You must know thrilling things before you can write about them
November 26, 2014 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used "terrible" six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. A year before his death, James Bond author Ian Fleming explained how to write a thriller.
posted by shivohum (25 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
My mantra when writing, "Just get the shit on the page, and edit later."
posted by orange swan at 10:27 AM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's funny how I have to re-learn this in an almost identical medium of editing slightly differently formatted text files.

When I write software from scratch, I do exactly this. Editing an existing program to add a relatively small feature is easy. Writing a new program starts with a blank page and it can be murder if you look at the whole task.

The key is to get anything in there. Just a main() and a return() and some includes, say. Maybe open the input file and iterate over the contents, but don't do anything. OK, maybe do ONE thing and then bail. Two things. Also, catch this obvious error.

Pretty soon you have a program that's pretty close to useful and editing an existing program is super easy.
posted by DU at 10:38 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


My mantra when writing, "Just get the shit on the page, and edit later."

I don't write fiction, but this is exactly the approach I use for getting technical documents done for work (and for getting stuff written when I was in school, as well). Getting something on the page, no matter how terrible, is what lets you actually finish, and even the worst writing usually gives you something to work with.

I write for about three hours in the morning - from about 9:30 till 12:30 and I do another hour's work between six and seven in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.

As he says, this will get you 2000 words a day and finish the book in six weeks (and of course assumes you don't have a day job or other responsibilities).
posted by Dip Flash at 10:38 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Perfect, thanks OP. I have just finished Nano and the "just write, editing is for when its done" mantra is widely espoused over there. This is how I have won 3 Nanos. Going to post it over there now.
posted by marienbad at 10:44 AM on November 26, 2014


For those only familiar with Fleming through the movies I'd recommend at least checking out From Russia With Love.
posted by Artw at 10:53 AM on November 26, 2014


How could you have used "terrible" six times on one page?

Yeah, leave that to the cleaners editors.
posted by hat_eater at 11:11 AM on November 26, 2014


Didn't realize Mr. Fleming wrote his first book so late, would like to see him show up on more lists of late bloomers.
posted by johngoren at 11:11 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Previous career highlights include trying to use Aliester Crowly as a spy against the Nazis.
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on November 26, 2014


The Paris Review has a pertinent interview with Geoff Dyer, in which he addresses the inherent difficulty of writing:

There’s no way of getting around the fact that the first however many months are going to be no fun at all, and not much of that material is going to end up in print. In an ideal world you would skip those first three months and just start at month four or whatever, but you can’t. And I find it increasingly difficult to get started. When I was seventeen, if a teacher at school assigned an essay to do over the Christmas holidays, I’d do it either on the first Friday evening we had off or the next morning. Not because I liked writing, but because I so dreaded the prospect of having to do it that I wanted to get it over with.

I'd recommend at least checking out From Russia With Love.

Or, certainly, Casino Royale, which is a lean 213 pages (in fact all of them are extremely short by modern standards), and a noted example of a very short novel in publishing terms -- 42K words, where the cutoff is generally considered 40K.
posted by dhartung at 11:20 AM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


The movie Casino Royale is much better if you omit all the bits not in the novel.

(Though I do kind of like the random genre trope car crash that is the first movie)
posted by Artw at 11:27 AM on November 26, 2014



Didn't realize Mr. Fleming wrote his first book so late, would like to see him show up on more lists of late bloomers.
posted by johngoren at 2:11 PM on November 26 [+] [!]


Previous career highlights include trying to use Aliester Crowly as a spy against the Nazis.


Roald Dhal also didn't really get going as an author until well into his 40s, after spending his 30s as an "art buyer" for various rich people around town and spending his 20s hanging out with Fleming and on a mission to seduce prominent ladies in D.C high society to further the cause of American intervention in the war.
posted by The Whelk at 11:46 AM on November 26, 2014 [6 favorites]


I have learned the secret to novel writing by watching the Michael Caine movie, "Pulp":

Get a voice recorder. Digital or tape. Narrate your novel into it. Send it out to a transcription service. Wear a cream colored suit and have adventures.
posted by I-baLL at 11:58 AM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seems misleading to call Ian Fleming a late bloomer. It would be more accurate to say he took advantage of impending middle age to transition from his career in spy agencies to writing fanciful variations on that career. With the exception of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of course, which was obviously based on a long weekend's bender in the countryside, fueled by Moroccan hash.
posted by ardgedee at 12:13 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Just get something down to start with" seems to be a key problem-solving step in a lot of domains which people overlook.

I have had a lot of math students who, upon encountering the problem
Find three numbers whose sum is 6.
will sit there staring at a blank page for apparently unbounded amounts of times.

Eventually you walk over and have a familiar conversation:

-- Hey write down three numbers.
-- [scribble scribble]
-- What's their sum?
-- Um [possible scribbling] it's eleventy-jillion [or whatever]
-- Can you find three numbers whose sum is 6?
-- OHHHHHHHHHHHH
posted by Wolfdog at 12:14 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Aliester Crowly
Roald Dhal


I like the idea of a mousey accountant called Aliester Crowly, who lives in deepest Metroland and is occasionally thrown into terrible trouble by being confused with his near-namesake.

Roald Dhal, however, is an Indian side-dish made with lentils. Cold and unpleasant, though very much liked by children, for some mysterious reason.

(I'm sorry. I'm a dreadful pedant and I find it very difficult to control.)
posted by Grangousier at 12:48 PM on November 26, 2014 [10 favorites]


I write the thing out, run over it and do a quick tidy-up, leave it to sit in a drawer for a day or so, then go over it for the first rewrite, leave it a week, then second and final rewrite. It's never worked for me before and it still doesn't work for me now, but I've got a system, that's the main thing.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:52 PM on November 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


I dash my comments out and correct the names after the edit window has closed.
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah my inner editor is not fooled by this OH GOD IT'S LOOKING IN MY WINDOW
posted by fleacircus at 2:52 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm just kind of dumb.
posted by The Whelk at 2:57 PM on November 26, 2014


Writing makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living, though you might not think so to look at most human beings, is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product of writing.
posted by storybored at 9:48 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


There was an interview with Fleming and, I think, Raymond Chandler where Chandler wonders at Fleming's output (the rate of it), saying something like "I (Chandler) could never write so many books in so little time" and Fleming says, "Well, you write better books than I do."
posted by axiom at 11:08 PM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've often wondered whether Chitty Chitty Bang Bang isn't a phrase that appeared during a particularly sordid orgy and stuck, somehow.
posted by Grangousier at 3:31 AM on November 27, 2014


Also make sure you attend a lot of ornithology lectures.
posted by Poldo at 6:52 AM on November 27, 2014


What the heck did Fleming do when it came to editing if he never looked back at a page? Because you have to look back then, and then I start whimpering that everything sucks and I can't figure out how to fix it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:50 PM on November 27, 2014


When my book is completed I spend about a week going through it and correcting the most glaring errors and rewriting passages. I then have it properly typed with chapter headings and all the rest of the trimmings. I then go through it again, have the worst pages retyped and send it off to my publisher.

Strong constitution I guess.
posted by Artw at 3:00 PM on November 27, 2014


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