Emily Giffin – Bestselling Author

November 2010

CEO, Susan G. Komen

Rewriting the Rules

By Caroline Cox

Author Emily Giffin gets paid big bucks to do what she loves. But it wasn’t always that way. Starting her career as an attorney, with a load of student debt, it took her nearly a decade to find the courage to pursue her dream job. She left her Manhattan firm in the haze of the September 11th attacks. After walking away from her career and receiving dozens of rejection letters from publishers, today the author has five bestselling novels and her books have been translated into 30 different languages.

Here, Giffin tells PINK how she found the courage to leave her career in law to follow her heart.

PINK: What’s the secret to your professional success?

EG: I know it sounds cliché, but hard work. I believe that hard work creates lucky breaks. Talent is the least important of the three ingredients.

PINK: How did your background make you who you are today?

EG: My mother is a retired librarian and instilled in me a very early love of books and reading. Both my parents taught me to go after my dreams. They were supportive of my decision to resign from my law firm and write fulltime, even on the heels of a string of rejection letters.

PINK: What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

EG: Never burn bridges. And when in doubt, go with your gut.

PINK: What are your best balance tips?

EG: Make priorities and try to focus on a few things rather than everything –simply your life as much as possible. I used to feel compelled to say yes to everything – I simply cannot do that anymore. It is liberating to say no. I carve out time for my family and do my best to vigilantly protect this time. Finally, I exercise for my physical and mental health. I literally can’t write if I go too many days without a brisk walk. Most significant breakthroughs in my novels happen when I’m going for a run, alone. 

PINK: From where does your inspiration come?

EG: My books are not autobiographical but they are all relationship-focused. Much of my inspiration comes from my own relationships and my friends and family. It’s amazing how universal certain themes are, such as whether there are deal breakers when it comes to true love (Baby Proof); the idealization of a past relationship and a fixation on the “the one who got away” (Love the One You’re With); or complicated, if not downright toxic, female friendships (Something Borrowed). It is satisfying to write a book and discover how much it resonates with readers worldwide.

PINK: Why do you think that is?

EG: I love writing about flawed characters and enjoy the challenge of making readers root for them in spite of their unsympathetic path and destructive choices. Life is about the gray areas. Things are seldom black and white, even when we wish they were and think they should be. I like exploring this terrain. I believe most people are good at heart and sincerely try to do the right thing. Yet we are all capable of missteps and of hurting the people we love.

PINK: Where were you when you found out Something Borrowed made the New York Times bestsellers list and what was your immediate reaction?

EG: I was in Atlanta, just back from the first leg of my book tour. My editor called as I was feeding my five-month old twins. I can remember the feeling of disbelief and shock, followed by absolute giddy joy. It was a dream come true – and an amusing contrast with my minute-to-minute completely unglamorous existence as a new mother.

PINK: How do you record all your ideas?

EG: I’ve almost always kept a diary. I didn’t skip a day for nearly fifteen years – from New Year’s Eve 1983 (fifth grade) through graduation from law school in 1997. Not a single day. An extraordinary testament to the breadth of my obsessive and neurotic tendencies! I still record my feelings and thoughts, but now my entries are sporadic and have more to do with the cute things my children say than any profound inner monologue. Then again, my entries have never been particularly profound!

PINK: Did 9/11 affect your decision to quit your job as a lawyer?

EG: Actually that decision had already been made which made the timing really bizarre. I resigned from my job at my law firm at the end of August and moved out of my Manhattan apartment on September 10th. My flight to London was on September 16th and was actually the first scheduled international flight that was released from JFK. It was a surreal and devastating moment to be taking off for such a significant international move and looking out of my plane window at the smoke covering the tip of Manhattan. 

PINK: What made you go to law school?

EG: I always wanted to be a writer, and never lost that desire in college, so I’m not exactly sure why I went to law school. I think I had the sense that I had to get a “real” job first – that I couldn’t graduate and promptly sit down to write a novel. I took a lot of history and political science classes – so law school became a logical next stop. If I’m completely honest, I also think I went to school because it felt safer — a more certain path to measurable success. It always feels riskier and scarier to go after something you really love and want because the rejection and failure hurts more.

PINK: Do you regret going to law school and becoming an attorney?

EG: Never. For one, I don’t think you can ever regret an education — even one that comes with a heavy loan burden. I learned so much — skills and knowledge that I still apply today in a very practical sense. I also gained real world experience. I learned about office politics and was forced to develop a thick skin while working at a large law firm. Most important, I’m not sure I would have moved to New York City without the safety of my law degree and job offer. Living there was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I made close friends at law school and my firm, relationships I wouldn’t trade for anything.

PINK: What made you decide to quit and go for your dream of writing?

EG: Although I enjoyed law school, I loathed the actual practice of law—at least the big firm culture. And I discovered that misery can be quite motivating. So very early on, I devised a plan to pay off my law school loans and then write full-time. Meanwhile, I began writing a young adult novel in my free time (and sometimes while at work!). Four years later, my loans were paid off and my book was completed. I was able to land an agent, but over the next several months, I received a dozen rejection letters from publishers. I seriously contemplated giving up and keeping my nose to the legal grindstone, but instead, I quit my job, moved to London and decided to try again. It was then and there that I began writing Something Borrowed.

PINK: Why London?

EG: My mother is an anglophile and taught me to love all things British. Moving to London was an adventure, but relatively safe because there is no language barrier. I also liked the idea of writing in a cozy warm flat while it rained outside.

PINK: How do you relax and rejuvenate?

EG: I go for long runs, read, go to the movies and take naps. I try to take a few vacations a year with my family and enjoy an occasional weekend alone in New York City. I love being alone.

PINK: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

EG: I was the manager of the basketball team at Wake Forest during the Tim Duncan era. I haven’t driven on a highway since 1996. And I have a mild case of prosopagnosia (inability to recognize faces) which can be very inconvenient and anxiety-inducing now that I meet so many people.

PINK: What is one personal goal you haven’t yet achieved?

EG: #1 New York Times bestseller. I’ve been #2 several times (and #1 in other countries), but keep losing out to vampire books here in the states!

PINK: How do you define success?

EG: Success is a very personal and individual thing. To me, success is following your passion and fulfilling your potential.

PINK: Any last minute advice for our readers?

EG: Worry and regret are wasted emotions. Move on after mistakes – just try to learn from them. Also, limit the amount of time you spend focused on what others think of you.  This one is difficult for me, but in my heart I know that it just doesn’t matter.

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