5 Lessons on Innovation from Outlander’s Diana Gabaldon

A Creative Force

One of the most innovative people I have ever met is my friend Diana Gabaldon. Last year, her wildly popular Outlander novels became even more popular as the new television series was released. Whether you are reading her Outlander series or her Lord John novels, you will be hard pressed to categorize her writing. Most critics give up and classify her work with a list of descriptive words ranging from historical fiction and romance to mystery and adventure.

However you describe her novels, you may find it even more challenging to describe the author. Diana is equal parts scholar, writer and historian. Mix in a bit of archivist; stir in comic book writing, and the unique recipe begins to take shape.

When I first met Diana, I had not read any of her books. She captivated me by the way she told a story. How she went from college professor to best-selling author was a story I will never forget.

Here are a few lessons I learned from the impossible-to-describe creative force named Diana Gabaldon:


Lessons from A Creative Mind

1. Try….why not take a chance? 

It seems that most people have an idea, think they should do something, and then push that dream into a drawer. They never really give it a go.

Years ago, Diana read comic books. She felt the writing quality was declining and that she could do it herself. Have you ever felt that way? You see something and think, “I can do better.” Most of us have. What sets Diana apart is that she didn’t stop there. She investigated. She found out who was in charge and then turned in a submission.

Years later, Diana would take a different chance. She thought that she would like to try writing a novel. That try, what she calls the novel she was writing for “practice,” became Outlander.

What idea have you had that you have left in that drawer? What could you do to give birth to something new?


2. Study…for the love of creating.

Long before her mega success as an author, Diana spent years as a university professor.  She has a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. She also holds degrees in marine biology and zoology. That type of academic success shows an underlying love of learning.

And it’s that same love of learning she uses in the meticulous research for her books.  Her fiction books are known for their accuracy, and it is no wonder.  Her personal library includes thousands of books. Her Arizona home alone contains over 1500 reference works on topics such as warfare techniques, poisons and history. Some of the topics are very specific, such as the art of passementarie (the knotted tassels on 18th century furnishings) or the 126 books on herbals. If you have been searching for Sam Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) or Captain Francis Grose’s A Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), look no further.

Often people look for the shortcuts to success. You may hear that Diana decided to write a book and then found herself on the NYT list. The truth is that great public success is almost always the result of planting, tilling and working in private.

Diana Gabaldon's bookcase, Used by Permission Diana Gabaldon’s bookcase, Used by Permission


3. Fail…and keep going!

Leadership Lessons from Over 200 Thought Leaders


Voices of Influence

A few years ago, I launched this blog with the idea of sharing insights, ideas, and inspiration.  It is my hope that the lessons and ideas shared here help you in some way whether that is fast-tracking your career or overcoming procrastination.

When I started, I thought it was worth it if I made a real difference to just one person.

I’m happy to report that at least one person has found it life-changing.  That person is me.  I learn far more by sharing these ideas than you can imagine.  What an incredible experience to have the opportunity to learn from so many people.

Thank you for reading, for commenting, and for sharing these posts.  I appreciate all of you and look forward to getting to know you better in the coming months.

Below are some of the leadership interviews and posts with thought leaders from a variety of fields on numerous topics.  I hope you find one you missed and that it positively influences your year ahead.


“The book you don’t read won’t help.” –Jim Rohn



Leadership, Management & Execution


“You will be the same person in 5 years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” -Charlie Jones


Leadership Communication

Lessons and Quotes from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

Powerful Lessons

If you have a teenager in your house, you have heard about The Fault in Our Stars.  Bestselling author John Green’s fifth novel has sold millions of copies, won critical praise, been translated into 47 languages, and the movie adaptation is now in theaters everywhere.  The book and the movie have captivated audiences of all ages.

9780525478812A few years ago, I picked up a manuscript and began reading it (this was before the official release).  I wasn’t too far into the book when I realized its power.  It’s a story about two teenagers, told from sixteen year old Hazel’s point of view.  She is dealing with a cancer diagnosis and meets Gus, another teenager, in a cancer support group.  It explores many powerful life lessons.  No matter how brief our time may be here, we have the ability to live it to its fullest.

I had the opportunity to interview John soon after the book was released.  It was so new that he didn’t want to give away the plot.  In this interview, hear John Green:

  • Explain how he writes authentically from a 16 year old girl’s perspective
  • How he and his brother work to combat “world suck”
  • Whether he has a secret plan on social media (he has millions of devoted followers)
  • Why he once licked a cat
  • And, in one of my favorite answers ever, John did give a true “elevator” speech about the book (must see)


Life Lessons


I often write about leadership, success, and life lessons.  All of John’s books are filled with quotes on these important life themes.  Here are a few lessons from this book:

Today matters.

Search for love.

No matter how much time we have, we can impact others and the world.

Life is a struggle.

Find your authentic voice.

We all face challenges. Who we become is often based on how we handle what comes our way.

Enjoy the little things.

In a storm, you can handle much more than you think possible.

Wisdom is possible at any age.


John Green Quotes


Here are a few John Green quotes that will likely have you reflecting from this book and a few of his others:


“The marks humans leave are too often scars.” –John Green


“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” –John Green


“We need never be hopeless because we can never be irreparably broken.” –John Green


“Pain is like a fabric: The stronger it is, the more it’s worth.” –John Green


“You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.” –John Green


“If you don’t imagine, nothing ever happens at all.” –John Green


“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.” –John Green


“Books are so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.” –John Green


“Youth is counted sweetest by those who are no longer young.” –John Green


“We are greater than the sum of our parts.” –John Green

Tips for Aspiring Authors from Maile Meloy


Maile Meloy grew up in Montana.  She’s written award-winning books including novels Liars and Saints, A Family Daughter, and story collections Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, and Half In Love.  Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Slate, Sunset, O, and The New Yorker.

Maile is also a friend, and I previously interviewed her in person about the release of her first young readers book, The Apothecary.  The sequel, The Apprentices, is coming out in June.

This is a guest interview post by my daughter.  I have also read and enjoyed all of Maile’s books, but these questions are hers.

Between your first installment (The Apothecary) and the second (The Apprentices), you changed the point of view from first person to third person.  What made you change from purely Janie’s point of view to one that switches?Maile Meloy Picture 2

The Apothecary is narrated by a character named Janie Scott, and it’s the story of what happened to her when she was 14, in 1952.  I loved writing in Janie’s voice, and I think it really helped me write the novel.  But I’d never written a whole book in first person before, and I found it kind of frustrating after a while.  I could only write about things Janie experienced, so she does a lot of eavesdropping.  I could never cut away to the villains or include anyone else’s point of view.  The other main character is Benjamin Burrows, the apothecary’s son, and I briefly considered writing a second book from his point of view.  But the circumstances at the end of The Apothecary determined the form of The Apprentices: everyone is scattered.  Benjamin has gone off with his father, and Janie doesn’t know where he is.  So I started with Janie in boarding school, in close third person, meaning the narrator says “she” but is basically in her mind.  Then I could shift and have chapters where the narrator is in Benjamin’s mind (in the jungle), and Jin Lo’s mind (in China), and Pip’s, and even the apothecary’s.  It was very freeing.

Will there be a third in the series?  I hope so!

Yes!  I’m working on it now.  It begins not long after The Apprentices ends.

9780399162459Will you do a book trailer for The Apprentices like you did with The Apothecary?

That’s a great question—I had to ask my publishers.  They hired the very talented people at Crush Creative to make the fantastic trailer for The Apothecary, and they’re planning to update it to use for The Apprentices, too.  But there won’t be a separate trailer for The Apprentices, so if anyone wants to make one, please do!

You were a successful author for adults long before writing for young readers.  What made you decide to write for young adults?

Turning Pain Into Strength

My friend Robert Goolrick is one of the most remarkable people I’ve met. He’s a first class novelist, writing two New York Times bestselling books: A Reliable Wife and Heading Out to Wonderful. These are stories that will linger with you long after you finish them. He writes the kind of novels you have to tell someone else about. He also wrote the bestselling, non-fiction book The End of the World as We Know It about his unbelievably difficult life.

A Perfect Life?

Look at his life now, and you’d think it was made-for-movie perfect. His books sell millions of copies. He lives a gentleman’s life in Virginia. He travels to exotic destinations. On his wrist, you are bound to see a timepiece to remember.

You may see the external life of dreams, but dig a little more and learn his story.

As an adult….

  • He was fired from his job as an advertising executive.
  • His manuscripts were rejected by publisher after publisher.
  • He was addicted to drugs and drinking.
  • He cut himself.
  • He literally lost a decade of his life in a world you wouldn’t recognize.
  • He was institutionalized.

As a child….

  • He was verbally abused.
  • He lived in squalor (complete with rats!).
  • He was raped. By his father.
  • He was neglected.

Most of us don’t understand that kind of life, that kind of pain. But all of us have obstacles thrown in our path.

Responding to Challenges