Author Jodi Picoult wonders if you died tomorrow, would you be OK with that? If you weren't, what would you do to change that?
"I wanted to write about whether we make choices or whether our choices make us," she said.
Picoult, who is no stranger in the publishing world with 26 books and many awards to her name, takes a look back at the choices and decisions she's made in her life from her start as a writer to where she is today.
Don't worry about what you should be, just be.
People assume all writers know each other. Picoult thinks otherwise.
"I love meeting other authors because they get it in a way that sometimes people who aren't writers don't really get."
The secret, she adds, doesn't come from reading "how-to" books or getting an MFA in creative writing. Instead, it requires an aspiring author to just do it.
"What you need to do is practice it over and over until you learn what works for yourself," she said.
Picoult's debut novel, "Songs of a Humpback Whale," published in 1992. But her career as an author didn't come with immediate success. She soon realized that to be a writer, it was important to stop worrying how to become a writer and to just be one instead.
"I would keep writing if nobody was reading anything I wrote. That's how you know that you're a writer."
Do what you love and let the money follow.
Picoult always knew she wanted to be a writer.
She credits her grandmother for being a remarkable influence in her life.
"Even looking at myself in this outfit makes me think about how she, from a very young age, really fostered my creativity," she said, looking at an image of her 1-year-old self in an outfit hand-stitched by her grandmother.
The author recalled drives with her grandmother to nursery school, where both would make up stories about streets they'd drive by.
Picoult's dream to become a writer was cemented thanks to the encouragement from her grandmother as well as the rest of her family. She knew at an early age that following her dreams was something that she should do.
"I know a lot of young people don't hear that from their family, from the people who support them, so I know I was really, really lucky to have that extra push."
You can't write about the dinosaurs until they become oil.
"It's really Princeton that I credit with where I am today," she said.
In a class activity, Morris had Picoult bring a story she'd written to a workshop where other students would advise her how to edit the piece.
"I left there just holding myself together. Burst into tears the minute I left," she said.
Picoult immediately went to Morris' office hours to ask her why she had the class review the piece in front of her. Morris responded, "Because you needed it and you can take it."
Angry and frustrated, Picoult continued to edit the piece until she felt it was ready to be seen again. She brought the newest draft to Morris, who recommended the future author send it out for publishing.
Months later, Seventeen magazine published Picoult's story, "Keeping Count," her first paid piece of work.
"Although writers tap into feelings and emotions that are raw on the surface, you can't do something justice if you're living through it," she said.
Picoult adds it is an easy writing mistake to write about what is painful to a person in a given moment. It is important for a writer to have perspective and step back to do a topic justice.
Nobody gets where they are alone.
"I would write until gibberish came out of my mouth," she adds.
After a long talk, her husband became a stay-at-home dad as Picoult traveled for her books.
"Every successful man has a wife who was probably balancing kids and home and all that so that he could go off and do whatever he needed. It's completely legitimate for you as a woman to also have that support," she said, adding that a woman shouldn't have to demand it. She should get it because she deserves it.
Evaluate your happiness.
The author's latest novel, "The Book of Two Ways," tells the story about Dawn Edelstein, a Yale Egyptology graduate student who later becomes a death doula.
The story begins with Edelstein surviving a plane crash and seeing her life flash before her eyes. She moves forward, wondering what a well-lived life truly looks like and how she can recapture things she has lost.
"I think everyone has lost someone or something, has left something behind that always makes us wonder, 'What if?'" Picoult said, describing the character of her newest book.
Picoult traveled to Egypt to work with Egyptologists who helped provide context and history for research around "The Book of Two Ways."
The novel is inspired by an ancient Egyptian guidebook of the same name about the afterlife. The ancient text is said to provide a departed soul a map through the afterlife to Rostau, the realm of Osiris who is the god of death.
Archaeologists found the text in a coffin in 2012, adding it might be the first illustrated book in history.
Picoult, inspired by the ancient guidebook, hopes her latest novel allows readers to explore untouched paths in their lives.