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This blog was featured on 10/23/2019
Jojo Moyes on Empathy, Inspiration & Her Personal Litmus Test
Written by
She Writes
October 2019
Written by
She Writes
October 2019

Jojo Moyes is a UK-based bestselling author and screenwriter, best known for Me Before You, which was turned into a major motion picture in 2016; After You, Still Me, and The Girl You Left Behind.

Her latest novel, Giver of the Stars, is scheduled to be released this month. Set in depression-era America, it’s the story of five extraordinary women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond.

USA Today praised it: “The Giver of Stars is a richly rewarding exploration of the depths of friendship, good men willing to stand up to bad and adult love. Moyes celebrates the power of reading in a terrific book that only reinforces that message.”

To celebrate her latest novel, we rounded up some of Moyes’ best interviews to share her most insightful writing tips and advice.

On Characters

Moyes works suggest that she’s drawn to people living on the periphery, whether emotionally, physically or economically.

I think a lot of us feel that way. There’s not much interesting to me about people who fit happily into a group and whose life is fulfilled. I’m much more fascinated by the tension that comes from people not quite fitting with their surroundings. And I think most of us will spend some part of our lives feeling that we don’t.”

This excerpt was originally published on The Guardian. Read the full interview here.

And for the author, if she’s not emotionally attached, then she’s on the wrong track.

If I don't cry while writing a key emotional scene, my gut feeling is it's failed. I want the reader to feel something while reading — and making myself cry has become my litmus test as to whether that's working. It's an odd way to earn a living,” she told Book Browse.

On Women Writing

Contemporary fiction that is written by women is often perceived as less substantial than that which is written by men. It’s a frustrating truth in our industry, but Moyes persists unapologetically.

A book might be classified by that dreaded term 'women’s commercial fiction,' but that doesn’t mean that it can’t explore societal, cultural or worldly issues.

“If I can make people think while also being accessible, and possibly make them laugh and cry a bit at the same time, then, frankly, I don’t care what they call me. I’d like to be the Puccini of fiction. I’m unembarrassed by the joy of making people feel something.”

This excerpt was originally published on The Guardian. Read the full interview here.

On Empathy

The elemental relationship between books and empathy has always been apparent to Moyes.

“One of the things I feel really strongly about,” she says, “is that you cannot learn empathy unless you learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And what purer way to learn how to exist in someone else’s shoes than from a book?”

This excerpt was originally published on Literary Hub. Read the full interview here.

On Inspiration

In several interviews, Moyes has mentioned that she’s inspired by the inventiveness of Kate Atkinson.

“I guess the book that changed my feelings about writing as I got older was Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It was a book that has such an extraordinary voice that I kept reading it and I wanted to emulate it. Also I couldn't tell where it was going. It was kind of mad and audacious.”

“I remember being just kind of ignited by it. I thought, ‘Wow. If she can do this, why can't I do something that makes people feel the way I feel right now?’ It made me want to be a better writer,” she told Goodreads.

On Process

Moyes gets up early because she says there is a thing that happens first thing in the morning – your subconscious strips out all the junk in your head and what you’re left with is a story.

“My worst time to write is between midday and 3pm,” she says in an interview, evidence that the mid-day slump can effect even the best writers.

“I’m rigorous about getting words down every day – it’s important to be moving forward. A couple of times a year, I go off to a hotel for two nights and do nothing but write. I produce around 7,000–10,000 words in those three days, though I once did 18,000. If you’re in a rut, I suggest you skip the bits you’re struggling with and move onto something you want to write.”

This excerpt was originally published on Curtis Brown Creative. Read the full interview here.

On Editing

Moyes believes in stepping away from her work before making any major changes, and she advises other writers to do the same.

“Leave your writing alone for at least a month before you go back to rewrite. And don’t be afraid to dig in with your scalpel. All the things that have worked for me have involved some quite radical surgery.”

“The biggest mistake for new writers is over-writing,” she also recommends. “Be ruthless. Rip it away.”

The excerpts above were originally published on Curtis Brown Creative. Read the full interview here.

Photo by Stine Heilmann

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  • Lisa Thomson

    I'm just finishing up Still Me by Jojo Moyes right now. Such a wonderful inspiration. Thanks for sharing her tips here. It's my first read of her work also. I guess I've been under a rock :)