Title:    A John Grisham Secret
Date:   For the Week of February 18, 2008

Because my teaching career involves so much mandatory reading, I don't get
to do a lot of pleasure reading.  There is just too little time for short stories or
poetry.  I typically only get to the things friends have already read and are
now recommending.  They are my book reviewers.  They keep me from
wasting time.

The exception for me is John Grisham.  A few of his books have probably
slipped past, but not many.  He has a new one climbing the bestseller lists
right now, and it stands to be the one pleasure read I will schedule for spring
break.  He knows how to tell a good story.

Although his books have sold a phenomenal 235 million copies, people
sometimes pan him.  "He's no Hemmingway or Faulkner!" says one reviewer.  
"He is not a particularly good writer," pontificates another, "and it is unlikely
that anyone will be reading his 'potboilers' in another generation."

Sour grapes!  Some of the people writing that tripe would kill to have just one
book that sold half as many as his slowest title.  But that's another story.

I like the fact that Grisham doesn't take himself too seriously.  In a recent
interview with the Associated Press, the 53-year-old writer disclaimed any
visions of great literary fiction.  "It's pure entertainment," he said.  Sounds
downright humble, doesn't it?  And it is most refreshing these days.

In the course of that interview, he mentioned a fact from his earliest days of
attempting to write that grabbed my attention.

"The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I'd jump in the shower," he said.  "My
office was five minutes away.  And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with
the first cup of coffee, a legal pad - and write the first word at 5:30, five days
a week."  His goal was to write one page every day.  If it took ten minutes, so
be it.  Sometimes he would write for two hours before starting his job as a

Grisham said that such a rigorous discipline was one of several "little rituals
that were silly and brutal, but very important."

Self-discipline toward a goal is critical.  And it is hardly a secret.  But it is the
difference in making it and living with regret.  What if I had gotten up?  What if
I had written a page a day?  What if I had gone back to school?  What if I had
asked for the position?  Or proposed?  Life has far too many "what ifs" for
most of us!
A John Grisham Secret