The truth can at last be told: I’m a life-long professional dilettante.

I know how to rock-climb, ski, speak French. What it’s like to work on a presidential campaign and The New York Times, at an ad agency and Time Inc. And on a farm. I’ve worked on advertising shoots in foreign climes, so I know how boring it would be to shoot a movie, what everyone on set does, and how difficult casting is to get right.

I’ve been fox hunting and jumped a five bar fence. With my eyes closed.

I didn’t meet my husband till I was 32 so I know lots about wild disastrous relationships (most of which I couldn’t possibly discuss).

I spent a decade racing 30′ sailboats and flying in tiny Cessna planes with my best friend’s husband (our usual route was the one that JFK Jr crashed and died on).

I’ve crossed the Canadian Rockies in a helicopter, paddled a kayak next to a giant sea lion in Desolation Bay, picked oysters and mussels and clams out of the sea and eaten them that day.

Had 18 hours of childbirth. And a child.


I’ve ridden a horse through the Black Mountains in Wales, seen a moose a few feet away, nearly passed out drunk at a Harvard ‘final club’ (see also The Social Network), sang Monteverdi in Chartres Cathedral and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy with the Boston Symphony.

I saw Talking Heads and Elvis Costello and the Clash and Television in tiny clubs in NY and London.

I played bass guitar at CBGBs in NY, and miniature golf with David Letterman in his office.

I met with a Hungarian policeman at 10pm in his tiny bleak office while two teenagers explained in Hungarian that I couldn’t afford the bribe he required.

I watched a black foal born to a pure white horse at the Lipizzaner stud in Szilvásvárad.

I studied steel sculpture with Anthony Caro.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

All my life I despaired at being a jack of all trades and master of none, but it all proved fantastically useful when I started writing.

This is by way of saying that when I suggest people not be in a hurry to write a book, I mean it. Because the more you live, the more you’ll know — in your head and in your heart. And the more you know, the more your book will come from a deep place of real resonance — in other words, not wikipedia.

(It’s also nice to have something to look back on, just in case the book doesn’t make you famous.)


p.s. sorry about the painting, but it’s one of my favourites. You can see it for real at the Wellcome museum across from Euston station.



37 thoughts on “Everything you need to know to be a writer.

  1. Vanessa Harbour 7 years ago

    Wonderful blog and omg what a life. I feel positively pedestrian. Note to self,get out there and live

  2. Jody Casella 7 years ago

    That picture actually makes me think about what’s involved in writing a book and having it published. Except instead of a human pregnancy, it’s more like an elephant’s. Times two. (At least in my case.)

  3. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

    I should quickly qualify that I’m not boasting — most of this happened while I was working in jobs I hated or looking for love in all the wrong places.

  4. adele geras 7 years ago

    By heck, that painting took me by surprise!! I have done almost nothing compared to you….I feel exhausted merely reading about it!

  5. Mieke Zamora-Mackay 7 years ago

    It’s funny that while we were living it, it didn’t seem like much then. I bet if we all stopped right now and made a list of everything we’ve ever done in out lives, we’d all be pretty impressed too.

  6. Ray Hewitt 7 years ago

    You played Bass? Outstanding Meg (P.S. That book thing – nearly done)

  7. Sheryl Gwyther 7 years ago

    Wonderful, positive post, Meg.
    I just did a quick memory check on all the things I’ve done too over the past 40 years or so, and oh boy, who’d have thought!
    From getting tossed from a wild mare (why did I try to ride her?) while teaching kids on an Australian outback cattle station, to flying with a crazy deer-hunter in a helicopter through the New Zealand fiordland (only once, I hated the hunting bit), and a thousand things in between.

    I’m positive my experiences with people, of other places and life has made me a better writer.

  8. nicola baird 7 years ago

    Hope it’s not too ghoulish to say that will be far better than any obituary. We only get one chance at life, you have made your life a wonder-bath of curiosity, exploration and fun. Inspirational! BTW we are raising ducklings in our library (well sitting room) at the mo in a bid to get my daughters to practice the piano without realising it’s graft.

  9. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

    I’d love everyone to write their list — I bet they’d all be much more riveting that we imagine.

  10. Nicky Schmidt 7 years ago

    Wonderful, wonderful post, Meg, and there I’d been wondering what to do with all that useless but sometimes fun, sometimes interesting, sometimes mad stuff I’ve done in my life. I feel positively useful again! 🙂 xx

  11. Sue Hyams 7 years ago

    How I love your list! I must do one immediately though I fear it will pale in comparison. A lovely, inspiring post just when I need it! Thank you. (Now off to do something interesting)

  12. Jane McLoughlin 7 years ago

    A great post. Isn’t it wonderful when our pasts come back–not to haunt us, but to reward us!

  13. Kathryn Evans 7 years ago

    OMG – there is a purpose to it all! This is me Meg – The Woman Who Was So Nearly Good at So Many things…different things to you but just as gloriously bonkers – hoorah!!!!

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      Ah, another of us. How lovely…..look forward to reading your list.

  14. Stroppy Author 7 years ago

    I think we shd all put a list of ten things on the back of every book. They can be different for each book. It will be much better than an author biog. Here are the first ten that spring to mind for my list:

    Swum to a land-mined island
    Been bitten by flying fish
    Invited to vote in the first democratic election in Mongolia
    Ridden a yak
    Kept a pet lobster
    Been mugged in Paris, threatened with murder in Chicago and chased by a psycho around Hong Kong
    Fed kebabs to golden eagles
    Driven around Bulgaria with a drug smuggler in Iron Curtain days
    Eaten liquorice-coated crabs (to avoid being rude)
    Been stung by a deadly jellyfish

    Hmm, mine aren’t accomplishments, are they? Ooops. They’re mostly narrow escapes or acts of stupidity. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to put them on the back of a book…

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      Brilliant. And yes, everyone should do one.

  15. ejrunyon 7 years ago

    Worked at 40+ various jobs, and lived in at least 43 different places in my life-so-far.
    Librarian assistant at High School,Publlc & College libraries.
    Blew glass, was a machinist, a Navy radioman,
    a nanny, a nurse’s aid, * editor of a erotic Men’s mag published for incarcerated readers/contributors – they all wanted ‘more love in the stories’
    Tape Ape in a computer room, Software QA engineer,
    1 night of Open mike stand-up comedy – they asked me back, but I never went,
    End-stage-care provider, Auditor for a small manufacture of baby clothes,
    Purchasing agent/buyer for among other things: tires & auto accessories, extruded aluminum (aircraft & construction) and human reagents for AIDS tests,
    person responsible for updating all those Avon circulars,

  16. ejrunyon 7 years ago

    …[ clicked the post too soon]
    and now I run as a Grad Student at my university – I’m a coordinator for a mentoring program for Freshmen.
    I lived in foster homes from 6 mo. to six years.
    I started college at 35, took a break and re-started at age 49.
    Plus, with my own company, I coach novice writers and write my own fiction.

  17. Karen 7 years ago

    I adore this list also and the idea of reposting. Shall have to go and have a think about what I’ve done with my life! But I so very much want to read Kathryn’s list. She’s one of my favourite Facebook friends for the quality of her status updates!

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  19. Lucy Coats 7 years ago

    Ha! What a FABULOUS post, Meg. And now, of course, I want to join in. Is it wise? Probably not, but hey, I’m going to jump in anyway with my ten ‘first thoughts’.
    Let a magpie steal my mum’s engagement ring
    Starred in a (disgusting)Cornish pasty TV advert
    Climbed a snowy Arthur’s Seat in high heels at midnight
    Rode horses bareback across the rivers of La Mancha
    Had my plaits tied to the rail of an Italian bus
    Performed live in a tent at a muddy Glastonbury
    Fell flat on my face in front of the whole Royal Family at Buckingham Palace
    Had my caesarian scar burst open (quite spectacularly)
    Had a serious shouting match with Ian Paisley
    Visited a den of iniquity and vice under the Gherkin

    And that’s quite enough of that….:-)

    1. Kathryn Evans 7 years ago

      More more more!! Underneath that sweet exterior Ms Coats…:o)

    2. Lucy Coats 7 years ago

      ….lies a very murky past!

  20. Erika Wilson 7 years ago

    Oh marvelous. How I long to sit next to you at a dinner. Now I know what I will be compiling with my morning mug of coffee.

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  22. Pete May 7 years ago

    I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

  23. Fiona 7 years ago

    Such wonderful hope, for me.
    I think my 5.5 year reltionship is over. I’m very lost and sad. I’m 22, want to write but feel like I can’t. Finishing an English and Philosophy degree that’s crushing me a little.
    Thanks for this xx

    1. Fiona 7 years ago

      reLATionship. Oh dear. Maybe no writing for me.

    2. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      A 5.5 year relationship at 22? You’re miles ahead of where I ever was! Don’t be lost and sad, write about it!

  24. Kirsten Baron 7 years ago

    Meg, I love your list & the whole tenor of this thread – but most of all I love Nicola’s “we are raising ducklings in our library (well sitting room) at the mo in a bid to get my daughters to practice the piano without realising it’s graft”.

    As for me –
    I’ve seen humpbacked whales play in the shallows off a deserted beach in California; a robin once took food from my outstretched palm and with my daughter I hand-reared two moorhens called Henry & Maisie. I’ve watched ospreys fly over Cader Idris, fed bat rays in Monterey and had a cornsnake up my sleeve.

    When I was 37, I got a BA Hons in Graphic Design, and two weeks after graduation met the Love Of My Life. (Reader, I married him. Eventually.)

    I took up the piano accordion at the tender age of 47, and two years later performed with the No 1 Ladies Accordion Orchestra in front of paying audiences. And they wanted encores.

    I once spent 4 and 1/2 hours in the freezing cold outside a hotel in Hamburg, waiting for George Harrison to appear. He did. I have an autographed copy of All Things Must Pass to prove it. (His current album at the time was 33 1/3, but I hadn’t bought a copy yet as I was waiting for the price to come down).

    There was more, but the husband is calling me for dinner, which is also A Good Thing in My Life.

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