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How Did Bestselling Author Mitch Albom Stumble Into His Writing Career?

Updated on May 5, 2017
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Mona writes a column for Enrich Magazine which is distributed in five countries. She is interested in learning as she writes.

My husband Ed and I with Mitch Albom

My husband, Ed and I pose with Mitch Albom (center) as he signs our books for us.
My husband, Ed and I pose with Mitch Albom (center) as he signs our books for us. | Source

Oftentimes, a person’s career path is determined when they are very young. A child will play teacher, while a grade school student will write a poem. A freshman in high school will join the drama club, the glee club, or the debate club. These children join school activities because they have an idea of what they want to do in the future.

But Mitch Albom, who has sold 35 million books internationally (including his first book, Tuesdays With Morrie), was not like any of these children. Instead, he found his career path by accident, rather late in life. His first job was with a band.

Enrich Magazine, July 2014 issue

My article was published on the July, 2014 issue of Enrich Magazine
My article was published on the July, 2014 issue of Enrich Magazine | Source

Since the band worked at night, his days were free. One day he entered a supermarket and was handed a free newspaper. An ad in the paper said, “If you have free time, we could use some help.” It seemed to be a perfect match.

Albom showed up at the office. He was the youngest person “by 30 years”. The others were volunteers and retired people. Albom’s first assignment was to write about parking meters.

First two pages of my article in Enrich, July 2014 issue
First two pages of my article in Enrich, July 2014 issue | Source

He had never written a thing in his life – not even in high school, aside from school assignments. But he did see the movie, All The Presidents Men, (about two reporters who brought down President Nixon due to the Watergate scandal).

“So I attacked the story on parking meters in a way I felt it should be written,” he recalls. One week later his story was on the front page with his byline. “I saw my name and I saw the words and I think like most writers you fall in love when you see something that you’ve written on print,” he said.

My byline beneath the title of the article
My byline beneath the title of the article | Source

We are seated with a group of people at the Writers Bar of Raffles Hotel, Makati, listening to Mitch Albom tell us this and many other things about his books and his life. Afterwards, he autographed books for the attendees.

Albom's books were all made into movies for television. His latest book The First Phone Call From Heaven will be made into a full length movie for theatres.
Albom's books were all made into movies for television. His latest book The First Phone Call From Heaven will be made into a full length movie for theatres. | Source

Morrie Schwartz

What is evident throughout Albom’s talk is that Morrie Schwartz (his former professor and the subject of his first book, Tuesdays With Morrie) caused a major detour in his life from a brilliant, award winning sports writer to a bestselling novelist who specializes on writing books that stir up hope.

Albom thought his career path was set as he went on to become a successful, award winning sports writer. His life plan was to get richer, get more things, get more awards, get more fame, and then do it all again. Then one day he turned on the TV and saw his favorite teacher, Morrie Schwartz, talking about what it was like to die.

Socorro Ramos (L) started the Philippines' first bookstore, National Bookstore, during WW2. Beside her is Albom while his beautiful wife, Janine, looks on.
Socorro Ramos (L) started the Philippines' first bookstore, National Bookstore, during WW2. Beside her is Albom while his beautiful wife, Janine, looks on. | Source

Albom felt guilty. His ambition made him forget about the teacher he was so close to in college. He called Morrie, but after the call he felt more guilty. He decided that he would visit, just once. “But Morrie was very good at guilt, and Morrie made me feel guilty.” One visit led to another, and each visit raised the author’s curiosity.

Albom realized that at 78 and afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease, Morrie was a happy man. By contrast Albom was 37, healthy, and less happy. He wanted a life like Morrie’s where a man can be old, dying and satisfied.

He continued to visit his teacher. He learned that Schwartz had accumulated huge bills due to his long illness. Albom decided to visit Morrie every Tuesday to work on a book. The sales would be used to pay off the bills.

Third page of my article on Mitch Albom in Enrich Magazine, July 2014
Third page of my article on Mitch Albom in Enrich Magazine, July 2014 | Source

The book, “Tuesdays With Morrie” was turned down many times. Publishers said the book would be boring, depressing and uninteresting. Nobody would want to read it, they said. Albom would have given up, but this was something Schwartz needed, so he kept on and three weeks before Schwartz died, they found a publisher.

The advance payment on the book paid the bills, and Albom wrote it quickly – a small, simple book, after which he would try to get back to his career as a sports writer. “But I guess God had other plans,” Albom said.

So far, those plans have reaped a literary harvest that includes The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Have a Little Faith, For One More Day, The Timekeeper, and now, The First Phone Call From Heaven. All his books became television movies, but his latest book is slated to be a full length theatre film.

Enrich Magazine is circulated in five countries.
Enrich Magazine is circulated in five countries. | Source

Motivation

After Tuesdays With Morrie, Albom was deluged with letters from readers sharing their own experiences and how the book affected their lives. This made him realize that “certain books that come from the heart can be powerful things in people’s lives.”

People would write to Albom and say the book came at a time when they really needed hope. Others said the book changed their lives. A man approached Albom and said his wife died of cancer but before she did, they read Albom’s book together out loud, and they were comforted by it.

Our copy of Tuesdays With Morrie was passed on to our mother when she had the beginnings of dementia. She liked reading it, even though she didn’t read the chapters in sequence. My mother was a wide reader before she died.

L-R Socorro Ramos, head of National Bookstore, Mitch and Janine Albom, and Miguel Ramos, Marketing Director, National Bookstore
L-R Socorro Ramos, head of National Bookstore, Mitch and Janine Albom, and Miguel Ramos, Marketing Director, National Bookstore | Source

The Five People You Meet in Heaven

One reader commented on Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which is about a man who feels he is worthless, then dies and in heaven meets five people whose lives he’d changed unawares. The reader said in his letter to Albom, “I used to think I didn’t matter, then I read that book and felt that maybe I touched a lot of people (too).”

Albom says that today his main motivation to write are his readers. He cites three lines in his book, The Timekeeper that summarizes the essence of his entire career. These lines describe a scene where a rich man wants to freeze himself so that in 500 years he’ll have another lifetime.

Father Time, who is the Timekeeper, tells the man, “you can’t do that.” When the rich man asks why, he is told, “There’s a reason God limits man’s days on earth.” The rich man persists, asking what the reason is. Father Time replies, “To make each day precious.”

Albom said, “If we could live a million years, allotting 100,000 years as a criminal and 100,000 years as a priest, it won’t matter. Things can always be put off to another day. But in knowing that time is limited, people will value it more, because each day is precious.”

Mitch Albom sings

Music

Albom still has the music in him. He has a band with Stephen King, Amy Tan, John Grisham, Dave Barry, Roy Blount Jr., Greg Iles, Matt Groening, James McBride, Ridley Pearson and Scott Turow, all bestselling authors.

“We’re very, very bad. Really, really bad,” he says laughing. Albom plays the piano and knows some music, but the others “don’t know what a chord is, or that a chord even exists.”

They may be off key, but famous musicians like Judy Collis, John Fogarty, Bruce Springsteen and guys from the Byrds sing with them “because we are no competition.”

One singer told the band that they haven’t even reached the level of lousy yet. But Albom says as long as they are below lousy, they remain under the radar, no expectations. So they don’t aspire to be lousy.

They call themselves The Rock Bottom Remainders Band (referring to books that are unsold and given away for five cents). They get together every year to sing in one region in the US, although they have also performed in Ireland and London. “We don’t charge because that would be criminal. But we play for charity,” Albom said.

He adds that when the Rock Bottom Remainders get together, it’s amazing how little they talk about writing. Instead, “We talk about what’s that chord and what key are we in.”

Mitch Albom sings Billy Joel

Turning Filipino

Albom has adopted some Filipino ways. He referred to National Bookstore’s Founder and Head, Socorro Ramos, as “Nanay,” and said he was amazed at how she opened National Bookstore during WWII. “Who does that? Who opens a bookstore in a war?” He asked.

Albom will also visit Tacloban on Monday (as of this writing) to donate 40 boats to fishermen for their livelihood, and to donate books to 10 school libraries. He is also organizing his writer friends to donate books as well.

Morrrie Schwartz once told him, “Get involved with your community. You can’t just write checks.” Tacloban is the newest of nine other charities Albom is involved with. Truly, he likes to stir up hope -- on purpose.

Mitch Albom in Tacloban

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    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 23 months ago from Philippines

      Hi Blonde Logic, how wonderful of you to visit! Thank you for your kind comments of Mitch Albom. I have read all his books and a few of them have made me shed tears. His life is, indeed ironic. He never dreamed of becoming a writer, much less a novelist, but he sort of landed on the job he was fated to do. We should all be so fortunate, and hopefully those who are, give back, too:)

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 23 months ago from Brazil

      I am ashamed to say I haven't heard of him until now. I will definitely be checking out his work.

      Isn't it strange how the hand of fate steps in and guides people down another path. How many lives that he has touched, through his writing and charity work , wouldn't have benefited if he had gone into sports writing.

      Very interesting and informative hub. Thank you for introducing him to me.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Susan Deppner,

      Yes, Mitch Albom is a very inspiring speaker, and his books are lovely, too. I've read all of his books and he always has something good to teach his readers.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 2 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Such a joy to read about Mitch Albom. Very inspirational!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you Mel Carriere:). Yes, it's nice to know that there is more than one way to success. Thank you so much for visiting.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      It's amazing where our destinies lead us. It's great that you had the privilege to meet this fascinating man. Great hub!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you Nell Rose. Yes, life can be full of surprises. Wish all our surprises could be that great:)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      I totally enjoyed reading about Mitch, this was fascinating, and just goes to show how sometimes someone or something can totally turn your life around and off you go in another direction, amazing!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Thank You Ms Dora for stopping by, and it's very nice to know that you are back again! Glad you liked the story.

      WriterJanis, yes, everything you say is sooooo true!

      Macteacher, if you really want to know about Albom's life, the book, For One More Day is what you should read. Albom said he is not the main character, but when he refers to the character's childhood, he uses incidents in his own life. He included pictures of his mom at the end of the book. Then he gave her the first printout and told her, "Mom, this is what I've wanted to tell you all my life." That book had me crying from the third chapter all the way to the end.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Mitch Albom is an inspiration. I remember the great stir he caused with "Tuesdays with Morrie." Nothing can stop a man when he finds his purpose. Thank you for sharing his story.

    • WriterJanis profile image

      Janis 2 years ago from California

      How interesting that his career path took such a turn and how wonderful that he is giving back to society.

    • macteacher profile image

      Wendy Golden 2 years ago from New York

      The Timekeeper and The Five People You'll Meet In Heaven are two of my all time favorite books. I'll have to read his latest. I love his writing style, and his books are unforgettable. I didn't know much about his life, so thank you for writing this and giving us the background of an amazing author. :-)

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Anita Saran, very true. Someone once told me that teaching is a noble profession. Morrie Schwartz was one teacher who exemplified that.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 2 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Great and inspiring hub. What a transformation from one who only wanted fame and riches to one who helped pay Morrie's bills.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Faith Reaper, you know, like you, Mitch Albom sees no incident in his life as wasted but as something that has a purpose. During his talk he said, "What if I didn't turn on the TV and see Morrie?", "What if I never visited Morrie?" "What if I never thought of writing the book to pay Morrie's bills?". In all these incidents, he saw God's hand, and he feels that there are no accidents in life. He said if none of this happened, he would have tried to get back his career as a sports writer. But God planned the career he has now. I'm thinking of using my unused notes on Mitch Albom to write more hubs about him. This article was just a sliver of everything that he is all about.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      It is amazing how God has plans for us in this life that we do not even see coming! His plans for us are better than any that we can come up with for sure. Thank you for sharing this inspirational story and life of Mitch Albom.

      I love your title, "Stirring Up Hope on Purpose."

      Voted up and more and away

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks Travmaj, come to think of it, you're right, Albom never planned to become a writer. But when he got into it, he became a bestseller. Everyone's journey is different. This doesn't mean we can't find our destiny. Albom's life shows that there are many paths to destiny.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      I agree, a wonderful article, Mitch Albom is certainly inspirational. Fascinating how his life changed as he followed his instincts to visit Morrie Schwartz. We never quite know what life is going to offer. And a lesson for writers not to give up, Tuesdays with Morrie being rejected so many times and finally a best seller! Looking forward to his new book. Thanks for this, voting.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      DDE, thank you for your kind words. Mitch Albom is very inspiring as a speaker, and this article is just a sliver of what he talked about. There was so much useful information, that my dilemma was mainly to pick info that I knew the newspapers wouldn't use, since they would be published first and Enrich publishes three months in advance. The man behind the books is so genuine.

      FlourishAnyway, yes, it is interesting that unlike many who dream of their profession from childhood, Albom never dreamt that he would become a writer. I guess it gives hope to many who are never sure about what they want to do until very much later.

      Ericdierker, thank you so much. He was primarily inspirational, in the same way that all of your hubs tend to be:).

      Billybuc, thank you for your kind words. Albom is a tremendously spiritual man, but he is also extremely funny. He doesn't come on strong with massive intellectualism like some writers. He is very spiritual, very funny, very interested in everyone and all around him, quite conservative and kind. He also loves his wife very much.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting and so much thought put into this wonderful hub.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I especially enjoyed knowing how Mitch Albom got started and seeing the photos. I like the message that he conveys about living a contented life.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting hub and fellow, thank you

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A wonderful article my friend. It is always inspirational to read about another successful writer. Thank you for this.

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