Bestselling author Tom Clancy (1947–2013) is most famous for his Jack Ryan novels, which include Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Hunt for Red October, all of which became blockbuster films.
Here are three quotes Clancy shared over the years that will help you with your writing!
1. Life is about learning. When you stop learning, you die.
I absolutely agree with this. As soon as you stop being curious, as soon as you become totally set in your ways and aren’t interested in other perspectives and don’t want to learn something new, you’re as good as dead.
Such is especially the case in your writing. One thing I love about writing novels is learning new things about people and places. Right now I’m drafting a young adult novel about something I knew hardly anything about a month ago, and now that I’m practically an expert in!
And since inspiration when it comes to writing is in the doing, not before the doing, oftentimes you will find yourself learning new things while you’re in the actual process of writing, which brings about a kind of magic that should never be taken for granted.
2. Learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it and keep doing it until you get it right.
It’s what I tell every person who wants to be a writer. You can take classes. You can read a thousand books. You can jot down ideas on notepads and research until the sun comes up the following morning. But the best way to get better at writing is actually writing. It can be any kind of writing. Just put your ass in the chair and write something. A short story. A poem. A Medium article. Do the thing, and the rewards will follow.
I’ve been a golfer since I was a kid, and I know exactly what Tom Clancy means by this comparison. There were three years I played golf a lot, between the ages of thirteen and fifteen. I played at least twice a week. I practiced almost every day. I absolutely loved it. And by freshman year of high school, I was scoring in the low eighties on a regular basis. If you golf a lot, you get better. And if you don’t golf a lot, you’ll never get very good at it. It’s just how the sport works.
The same is true for writing. If you are serious about it, and you find time to do a little writing every day, you will get better. I just started writing my twentieth novel. I don’t know if it’s going to be any good or not, but my skill has noticeably improved dramatically since I wrote the first one nearly ten years ago. Practice, practice, practice. And you’ll get there.
3. I think about the characters I’ve created, and then I sit down and start typing and see what they will do. There’s a lot of subconscious thought that goes on.
One of the best things that can ever happen to you as a writer is watching your characters live and breathe on the page. Where you’re so immersed in the story as you write that the characters start to actually feel like real people. This is what you want to have happen. You don’t want the characters to ever feel too distant from you, the author.
Recently I’ve received some criticism that my characters in many of my stories feel like pawns for the plot, not full-fledged human beings. This is an area of writing I still need to work on, still need to practice, practice, practice. Too often I go after the next suspenseful moment of my story than go to the moment that feels authentic to the character’s journey and experience.
I’ve started writing a new YA novel that’s much more about character than plot, and I’m going to do everything I can to follow these characters any way they choose to go in, rather than allow the plot to take over completely. I’m telling you, as soon as your characters start to feel like real people, that’s when great writing begins!