Jo Nesbø was born in 1960 and grew up in Molde, Norway. He is a writer, musician, former economist and he worked as a freelance journalist and a stockbroker. But, as of March 2014, more than 3 million copies of his novels have been sold in Norway, and his work has been translated into over 40 languages, selling 30 million copies worldwide. Nesbø is primarily known for his crime novels about Inspector Harry Hole, but he is also the main vocalist and songwriter for the Norwegian rock band Di Derre.
Crime author, Jo Nesbø, is a literary phenomenon burning through Scandinavia and on to the big screen. His bestselling novels (more than 10!) became a sensation in his frosty homeland and it’s easy to see why: the hero of many of his novels, the dissolute detective Harry Hole, witnesses all manner of horrifying violent deaths, one victim in a case Hole works on is Superglued to a bathtub and made to drown as the water rises and another victim has her face torn to shreds by an exploding metal ball put in her mouth. Despite the creatively ghastly crimes that come from Nesbø’s imagination, he’s not at all scary in person.
With killers, thieves, twists and tension, Jo Nesbø has cracked the secret formula for writing a bestselling crime novel. So, for anyone who admire his writing style and want to learn more about his writing rules, here are 10 of his most famous advice for aspiring authors:
1. There are no typical work days!
«This workday, I got up at 4 a.m., I went to a deli outside the hotel, I got coffee, and I worked until 8 o’clock, I went to the gym here at the hotel, then I had breakfast with my agent. I will do interviews until 4 o’clock, then I’ll go to the airport and get on a plane back to Oslo. I’ll work on the plane, probably for five hours. Then when I wake up I’ll be in Oslo. Writing is what I do when I don’t have other things to do. I have no rules, and I wake up at all different times depending on what I did the night before!»
2. Work wherever you are!
«I write everywhere, but the best place is in airports and on trains. When you’re sitting on a train or waiting for a plane, you only have a limited time to write. It makes you feel that time is precious. If you wake up in the morning and say: “OK, today I’m going to write for 12 hours”, you don’t feel that. I like to know I’m going to do as much as I can in just 1 or 2 hours!»
3. Have a perfect plan!
«If you have a good story to begin with, it will be great no matter how you write it. I like to have confidence that I know the story – that when I start writing, I have worked it over and over, so I don’t have the feeling after page one that I’m a story-maker. I’m a storyteller. The story is already there, I’m not making it up as I go along. That’s when you have the confidence to tell your readers: “Come and sit closer, because I have this great story. So just relax, lean back and trust me”. That’s the way I feel when I’m reading work by the great storytellers!»
4. Go in strong!
«Americans are best at introducing their stories. In the first pages of a book they have a shameless way of hyping their own tale. It’s a tradition. John Irving does it, and Frank Miller, the graphic novelist, has the same way of manipulating you into turning the page. I love that. And it could be anything that makes your readers want to keep going – you can’t think in terms of rules. Just go with gut feeling. If the idea of an opening fascinates you and it sounds challenging, you’re on the right track!»
5. Use your life!
«It’s good to draw on real-life experiences. When I’m writing a book like “Headhunters”, I use the crime genre but I also use myself. I’ve done a lot of different things. I was an officer in the air force. I make music. I worked as a stockbroker for many years. That’s how I had the inspiration for “Headhunters”. When I worked as a financial analyst, I was interviewed by headhunters. What helps my books is that I have a life, therefore I can relate to people’s lives!»
6. Write what’s there!
«It’s not a matter of trying to write a bestseller. It’s writing what you have. And if you are lucky, you may share your taste of storytelling with a broad audience. I had no idea my stories would reach a wide audience. I thought they were more for a small audience. So I was surprised when I realized that I had so many people in my home!»
7. Let the title choose itself!
«There are no rules when it comes to the title of a novel. Ideas come in all different ways. With “The Snowman”, the novel started with the title. I thought: “That sounds like a great title!” And then I started thinking about what the title implied in terms of the story. So that was the start. In other cases, it’s the last thing I do. Sometimes it comes midway through the book. Like I said, no rules. Headhunters was obvious, because of the double meaning. That came quite quickly – it was a no-brainer!»
8. The best creative work doesn’t feel like work!
«When you talk about creative work, it’s work that 200 years ago, you would have done for free. My job writing books is something that I would do for free. Some of the best writers not just in Norway, but in the rest of the world, would have other jobs besides being writers. But working is, for many people, it’s the best part of their day when they’re doing what they really want to do!»
9. Pull literary heists!
«Do I steal from other books? Definitely. And if I’m a thief, I can tell you I’m stealing but I can’t tell you who I have robbed. Well, OK, Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn – those were great books. For me, writing is a reaction to reading. It’s the same reflex you have around a table of friends. Somebody will tell a story, then the next person will tell a story, then the next. Then you have to bring something new to the table. I grew up in a home where I had so many great experiences being the listener or the reader. Now it’s my turn!»
10. Write for yourself!
«When I’m writing, I’m imagining an audience of one – myself. To me, writing is not about visiting people, it’s about inviting people to where you are. And that means you must know where you are. When you reach a crossroads, if you think: “Where would the reader like me to go?” then you’re lost. You have to ask yourself: “What would make me want to get up tomorrow and finish this story?” Sometimes the story will point the direction all by itself. Of course, it’s you as the writer who decides, but sometimes you feel like there’s a sort of gravity in the book!»