Terry McMillan has had the kind of success most aspiring writers only dream of. After two semi-successful first novels, McMillan hit the jackpot with her 1992 classic Waiting to Exhale, which remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for more than nine months and cemented her status as the queen of contemporary African American literature. She went on to write five more acclaimed novels and served as screenwriter/executive producer on three films based on her work (How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Disappearing Acts and Waiting to Exhale). In the latest installment of So What Do You Do?, she tells Mediabistro how she creates unforgettable characters and why up-and-coming writers truly need to love the craft:
You’ve had such a long and successful career, what advice do you have for a new writer who wants to break into the industry and have the kind of longevity that you’ve had?
Well, I think first and foremost, they don’t need to think of it that way. I think that’s a big mistake. Do you think when I wrote my first book, Mama, in 1987, that I was thinking, “Oh, I want to have a long writing career?” No. This is not a job. It’s not that. [Writing is] not a career to me. It’s what I do. And to me there’s a difference, you know? But I would suggest that young writers take the craft very seriously [and] not worry about fame. But read. Everything. And I do mean everything. Take some writing classes. And they’ll know if this is what they really are compelled to do. But it shouldn’t be an ambition. “I want to be a famous writer;” “I want to be a bestselling author.” Those are the wrong reasons for doing this. And if those are your motives, chances are it won’t happen.
To get more advice from McMillan, read So What Do You Do, Terry McMillan, New York Times Best Selling Author?