Douglas Adams (1952–2001) died at the early age of 49, but his work lives on for so many generations to come. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy is an iconic book, one that spawned a series that continues to be adored the world over. Adams had such an incredible talent for writing, and thankfully he was able to share with us some of his many wise insights about the craft. Here are five of them…
1. I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
This is Douglas Adams’ most famous quote about writing, and it’s easy to see why. As writers we are often forced into deadlines. If we have signed with a publisher on a manuscript, there’s a deadline for when the manuscript is due, along with a follow up deadline if you’ve signed a two-book deal. I also believe in making up deadlines as a writer to keep you on track.
But sometimes you simply do have to let the deadline whoosh on by. Especially if you’re in the zone. Especially if the writing is coming along well, and you don’t want to yet break the spell.
And if you’re in a bind? Missing a deadline won’t be the end of your career either. Just make sure you tell someone!
2. I remember very little about writing the first series of ‘Hitchhiker’s.’ It’s almost as if someone else wrote it.
One thing that amazes me about pretty much all kinds of art and creativity is that the current project you’re working on becomes for awhile your entire world, your life, hundreds of thoughts throughout the day. You’re immersed in it.
But when you finish, you move onto the next project, and the previous one stays exactly there: in the past. You remember working on it fondly, of course. I have great memories of working on all of my novels.
But after a certain point, definitely years later, your projects often do begin to feel like someone else wrote them. You can barely remember the premise of the thing, let alone all the characters and the scenes. Enough time goes by, and you forget so much about the story.
This is a good thing. You shouldn’t necessarily remember every detail. You should have moved on to the next project.
3. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write a novel and saying, ‘Well, okay, I’m going to do something of high artistic worth.’
This is the kiss of death for me, whether I’m embarking on a novel project or even a short short project. And it should be the kiss of death for you, too.
To sit down at your desk and think, okay, I’m going to do something of high artistic worth is about the same as saying, I’m going to write a piece of shit.
Because if you’re already thinking that way before you’ve put a word down, you’re kind of screwed. You’ll second guess yourself. The moment you write a terrible sentence, you might not write for a week, or you might quit the project altogether.
Don’t sit down and try write something of high artistic worth. Instead, sit down and tell yourself an incredible story. A story that you believe deserves to be told in the absolute best way you can tell it.
Don’t write to win awards, or to get acclaim. Write to tell a compelling story, and just do the best you can.
4. When you write your first book aged 25 or so, you have 25 years of experience, albeit much of it juvenile experience. The second book comes after an extra year sitting in bookshops. Pretty soon, you begin to run on empty.
I don’t agree with all of this quote, but I definitely agree with part of it. I don’t believe Adams is correct in saying that you run on empty after your first few books and ultimately won’t have anything else to say.
There are so many stories out there. So many I myself have yet to write, that I want to write. There are so many new characters and premises to explore.
On the other hand, I do agree with him that if you fail to live, if all you’re doing is reading books in bookshops and not going out into the world and experiencing new things, your stories after awhile will start to feel formulaic and dry. You might start repeating yourself. You might write a story today exactly like the one you wrote nine years ago.
Make sure you live a little, and then come back to the desk and try writing a new story. As long as you have more to say, and as long as your imagination is in fine form, you’ll be well on your way to delivering something great every time out.
5. This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
I included this last quote because it makes me laugh, first of all, it is a little random.
But there’s also some truth in this quote that I have never actively thought about before. I don’t know why, but often Thursday is my hardest day of the week to write. Especially if I’ve taken the weekend off, by Thursday I’m definitely beginning to burn out a little.
Monday I go all in on my newest writing project. Tuesday it still feels fresh. Wednesday I’m still feeling good. And Friday is great because once I finish my writing that day, I often will take a break for the weekend.
But Thursday? Thursday is definitely a day I don’t always get the hang of. It’s not quite the weekend yet, so it’s too early to celebrate. You are a whopping four days into the week now, and so your work ethic begins to slow down.
I always have to press forward a little bit harder on Thursdays, I really do. And it makes me so happy that Adams felt the same way!