Philip Pullman On Creative Inspiriation: Write to Please Yourself

Interviewed by Douglas Eby

Author Philip Pullman notes that he has “published nearly twenty books, mostly of the sort that are read by children.”

But we adults can certainly enjoy the richness of his stories – one of them was made into a favorite movie of mine: The Golden Compass.

In a Q&A interview on his site, he also addresses a number of questions about his life and work as a writer – giving perspectives that can be meaningful to any creative person.

Were you encouraged to be creative?

No, I was ignored. When anyone took any notice it was to point out what a twit I was, and laugh at me.

This was the best possible preparation for the life of a novelist.

If you have grown-ups fussing over you and encouraging you and taking an interest, you begin to think you’re important, and furthermore that you need and deserve their attention.

After a while you become incapable of working without someone else motivating you. You’re much better off supplying your own energy, and writing in spite of the fact that no-one’s interested, and even learning to put up with other people’s contempt and ridicule. What do they know, anyway?

What inspires you?

Three things. (1) Money. I do this for a living. If I don’t write well, I won’t earn enough money to pay the bills.

(2) The desire to make some sort of mark on the world – to make my name known. To leave something behind that will last a little longer than I do.

(3) The sheer pleasure of craftsmanship: the endlessly absorbing delight of making things – in my case, stories – and of gradually learning more about how they work, and how to make them better.

Who do you write for – children or adults?

Myself. No-one else. If the story I write turns out to be the sort of thing that children enjoy reading, then well and good.

But I don’t write for children: I write books that children read. Some clever adults read them too.

How long does it take me to write a book?

It depends on how long the book is. THE FIREWORK-MAKER’S DAUGHTER took me six weeks, THE AMBER SPYGLASS three years.

What advice would I give to anyone who wants to write?

Don’t listen to any advice, that’s what I’d say.

Write only what you want to write. Please yourself. YOU are the genius, they’re not.

Especially don’t listen to people (such as publishers) who think that you need to write what readers say they want.

Readers don’t always know what they want. I don’t know what I want to read until I go into a bookshop and look around at the books other people have written, and the books I enjoy reading most are books I would never in a million years have thought of myself.

So the only thing you need to do is forget about pleasing other people, and aim to please yourself alone.

That way, you’ll have a chance of writing something that other people WILL want to read, because it’ll take them by surprise.

It’s also much more fun writing to please yourself.

Quotes from

Philip Pullman books

From Wikipedia: 

Philip Pullman CBE, FRSL (born 19 October 1946) is an English writer from Norwich. He is the author of several best-selling books, most notably the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials and the fictionalised biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. In 2008, The Times named Pullman one of the “50 greatest British writers since 1945”.

The first book of His Dark Materials (Northern Lights) won the 1995 Carnegie Medal in Literature from the Library Association, recognising the year’s outstanding children’s book by a British subject. For the 70th anniversary of the Medal it was named one of the top ten winning works by a panel, composing the ballot for a public election of the all-time favourite. Northern Lights won the public vote from that shortlist and was thus named the all-time “Carnegie of Carnegies” on 21 June 2007. It has been adapted as a film under its U.S. title, The Golden Compass.

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