What I Learned about Writing from the Author of The Book Thief

Note: While many people see me as a decluttering expert, I see myself as a writer first. I’ve been writing almost daily for over 10 years, whereas I’ve only been decluttering for 3. That’s why I wanted to share this experience even though it isn’t what I typically write about on the blog.


As I pulled myself away from tasks at home and got in my car, I wondered if the hour-long drive would be worth it. I hadn’t heard how other Markus Zusak events had gone. My brother just happened to see a poster that he was coming to the library. Since it was free and I still remembered being amazed by the beautiful writing in The Book Thief, I signed up.


Due to his Australian accent, it took me a few seconds to process the first words out of his mouth: “Can you understand me? It’s always terrible to get to the end of a talk, only to find that no one understood a word.”


As he spoke, I no longer worried that it wouldn’t be worth my time. And I was suddenly very glad I’d come prepared to take notes. Yet the most valuable thing I learned about writing wasn’t anything I wrote down.


I’m not sure if I expected a man who had sold more than 10 million copies of his book to be boring or pompous, but he was neither. He was nervous but prepared, entertaining yet simple. He was less like I imagined a man with great success would be and more like a best friend.


As I’ve been writing my book, I’ve heard about how anyone can write a book these days. In a way, it’s discouraging because I feel like just another person writing another book when there are already more than anyone could read even if they lived for centuries. Yet the more time and effort I put into my book, the more I respect those who have done it before. Maybe anyone could write a book, but not just anyone actually will. They have to believe in their message enough to carve out time to get the words down and then also to learn the process of getting them published.


And with every situation or thought that comes up telling them it isn’t worth it, they somehow have to convince themselves that it will be.


It’s easy now to look at Markus Zusak and think he’s a marvelous writer and of course he was born to be a writer. That’s why I love that he shared a story about his life as a writer before The Book Thief:


At my first book reading, no one showed up…but the best part is that the librarian still made me read an excerpt from my book just to her.


He thanked us for showing up because he remembered how it felt when no one cared that he was there. That was the most encouraging part of his message…just seeing how he’s like everyone else, but he didn’t let that stop him from putting time into writing another book.


He shared some great stories from his childhood, so if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, don’t doubt that it will be worth your time! But until then, here are the bits of advice he gave to writers.



Writing Advice from Markus Zusak


  1. The easiest place to start is with yourself. He told how a part of his book is something that happened to his grandfather. A group was asked who has neat handwriting. Everyone was scared to volunteer. A man pointed at his grandfather. He was given a writing task and everyone else, including the man who had volunteered him, was sent off to their death.
  2. Small details are really important in stories because it makes them more believable. He referred back to stories he’d told earlier in the evening, asking us what color the cooler was. We all were able to remember. He also told about how he lost his coat in the airport once. He went back to get it, and the person at the desk asked him to describe it. He mentioned the basics and then added that there was a crumpled note in the left pocket. That small detail is what made them believe it.
  3. Do the unexpected. He got his idea to write from Death’s perspective from participating in an assignment he gave to a class of children.
  4. An edited story is the best story. He has told this story over and over, which is why it gets such a huge reaction the whole time. Each time he tells it, he pays attention to what works and doesn’t work, and makes changes accordingly.
  5. Stories must have at least 2 levels. The problem is when they’re linear. Backstories must be told. It doesn’t all have to be in chronological order, and it shouldn’t. You need to use the past to inform the present.


I’d heard a lot of that information before, but it was great hearing it from someone whose work I’ve read and seen that he’s capable of forming sentence after sentence into something beautiful.


If you want to learn more about how to make a living writing, one of my favorite authors has an online course to guide you through the process step-by-step. It’s the reason I’m about to publish my first book. Seriously, it’s amazing and it works. And if you try it for 60 days and decide it wasn’t what you thought or wanted, then you can get your money back. It doesn’t promise a quick and easy journey. I took the course 3 years ago! But it certainly made the process a little faster and a lot less stressful. I can’t wait to hear how it helps you gain readers for your blog or publish a book that people actually pay to read.


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