Welcome to Timothy Hallinan

December 8, 2011

Mystery We Write Blog Tour

Timothy, thank you for visiting my blog today and sharing your thoughts on writing.

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar- and Macavity-nominated author of thirteen widely praised books—twelve novels and a work of nonfiction—including the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers, most recently The Queen of Patpong.  He also writes the popular Junior Bender comic thrillers in ebook form, the latest of which is Little Elvises.  In 2010, Hallinan conceived and edited an ebook of original short stories by twenty mystery writers, Shaken:  Stories for Japan, with 100% of the proceeds going to Japanese disaster relief.  He lives in Santa Monica and Southeast Asia, and he is lucky enough to be married to Munyin Choy.

Timothy Hallinan’s Ten Commandments

Author Timothy Hallinan

I get a lot of mail from aspiring writers.  Most of them have specific questions, although some are asking for more general guidance.  A lot of the problems I hear about are based in the perception that there’s “no time to write.”  This is an argument for which I have no sympathy at all, as this piece will prove.

Anyway, if an aspiring writer were to ask me for ten commandments, these are the ones I would carve into the page on my computer.

1.  Write Wanting to write is not writing.  Talking about writing is not writing.  Talking about a piece of “writing” that you’re not actually doing is creatively damaging and is guaranteed to screw up your idea.

2.  Read There’s no challenge that can be faced on a page that someone hasn’t already solved.  Expose yourself to good writing; see how the people who did it solved their own problems.

3.  Read some more.  Read until you’ve found the kind of book you like best.  That’s the kind of book you should write.

4.  Write every day, or at minimum, six days a week.  Only frequent immersion in the world you’re creating will keep it vital, in motion, and open to you.  Quit for too long, and it becomes a dusty little diorama where you have to open the lid and reach in and move your characters around by hand.

5.  Continue to write on the bad days There are two reasons for this.  First, if you write only on good days—when the material comes easily—you’ll never finish your book.  Second (and you’ll find this out if you don’t know it already) you have no idea at the time whether you’re writing well or badly.  Sometimes the best work is the work you enjoyed least.

6.  Put your writing at the top of your “To Do” list.  You have to build a little temple to your writing in the structure of your day and honor it.  It is not acceptable to skip writing because you need to go to Trader Joe’s.  If you had a new girl- or boyfriend, you’d find time for her or him.  I hate to tell you this, but your writing may be with you longer than your new squeeze.

7.  Keep your mind open when you’re not writing.  The universe throws us material all the time: a face, a snatch of conversation, the name of a store, the way someone walks, a news story, a stupid joke.  You want a sort of mental spider’s web to snare these things.  Twice I had a book saved by something I heard someone say.

 8.  Finish your first story or novel or whatever it is.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s perfect—in fact, it won’t be.  No one has written a perfect book yet.  But here’s the bottom line: Until you finish your first, you can’t start your second.  The world swarms with aspiring writers with a dozen unfinished works.  Finishing a work requires taking the idea through to the end, which is completely different from the beginning or the middle.  A writer is someone who finishes.

 9.  Work on tiptoe.  Don’t get comfortable.  As you get better, write things you don’t know how to write, even if it’s just how to describe the weather interestingly, or manage a scene with four people in it in a way that the reader can keep it straight, or write a scene in which two people talk around their issue while the reader understands what they’re not saying.  We don’t grow if we don’t stretch, so once you’ve hit your stride, lengthen it.

 10.  Be patient.  You are going to get better.  You get better every time you finish a paragraph.  Writing is a lifetime activity, not a flavor of the day.  It’s worth working for years to produce a good book.  If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, maybe you shouldn’t be a writer.

 If any of these thoughts ring true to you, you might want to go to the FINISH YOUR NOVEL area of my website, where I’ve put up thousands and thousands of more-or-less organized words to help people get through that first book.  if you like it, drop me a line. His website is www.timothyhallinan.com.

Queen of Patpong

Little Elvises

And if you leave a comment, your name will go into the drawing for a free copy of Reticence of Ravens (three copies in total, randomly selected by Buster!)


12 Responses to “Welcome to Timothy Hallinan”

  1. I’m printing these commandments and posting them above my computer. Number 9 made complete sense, and yet I’m unsure I’ve ever considered it before!

    Write. On. Tiptoe.


    Tim, I am SO glad you joined the Mystery We Write tour. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  2. mmgornell said

    What fantastic comments, Timothy! Your visit is clearly a hit, and a perfect way to end your tour. So glad you stopped by.


  3. W.S. Gager said

    Number 6 will be blazoned across my computer. Great post!
    W.S. Gager on Writing

  4. Worth printing out and re-reading every morning — instead of reading e-mail.

    Good advice, as always, Tim.

    Pat Browning

  5. I’ve loved all your posts, Timothy (may I please call you Tim?) but this one really resonated. I remember when I first began to write books, I was SO DILIGENT. I’ve really slumped lately, and I need a quick boot in the butt to get started again.

  6. This is a really gratifying reaction. I had second,and third and fourth, thoughts about labeling anything the Ten Commandments of anything, because who am I to say these are the ten that matter? And, in fact, Everett immediately came up with number 11 and I’ll bet the talented writers on this tour could sit down and bump it up to 50 in about ten minutes. So these should really be labeled the Ten Commandments I Most Needed to Follow.

    I’m glad you all found them worthwhile, and Jean, I’d be flattered if you quoted them.

    This has been a great experience, even if I did kind of flake out at the end because of all the driving and then the schedule I’ve been on in Mendocino/Fort Bragg. It’s been amazing but it’s gone from morning to night, including meals.

  7. Timothy, Best advice I’ve ever read for finishing a novel. And I know that you ‘eat your own cooking.’ As I commented on another tour member’s blog, when I met you at Bouchercon 2011 at St. Louis, you were seated at your laptop in the Hospitality Room and alternately chatting with fans and keying into your computer.

    At that Con, you were scheduled to speak several times, and sign books several times. You were also expected to be availiable to chat with fans. (And I know you love doing that, you’re definitely a People-Person.) But in spite of this hetic schedule, your fingers were on your laptop keys during any pause of action.


  8. I’d add an 11th: Don’t wait for GENIUS INSPIRATION to strike. Just start with the loose thread, however, small and insignificant, and start writing. Who knows what you will unravel if you keep pulling and pulling and writing and writing…

    That’s been my biggest problem, all my life (other than the fact that I got sidetracked into programming, a different form of writing). I kept feeling like REAL writers must get thunderstruck by a fully developed character or the full plot for a novel, but with age comes wisdom, and I now realize that, while that may happen on rare occasions, most great things start as very small things, like building the pyramids of Giza, one block at a time. A million or two blocks later, you’ve got yourself a novel.

  9. Terrific list, Tim. May I quote you on them?

  10. Great interview today, with good words of advice to writers. Thanks for the tour!

  11. These are great and something I’ve been telling my critique group. Some only write the day of our meeting and wonder why they can’t finish.

  12. mmgornell said

    Thank you, Timothy, for visiting today and ending our 2011 blog tour with a bang!


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