Advice from J K Rowling

When J K Rowling spotted a Twitter comment from @beauty_jackson that read:

“HEY! YOU! You’re working on something and you’re thinking ‘Nobody’s gonna watch, read, listen’. Finish it anyway.”

she responded with a memorable series of tweets:


That text in full:

There were so many times in the early 90s when I needed somebody to say this to me.

Even if it isn’t the piece of work that finds an audience, it will teach you things you could have learned no other way. (And by the way, just because it didn’t find an audience, that doesn’t mean it’s bad work.)

The discipline involved in finishing a piece of creative work is something on which you can truly pride yourself. You’ll have turned yourself from somebody who’s ‘thinking of’, who ‘might’, who’s ‘trying’, to someone who DID. And once you’ve done it … you’ll know you can do it again. That is an extraordinarily empowering piece of knowledge. So do not ever quit out of fear of rejection.

Maybe your third, fourth, fiftieth song/novel/painting will be the one that ‘makes it’, that wins the plaudits, but you’d never have got there without finishing the others (all of which will now be of more interest to your audience).

— J K Rowling, April 2017

 

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Lee Child on writing and research

Lee Child readingA while back I asked Lee Child a question. Not in person, but via a Goodreads author promotion, and he was gracious enough to give a detailed reply.

I suspect it’s something many writers struggle with, and I revisited his answer because it’s something I bumped up against last week, writing the follow-up to my novel Private Viewing. Like its predecessor, the new novel is set in London, and although I know bits of London pretty well — having lived there on an off for about four years — there’s lots of bits I don’t know.

The internet is a fantastic tool for writers, but it’s also a fantastic trap. You can lose yourself for hours doing “research” — and I did just that. Till I remembered Lee Child’s answer and “researched” that instead. After a quick re-read, I stepped away from my browser and got back to my text …

 

I’m interested in your writing process. You’ve said elsewhere that the final book is pretty much your first draft; that you sit down, start writing and see where the story leads — both you and Reacher. But what about research? A lot of your books contain detailed descriptions of places, weapons, etc. Do you incorporate that as you go? Or do you add these details in later, once you’ve got the story sorted out?

 

Lee Child:

You could say a writer’s whole life is research. Everyone I meet, everything I read or see or experience is packed away for future use. Whether to do extensive research to ensure all your facts line up is an interesting question. When writing fiction, I don’t think accuracy matters as much as whether people perceive accuracy. If I wrote a novel set in New York City, I could make it extremely accurate, but my guess is the more accurate I made it, the more people might find it inaccurate. What matters is not what NYC is really like, but what people generally think it’s like. Readers will sometimes mail me to correct mistakes they’ve found in my books and sometimes they’re right, but surprisingly it’s usually the things I research most carefully that they say I got wrong. All in all, if you’re convincing rather than accurate, you’ll probably please more readers.

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Prolific writers

Prolific writers

According to Guinness World Records, L. Ron Hubbard is credited with having the most published works by one author (1,084). But the man who once said, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion,” and promptly did so, (Hubbard founded the loony Church of Scientology), doesn’t hold a candle to Philip M. Parker. Parker, who has developed a way of generating books from templates that are filled with data from internet searches and databases, reckons his programs have written over 200,000 books!

But if titles like “The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais”, (which won a prize for Oddest Title of the Year in 2008), don’t grab you, plenty of other authors have turned out an astonishing number of books.

Still with Guinness World Records, R. L. Stine is reckoned to be the “Most prolific author of children’s horror fiction novels“. Frankly, that sounds more like a title made to fit a writer. (Where’s the record for “Most prolific author of children’s horror non-fiction novels” for example, or “Most prolific author of children’s novels featuring cats”?). Still, Stine has written over 300 novels including the Fear Street, Goosebumps, Rotten School, Mostly Ghostly, and Nightmare Room series,

Still with living authors, Nora Roberts has written more than 200 novels under at least four psuedonyms since 1981.

The late Isaac Asimov wrote 506 books, many of them non-fiction. He published books in nine of the ten Dewey Decimal System categories.

Jacob M. Appel wrote more than 200 books and reportedly received around 21,000 rejection letters — which averages out at 105 rejection letters per novel.

Enid Blyton produced around 600 books.

Barbara Cartland wrote 722 books and also holds the record for the most novels produced in one year (23).

John Creasy wrote more than 600 books under his own and ten pseudonyms.

Terrance Dicks is credited with 666 books, including around 75 based on the Doctor Who TV series.

But they all pale against Charles Hamilton who is reckoned to have written more than 100 million words in his lifetime — the equivalent of more than 1,200 80,000-word novels. Hamilton specialised in writing long-running series for weekly magazines and is perhaps most famous for the Billy Bunter books and stories, written under the pen name “Frank Richards”.

Hamilton died in 1961 at the age of 85. His first story was published in 1895. when he was 19. Over the following 66 years, he turned out the equivalent of 4,151 words a day, every day.

So, how much have you written today …?

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JK Rowling on rejection slips (and more!)

A fascinating interview with JK Rowling (AKA Robert Galbraith) in The Guardian.

 

On rejection slips:

… the first publisher ever to turn down Harry [Potter] wrote Robert [Galbraith] his rudest rejection. So I think it’s safe to say I will never write for them. They clearly don’t like me, in whatever way I present myself. [Laughs]

 

On success:

Some people would assume that you’re sitting around feeling simply marvellous and shining your baubles. But I remember, a week after I got my American deal, JK Rowlingwhich got me a lot of press, one of my very best girlfriends rang me and said, “I thought you’d sound so elated.” From the outside, I’m sure everything looked amazing. But in my flat, where I was still a single mum and I didn’t know who to call to do my hair, everything felt phenomenally overwhelming. For the first time in my life I could buy a house, which meant security for my daughter and me, but I now felt: “The next book can’t possibly live up to this.” So I managed to turn this amazing triumph into tragedy, in the space of about five days.

 

On the birth of Harry Potter:

JK Rowling2

 

It was like an explosion of colour, and I could see lots of detail about the world. Of course the whole seven-book plot didn’t come at once, but the basic premises were there.

 

Lots more here.

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Seven things writers should remember

konrathA gentle reminder from Joe Konrath

This post goes out to no one in particular for no particular reason. Maybe it will motivate some. Maybe it will make others think a little bit. Maybe it will irritate you. But it’s good, tested advice, and worth repeating.
 
1. Nobody owes you a living. I’m old school, and I busted my ass to get where I am. But I don’t feel any sense of entitlement. Yeah, I worked hard. Maybe I’ve got talent. But I don’t deserve readers, and neither do you.
 
2. Success is mostly due to luck. You can do everything right, and still not be satisfied with the state of your career. That’s life. No one ever said this would be fair, fun, or easy.
 
3. Stop whining. The internet is forever. No one likes a person who constantly complains. Even if you feel that bemoaning (insert whatever here) is justified, it will always be linked to you if someone Googles your name.
 
4. Don’t Google your name. What people think of you is their business, not yours. Remember, one of life’s greatest journeys is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.
 
5. Never respond to criticism. It will make things worse. And if you apologize, it will get even more worser. Keep out of any discussion about you and your work. You may think you know better, but you don’t.
 
6. Remember your Serenity Prayer. Fix what you can change, accept what you can’t fix, and learn to know the difference between the two. If it is beyond your control, drink a beer, do yoga, go for a run, or bitch to a close friend where it can’t be seen online. And if you can’t stop dwelling on your bad fortune;
 
7. Quit. The world will keep turning without your work. If writing and publishing is so traumatic, go use your time doing something else you can derive some pleasure from. Life is too short.

Read Joe’s original post.

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The Myth of The Lazy Writer

Hugh Howey, writing in Publishers Weekly;

hugh_howeyThe hardest part of getting a book published is the actual writing. All it takes to see this is the number of people who dream of publishing a book but never manage to hammer out a rough draft. I spent 20 years trying to write my first novel before I finally pulled it off. It’s not unusual for an aspiring writer to struggle for years and never produce a finished product to submit to agents or editors.

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The benefit of my experience

Or how John Steinbeck kept from going nuts …

… let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience, which is probably why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.

 

1 : Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
 
2 : Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
 
3 : Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
 
4 : If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
 
5 : Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
 
6 : If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

63

Found in the magnificent Paris Review, issue 63, Fall 1975
John Steinbeck, The Art of Fiction No. 45 (Continued)
Interviewed by George Plimpton and Frank Crowther

(The whole piece, around 10,000 words, is a rewarding and entertaining read.)

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171 words of wisdom every writer should read

A couple of weeks ago, Joe Konrath published a blog post entitled “The Path to Success”. It’s not a long post, and it concludes with this, 171 words that sum up the whole writing process:

.

Success is meeting your goals.

That definition doesn’t depend on money or sales or agents or reviews or publishers or advertising or how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers you have. It has nothing to do with anyone other than you.

Success is all about setting goals that are within your control, and then hitting those goals.

Maybe some people will read you and like you. Maybe they won’t. That all comes down to luck.

You can try to improve your luck, but it might not work.

You can, however, become a better writer. Write more. Try more. Do more.

The world may never accept you. But that shouldn’t be your goal.

Your goal should be to accept yourself. That’s within your control. And it doesn’t involve luck. It involves learning, trying, working, practicing, experimenting, finishing, never giving up.

You can do that.

You can write books.

Learn to be happy with that, and everything else is just a bonus.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to finish.

.
 Joe Konrath

Read the full post here, (it’s a whopping 1,142 words).

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Writers at Work: Lee Child

leechildLast week, author Lee Child was interviewed on Radio New Zealand. He said this about his writing process …

Basically, the first draft is what is published because I think that is the most honest draft and I have no real idea where the story is going at all. I don’t know any of the things that are going to happen. I don’t really know … sometimes I don’t even know what the subject is or what the crime is. I just start and I let it work itself out on the page. And then when I’ve finished I feel that’s like an honest document, you know, and that is the book.

It’s a weird thing because, you know, I’m a rational person and I don’t have a problem distinguishing fiction from reality, but while I’m doing it, it feels real. I think writers are like that. While we’re doing it, it feels real.

Click here to listen or download the full interview ( 24: 22 )

The quote above comes at 11:43

 

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