain my flow of work.

On Sundays, I map out what I have to do that week. I like knowing what I’m doing. And I am VERY disciplined about sticking to my work plan. Once I’m engaged in a block of work, nothing sways me from it.

I’m also a list maker, and I am not good with any kind of technology. I write on a l946 manual  typewriter that I bought for $20.00 when I started writing. I still use the same machine 123 books later. I have a 10 year old cell phone, don’t own a Blackberry.  I only use a lap top for email and nothing else. And I have a very overstuffed date book with my whole life in it for the year, which I tote around with me when I travel. I live between two cities, so I have to be very organized to meet my deadlines, get my work done, see my children (in 3 cities), and live between 2 cities which are 6,000 miles apart.

Late at night, I review what I got done and what I didn’t. I don’t like leaving work unfinished, and try to get it all done each day. I’m willing to stay up very late and sacrifice sleep to do it, I feel better when I finish what I needed to do. But I’ve also gotten better about letting go at some point. Some days you just cant do it all!!! But I try!!

I don’t always feel ‘confident’, in fact a lot of times I don’t. I’m a worrier by nature. But I try to keep centered. I try to start the day with a good attitude, that the day will go well, and I don’t always succeed at that either, if I have tasks looming that worry me.  I pray a lot, and love going to church, which centers me, and I try to read something religious at the end of each day, the Bible, a religious magazine or article or book. (I love the books of Joel Osteen, which are inspirational for me. He’s a young minister in Texas with an incredibly positive attitude that always gives me a boost. And some days, despite your best intentions, it all falls apart, and you’re all stressed out by 10 am. (i’m in my office at 8 am every day, to answer emails and start work). Those days you do the best you can, and hope it goes better tomorrow. I feel better too when I go for a walk, and get some air, and lately I’ve been swimming. But having a good attitude, and a quiet prayer here and there throughout the day keeps me centered better than anything else. I don’t make an issue about being religious, that’s a very personal choice that doesn’t work for everyone, but it works well for me. (And on a tough day, I do make lists of things I am grateful for. And on a really bad day, it’s a short list, but it’s a great thing to do, to get your perspective back,and remind yourself that no matter how bad things seem, there is something to be grateful for, even if it’s a favorite pair of shoes, or a call from a friend).

art credit: Mrs. Lilien

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23 Responses to coffee talk

  1. Isabelle says:

    A fantastic interview + great artwork! Thanks for sharing! Isabelle

  2. This is great. I want to be her when I grow up, except with design instead of writing. It’s nice to be reminded that it’s possible.

  3. alexis traina says:

    thank you so much. the next posts are much juicier– but i loved how generous she was + how insightful the method of her maddness really was. i am always trying to figure out my own..

  4. Ike Obidike says:

    A great piece of advice from the expert! Inspiring!

  5. Blog Tyrant says:

    Big respect to the author of this interview for choosing such a low key title! I would have written something like The Most Amazing Thing That Has Ever Happened on My Blog For Real Guys!

    Really nice to see how laid back Danielle is even after all that success. I get arrogant after a few kindly worded emails.

    Thanks again.


  6. Paul says:

    I’m trying to write a novel (1st one ever) so thanks for this. Inspirational :)

  7. alexis traina says:

    i am so delighted you liked this– the part 2 is tomorrow– stay tuned.

  8. Angel says:

    So very inspiring. Was going to take a nap before I read this but perhaps I’ll write instead! 0:)

  9. alex byrne says:

    Completely inspired by this! thank you! ps…the Mrs is a good friend of mine too and ROCKS!!!!!! but you know that already ;)

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  14. Laura says:

    Excellent Q + A!!!!

  15. Fajr says:

    Great article and her advice is spot on! She’s been so successful it’s refreshing to read that she is just like most of us, a woman working hard to achieve. I love that she puts her family and work first.

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  20. Very inspiring coming from her. Thanks for this.

  21. Marion says:

    I love this. Do you have part two?

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