Lee Child's writing advice
Read on for exclusive interview content from Lee Child including his valuable writing advice. For even more from Lee, see the January issue of Writing Magazine.
• What’s your purpose in writing the Reacher thrillers?
All I want to do is give people a really exciting story. I think it’s a bit pretentious to think otherwise – I’m read by people with a wide range of choices for an entertainment option.
• What motivates you to write?
I write exclusively for the reader. I’m not interested in winning prizes or critical acclaim, I just want to give readers a few good days of entertainment. Happily I’ve got a lot of readers but I can’t unconceptualise an idea – so I come back to myself. I am the reader. I write one book a year and I read hundreds. But you never find a book that’s 100% what you want, so you have to write it yourself.
• Do you ever consider writing different kinds of books?
Every writer has got 99 ideas but writing has two elements to it, figuring it out and getting it ready, getting it published. The first half is lazing on the sofa daydreaming, telling yourself stories. To an extent we’re servants of the reader – I’m not self-important enough to do what I like, when the readers want another Reacher book.
• Is it true you start a new book each year, on the same date?
Yeah. I September. That’s true. That’s when I start. The year needs a certain amount of shape. It’s a job and you need to pay attention to it. You’ve got to start, finish, meet your deadline. Get it done. It’s about the reader, not you.
• Why did you start on 1 September?
That’s what happened. I bought three pads of paper and a pencil and started writing because I had to get it done. The interesting thing to me was that you write the book, get it sold to a publisher, and that takes time, and I was aware that if I wanted to publish a book each year, I had to write one each year, and I was always pretty far ahead. I was into the third book before I received any kind of feedback or comment or got into the commercial detail of having a book out there.
• With such a high productivity rate, do you believe in writer’s block?
Writer’s block is a shorthand term that means you just don’t feel into it that day. Or that you can’t grapple in your head to generate an idea. It’s just a reluctance to get to work and we all understand that. Everyone has days when you can’t be bothered. But if you want it, you just have to go and do it.
• How do you feel about breaking writing rules?
In general writers, especially beginner writers, are very nervous and insecure. People have a clear idea of what they want to do and there are rules that aren’t rules – they’re just advice, and sometimes bad advice. Showing not telling is one face of bad advice. There is no reason why you can’t tell something in a plain, declarative style. Classic post-war thriller writers just sat down and told a story, and the idea that you should not is very twisted and forces people to pass on information in a very weird way. My main point is always to avoid advice. Books only work if they are vivid and organic and have one imagination in charge.
• Are there any qualifications that help when it comes ot writing a thriller?
You want to be sure you’ve read enough. The only qualification to write a book is to have spent time reading. If a person starts reading at ten and continues all their lives, reading books, reading about stuff, going off at tangents – then just sit down and write one. Write what you think the perfect thriller should be.
Read the full interview in January's Writing Magazine.