Writer’s Toolbox

Author Q&A

Here we present our exclusive collection of Q&As with a long list of illustrious authors.

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Simon Winchester

Simon WinchesterSimon Winchester is the author of the novel The Professor and the Madman.

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

Thus far, and luckily, I have not suffered from it.

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

The best spur for me is a commission and a deadline. My training is as a journalist: and once you know that if you miss your deadline you won't get into the paper...you make your deadline. As with newspapers, so with books.

What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?

My mentor when I was a young reporter—in fact the person who persuaded me to leave my career as a geologist and become a journalist—was the Welsh travel writer James Morris.  James—who is now 85 years old, still hard at it and a very good personal friend—has since turned into a woman, taking the name Jan Morris.

For many years, would-be journalists who wrote to The Guardian (the paper for which I worked) asking how they might get a job, were jokingly advised: the best route for joining the paper is to take a degree in geology at Oxford and then make friends with a transsexual.

James's advice to me boiled down to one thing: never lose your sense of wonder. As a writer, you are going to confronted with a bewildering world of fascinations—so never become jaded or world-weary, and always think of your calling as a privilege. You'll never get rich: but you'll have a fulfilled and valuable life, doing something that is eminently worthwhile.