Carl Honoré is a London-based writer. After studying Modern History and Italian at Edinburgh University, he worked with street children in Brazil. He has covered Europe and South America for the Economist, Observer, Guardian, Miami Herald, Houston Chronicle, Time Magazine, and the National Post. His first book, In Praise of Slow, examines our compulsion to hurry and chronicles a global trend toward putting on the brakes. The Financial Times said it was “to the Slow Movement what Das Kapital is to communism.” The Huffington Post called Carl “the godfather of the Slow movement.” His second book, Under Pressure, explores the good, the bad and the ugly of modern childrearing. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and landed on bestseller lists in many countries. His next book, The Slow Fix, will be published in March 2013.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Curious, optimistic, skeptical.
What is your life motto? Leave the world a better place than you find it. Never underestimate the power of words. And always try to see the funny side of things.
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I began doing freelance journalism after leaving university at the age of 21. It took off pretty quickly, and I covered South America and Europe for the next 11 years. In 2001, at the age of 33, I decided to write In Praise of Slow, but that took longer to pan out. Every agent I approached turned me down and I was on the verge of shelving the idea altogether when I stumbled across the right person at a dinner party. It took 20 months to write the book, but when it finally came out it struck a chord right away – and changed my life overnight.
How much time and effort did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? As a child, I did not dream of being a writer. I loved words, languages and writing but never had a master plan to end up where I am today. I used to imagine being a human rights lawyer or an aid worker. Even more startling to me is that I’ve ended up as a public speaker. In my youth, I used to hate giving a talk to more than three or four people at a time. Now I take to the stage in front of thousands, and love it.
What are the challenges in your line of work? Given the seismic changes in journalism and publishing, the biggest challenge is finding a way to make writing pay. Another is being heard above the clamour from all the other people putting pen to paper.
What mistake taught you an extremely valuable lesson? I should have tied my second book, Under Pressure, more explicitly to the Slow Movement. Like it or not, people find it easier to hold a single idea about you. For better or worse, I will always be the Slow guy.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Check your facts. Nothing torpedoes a big argument more than getting the small stuff wrong.
In your mind, is formal training essential? No. Some people seem to find writing courses helpful, but many writers succeed without going anywhere near them. I have never studied journalism or writing.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? I have never had a mentor but sometimes wish I had. I now mentor others and can see how useful it is. In the writing world, the best way to find a mentor is to identify someone whose work you admire, and send him or her an honest, enthusiastic and flattering (writers have fragile egos!) email explaining why you would like to be in touch.
What are some steps those starting out can take to start/further their career? Focus more on the writing than on the career. Hone your craft by asking questions, listening, reading widely and writing as much as you can. As for the career end of things: throw yourself into the mix, and be prepared to write for free to establish a foothold. Don’t be afraid to pitch ideas to the most prestigious publications. A good idea paired with good writing is catnip to editors, however skimpy your CV.
What kept you going when you weren’t at your best? A love of the craft. Writing can be a brutal and lonely business. If you don’t love the act of writing itself, you’ll never make it through the dark patches.
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? Only partly. It certainly helps to publish the right book at the right time. But you can make your own luck by taking risks and putting yourself out there. That said, the real secret to making it as a writer is combing hard work with natural talent.
Check out Carl’s TED Talk – It’s truly inspiring and what inspired me to get in touch!