A story I once heard about Philip Johnson, the famous American architect, made a permanent impression on me.

According to this story, Johnson was at lunch in NYC one day when he had the idea to build a skyscraper with a Chippendale pediment on the top (for those of you having difficulties picturing a Chippendale pediment, think of the split, roughly triangular top of a grandfather clock, or a chest of drawers or a bookcase by, um, Chippendale).


So (the story goes), he’s at lunch at the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building (architect: Mies van der Rohe), makes a quick sketch of  a skyscraper with a Chippendale pediment, finishes his lunch, goes back to his office, hands the sketch (a long rectangle with a funny top) to his vast team of architects and engineers, tells them to design and build it according to his (so-far non-existent) specifications, and then goes home. Or to the movies. Or to bed.

The result? What everyone in the early 1980s described as THE great post-modern skyscraper: the new headquarters for AT&T.

I’ve often thought of this story over the years, at those moments in which I would do almost anything to turn a sketch of a book idea over to a team of architects and engineers (or writers) and go back to bed.

It’s the idea, after all, that generates the excitement. It’s the idea that makes your heart soar and your pulse race. It’s the idea that this one might be the big one, the one that Just Works, that makes you famous, that eases the anxiety of the blank page….forever. What a wonderful idea!

The rest is damned hard work.





12 thoughts on “This is how I’d like to write my next book.

  1. Liz 8 years ago

    Oh superb! I love this story. Inspiring and …no, just that. Inspiring.

  2. Katie 8 years ago

    Lots of people have a sketch and very few people have the architectural skills to build a story to support it…they really do just go to bed on an idea and never get up to write it.

    It’s so strange that you should post this because it’s exactly what I wrote in my review of There Is No Dog just yesterday: that what makes you an exciting writer is that you do have the vision to write the struts and frames that raise even the most radical sketch/ideas.

    1. Meg Rosoff 8 years ago

      What a lovely lovely review, Katie. Thank you so much — and I’m pleased to note we have similar taste — I also loved Unhooking the Moon and Where You’ll Find Me.
      But I’m afraid that some of the joyous energy you sensed in There Is No Dog was frustration and rage — it was a VERY hard book to write!!! I’m so glad it came across without the misery, though.
      The inside of my head usually feels like a crowd of juiced-up looters all arguing about what window to break next.

    2. Amanda 8 years ago

      “The inside of my head usually feels like a crowd of juiced-up looters all arguing about what window to break next.”
      Oh my, a riot in the mind…
      Do you need to bring in the guys with the shields to get the groceries bought?

  3. Mieke Z. Mackay 8 years ago

    That would be a great way to write a book wouldn’t it?

    I have heard of a rumor about the existence of a “book mill/factory” were an idea is generated and a group of fledgling writers create the bones and the flesh of the book. I have no idea if this is true or not. “Where there is smoke, there is fire,” I always say. So there just might be some truth to this.

    1. Mieke Z. Mackay 8 years ago

      “Doh!” Of course, I read about the rumor here. LOL!

  4. Mieke Z. Mackay 8 years ago

    I obviously wouldn’t make the roster for this “book mill/factory.” Sorry, correcting my typo: “book mill/factory” where…

  5. Amanda 8 years ago

    Wouldn’t we all like to be like Dumas pere et fils and have a galley of slaves toiling away and giving flesh to the idea? Nice post!

  6. Ariana 8 years ago

    I’m always surprised at the thought that there even might be people out there who don’t want to do anything but bringing other people’s ideas to fruition… that would be one unsatisfying life for me!

  7. erica 8 years ago

    i just want to be able to carry off the glasses. you know, big distinctive signature frames. I bought some philip johnson glasses, but all anyone ever says is, “oh, you look like harry potter.”

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