Everything you need to know to be a writer.
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.