Welcome to Timothy Hallinan
December 8, 2011
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
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.
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!)