Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Ten Writing Tips
Doug’s top five:
- Writing is like exercise or learning a musical instrument: you have to engage in it every single day, seven days a week, for at least an hour. If you want to play Chopin in Carnegie Hall, you’ll have to practice hard for at least ten to twenty thousand hours. Writing is no different.
- You must arrange your life for the writing commitment. Set aside a sacred one-hour period for writing every day. Disconnect all electronic interruptions. And disconnect all friends, family, and loved ones. You have to impress on people that this is your sacred writing time and any unwanted interruption is liable to result in violence.
- Be self-critical. Most beginning writers treat their work like precious children, to be coddled and cherished. Don’t. Beat the hell out of your writing, be critical, and welcome criticism.
- Don’t pay any attention to that rule, “only write what you know about.” Instead, if you want to write about something you know nothing about, do the research! Travel, learn the language, read the books, talk to the experts. If you’re willing to do the research, you can write about anything.
- Surprise the reader. Strive to be unpredictable. Confound their expectations. Don’t be boring. And if you’re stuck on a novel, trying to figure out where to go, think about the worst thing that could happen—and then make it happen.
Linc’s top five:
- Especially when you’re just starting out, prepare to revise your work not just once, but several times. The very act of writing is a learning experience, and by the time you’ve finished your first draft, you may well be in a position to rewrite your book with substantially greater authority than when you were first starting out.
- Write a novel about something you’d like to read, rather than what you think would sell well. Readers are smart people, and they’ll pick up on it if they think you’re just writing to sell lots of books.
- I agree with Doug that it is important to set aside a certain time each day to write. Try to make that time sacrosanct. Writing can be hard enough as it is, and it’s easy to find excuses to do something else. Don’t! Some writers set themselves goals for each day—this many words, this many pages. Whatever goals you set for yourself, try to find a set time each day that is devoted to writing and nothing else.
- I disagree with Doug when it comes to writing about what you know. This rule is an old chestnut, and for a reason. Of course, we can’t all be astronauts or presidents or international spies—that’s where imagination and research enter into the writing process. But when you’re dealing with settings, or personalities, or how your characters react to events taking place around them, it helps if you can use your own experience as a foundation. It’s not an accident, for example, that so many of our books are set in New York City—a place Doug and I both know very well.
5. Finally, have fun! Writing, as I’ve said, can be hard work, but it is also a uniquely personal and infinitely varied method of self-expression. Write to entertain yourself as well as others. When you reach the end of the road and your book is done, whether or not it gets published, you’ll still be able to say with pride: “This is mine. I did this.”