Writing tips for authors from Richard Bolles' interview

If you have searched for a job or considered a career change anytime during the last thirty years, it's very likely you have read Richard Bolles's landmark book, What Color is Your Parachute?

It's sold over ten million copies and it is one of the most successful books in history. It has been translated into many languages and has been in print continuously for almost 40 years.

Richard Bolles' background

Our interview began with an insightful and inspiring look at his life's work during this interview. He grew up as a very shy child and immersed himself in books, particularly westerns.

By the time her entered college, he was a voracious reader and had begun to cultivate an interest in his religious faith. Although he entered MIT to study Chemical Engineering, he transferred, after two years, to Harvard to acquire a liberal arts education and to explore his other interests.

He became acquainted with the writing of Phillips Brooks, a famous preacher in Boston's Trinity Church. It inspired him to pursue a life in religious ministry. By 1966, he was the pastor of a church in San Francisco.

What Color Is Your Parachute's origins

In 1985, however, he was laid off from this position and became an ambassador traveling to campus ministries throughout the western United States.

As he began to visit these ministries, he soon learned that many other ministers were also losing their jobs due to budget cuts. What Color is Your Parachute? was originally written for these ministers to help them in their career progression.

Where did the "Parachute" title come from

Richard Bolles recounts the background of the title. He was in a meeting with fellow ministers and he was asked to take notes on a blackboard. When the topic of the laid-off ministers started to be discussed and the discussion turned toward how they were going to be "bailed out," he wrote "What color is your parachute?" on the blackboard, and everyone thought it was very clever.

Two years later, in 1970, when he published the book, he remembered that experience and used the phrase as the title of the book. As he said, "I was self-publishing the book, so there wasn't anyone to tell me I couldn't."

Richard Bolles' advice for writers

Mr. Bolles, who has never employed a professional editor, uses a great deal of empathy in his writing and he is able to effectively connect with his readers.

He worked on the book as he traveled the country visiting various ministries. He always had two questions to ask people he met. The first question was "What is Plan B if you can not get a job offer after a great deal of effort?" and the second question was "How can you change careers assuming that you cannot afford to earn a second college degree or additional training?" The answers people gave him to these questions enabled him to put together one of the most widely read and respected career guide books in history.

He offers three pieces of advice for writers and those aspiring to be writers: First, always write what you are passionate about. This is a nearly universal truth, and Mr. Bolles's experience proves it.

His second piece of advice is to write down whatever is on your mind -- stop looking for the perfect sentence. He remembers how he used to write his sermons. He would start at 4:00 on a Saturday evening and not stop until it was ready for church the next morning. He would read and re-read the manuscript many times. He didn't always have the perfect sentence to write, but he used what can be described as "stream of consciousness" writing. If he didn't think he knew what to write, he would write "I don't know what to write." Eventually, his thoughts would come together and a manuscript would be completed. He advises writers to simply write what is on their minds and trust that the overall concept will emerge.

His last piece of advice for writers is to use illustrations. Mr. Bolles believes that he uses both sides of his brain when he writes, and he often requires the use of illustrations to effectively convey a point. He encourages writers to do the same, where possible.


The success of What Color is Your Parachute? is a wonderful inspiration to writers. His work is a testament to the belief that if you are indeed passionate about a topic and you work diligently, you can change people's lives with your writing.

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