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National  + Finance  | 

Walker Webcast: Amor Towles—From Writer to Investment Banker to Writer Once Again

Amor Towles is a well-regarded novelist. His best-known works are “Rules of Civility,” “A Gentleman in Moscow” and the recently released “The Lincoln Highway.” All three novels collectively have sold more than five million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. And while he achieved his fame as an adult, Towles told his old friend, Willy Walker of Walker & Dunlop, that he’d been writing fiction since he was a kid.

“I became interested in writing when I first learned how to read in first grade,” Towles explained during the April 13, 2022 Walker Webcast. He would read something, write something, read again and write again, from grade school through high school, college and then graduate school at Stanford University. He graduated from Stanford with a master’s in English and the desire to be a novelist. That lasted until he moved to New York City to live the “writer’s life,” only to end up claustrophobic, lonely, frustrated . . . and broke.

“I realized I had to get a job,” he said. “I’d spent a year in a dark room, with my roommate’s cat.” He ended up as an investment professional, specifically spending two decades building and helping to manage Select Equity Group. Why this field? Partly because of his father, uncle and godfather, all of whom were involved with the industry. And partly because it made the most sense.

“They were all having such a great time in this field,” he said. “No one was coming home from work frustrated or miserable. The field was so stimulating.”

Towles acknowledged that he had a blast as an investment professional. But “I had to get back to writing fiction on my spare time, or I would be miserable emotionally and spiritually,” he said. While keeping his hand in finance, he created his first novel, which he called a “failed novel,” that never saw the light of day. But out of that attempt came his first published novel, “Rules of Civility.”

In delivering “Rules of Civility,” Towles said he learned from his prior mistakes. One mistake was he was used to authoring short-story fiction, and a shift from that to long-form prose is a “much more complicated mechanism.” He’d failed to outline the novel, he said, which meant he struggled for years trying to make sense of it before giving up.

In crafting “Rules of Civility,” he produced a different method. First, he formulated the idea and characters, “imagining every aspect that I can, what the settings are, the characters, their backgrounds, personalities and what they say.” The next step involved crafting a detailed outline, bringing together different moods, ideas and motifs. Then he gave himself a full year to write the first draft, after which he obtain feedback from editors, close friends and his wife. With critiques in hand, he developed two more drafts before sending the final product to the publisher.

Towles used this method on all three novels (though he acknowledged that writing the first draft of “A Gentleman in Moscow” took a year and a half). In following this method, he indicated that every phase was necessary to the outcome: A successful novel.

Such a phased process isn’t too different from what’s used in the business world. “When you’re bringing a ne financial product to market, there are different phases around it,” Towles said. There’s designing the product, marketing it, building expertise in handling it and also diversification. “You wouldn’t say, as the boss, that the most important thing is to get the idea right, though it is,” Towels said. “But you don’t want to suggest that the other stuff after it doesn’t matter.”

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Inside The Story

Amor TowlesWalker & Dunlop's Willy Walker

About Amy Wolff Sorter

I love content. I love writing it, visualizing it, and manipulating it to fit into different formats. I have years of experience in working with content, both as creator and editor. The content I create and edit provides assistance with many goals, ranging from lead generation, to developing street cred through well-timed thought-leadership pieces. Content skills include, but aren't limited to, articles and blogs, e-mails, promotional collateral, infographics, e-books and white papers, website copy and more.

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