Lee Child (born in 1954) has written multiple thriller novels, his most famous being his Jack Reacher series, which is currently at 24 best-selling installments.
Child has shared some fantastic wisdom about writing throughout the years. Here are five quotes I particularly love!
1. There is nothing wrong with just telling the story.
This may be the most simplistic quote ever shared about writing, but it’s oh so true. You can read a hundred books about how to write a great story. You can read about what you need to do in terms of character and conflict and tension and research and pacing and yada yada yada. There is something to be said about learning at least the basics to how to write a fantastic yarn, no matter what genre you’re working in.
But at some point it’s perfectly okay to push all of that stuff away, let your mind go quiet, put your ass in the chair… and just tell the story. Tell the story to the best of your ability. Tell yourself the story, nobody else in that first draft. Enjoy the writing process. Have fun. If a scene doesn’t work, fine. You can delete it or change it later. Lee Child is absolutely right: it’s okay sometimes to just tell the story, and forget the rest.
2. I have the ‘thing’ worked out — the trick or the surprise or the pivotal fact. Then I just start somewhere and let the story work itself out.
I’ve heard something similar from other authors, in that they figure out the surprise, or the ending, or whatever it is that kind of pulls the narrative together… and then they start somewhere and let the rest of the story work itself out. I’m definitely not that kind of author. I’ve certainly started stories with an idea of the ending but no clear conclusion as to who the killer is or where all the characters will end up.
I think this element depends on your genre. I’ve written one mystery novel, and boy did I mess up when I didn’t come up with the killer very early on. That particular novel took about five drafts and almost a year of work to get it to a point that finally felt satisfying in terms of the mystery aspect. But if you’re writing a contemporary literary story? If you’re writing a romance? You probably don’t have to spend as much time fixated on any one “thing” that needs to be worked out.
3. I write in the afternoon, from about 12 until 6 or 7. I use an upstairs room as my office. Once I get going I keep at it, and it usually takes about six months from the first blank screen until ‘The End.’
I’ve been so set on trying to do my writing in the morning that I’m always surprised to see bestselling authors who have different schedules for when they do their work. Lee Child has one I haven’t exactly come across before— noon to 6 or 7. Interesting. I wonder why he doesn’t start before noon. And I wonder why he needs six to seven hours of writing every day as opposed to, say, three or four hours.
The thing about writing is that it’s different for everyone. And it doesn’t really matter when you do it. My suggestion has always been to find a time every single day to write that works for you. Whether it be 5am or noon or 4pm or midnight. Find the time that works for you, the same way this time apparently works for Lee Child.
4. So long as readers keep reading and my publishers keep publishing, I plan to keep on writing. I’d have to be an idiot to be burnt-out in this job.
Something I always find fascinating about bestselling authors is how many of them manage to crank out book after book year after year without burning out. Sometimes I think, well, jeez, they’re doing so well that why not take a year or two off and not be so damn prolific? I look at Stephen King, who produces at least one new novel a year still to this day, and he’s worth more money than any of us would know what to do with.
But what Child says here is so true: as long as his publishers keep publishing his books and readers keep reading them… then why not? Isn’t that the goal of any writer, to have millions of readers who are always clamoring for the next book? I’ve written nineteen novels in nine years, and I can only imagine how much more I might write, honestly, if I knew every new book I wrote would be published and that there were many, many readers out there who wanted to read it.
5. For me the end of a book is just as exciting as it is for a reader.
This is something I hope for on every new novel I write. It’s what I hope for on the new novel I begin working on next week. To be in the last third of the story and be as excited writing it as a reader will hopefully be reading it. This is why I kind of discourage outlining everything. When you know exactly everything that’s to happen, there’s not a lot of excitement and freshness to the writing. Everything feels too pre-planned.
Right now just thinking about the place my new novel is going to end fills me with excitement. I hope I have that feeling when I’m in the midst of it. And I hope you feel that way, too. Lee Child has written a lot of books. Many, many, many books. And if he’s able to feel excitement at the end of each one of them to this day, we should all be so lucky to feel the same way when it comes to the endings of our own novels and stories.