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How I Write: David Baldacci

19 March 2014

From The Daily Beast:

Talk us through your writing process.

I’m not a words-per-day kind of guy. I always felt that if you have an artificial number, it probably means that you don’t want to be writing, anyway. If you say, okay I do 2000 words, but what if the next words would’ve been fantastic? You’re just going to stop and go play golf? You can also produce 2000 words that are crap. So I sit down to write when I’m ready to write, when things crystallize in my head and I know what I want to say. I work on multiple projects a day, so I might spend three or four hours on my next adult thriller, then a few hours on a screenplay. I might work for a few hours on editing, or on a young adult book. For me, three or four hours on one project, I’ve probably exhausted my energy for that. But rather than just calling it a day, and going on home, I’ll move on to some other project. I just love to write. It’s not a job, it never has been. It’s a lifestyle. If I’m not writing or plotting, I’m not a happy camper. It just keeps me going.

Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its plot, before the writing beginsDo you like to map out your books ahead of time, or just let it flow?

I’m very much a writer who lets the story develop. I don’t plot everything out, and I have no idea how the book is going to end when I sit down to write it. I wouldn’t want to, because then it’d feel like I’m writing to an outline. It would feel like a drudge. And I don’t know what my characters are capable of until I spend a hundred pages with them. So how can I know what they’d do at the end of the book, if I don’t know them well enough to begin with? I stick my toes in the water, feel what it’s all about, and then let it flow. Sometimes I go by the seat of my pants, sometimes I have a bit of it planned out. I’m always thinking about it. I don’t use super-detailed outlines, because I feel like it’s easy to write an outline, because in an outline everything works. But when you actually execute it on the page, you look at the outline, look at the page, and think, “Well, it sounded good in the outline, but it’s not really working…”

. . . .

What has to happen on page one, and in chapter one, to make for a successful book that urges you to read on?

One of two things, hopefully both. I have to give you an interesting character who you can either root for or against. And second, something has to happen. I don’t mean that someone has to die or something has to get blown up. You just have to present some sort of conundrum, problem, or issue that this character, who you’ve hopefully begun to grow interested in over the first few pages, has to overcome. It’s much like the first act in a film. Any screenplay, movie you go to see, is three acts. The first act you have about ten minutes or ten pages to set up everything—who the characters are, the problem they face or the journey they have to take. Then the long second and the far shorter third act, and a resolution of some five pages at the end. In books I want to be descriptive, I want to put you in the moment, feel the atmosphere, to give you a character who’s interesting and who you can grow to care about for some reason, either like or hate. And give them an interesting problem they have to solve.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Bestsellers, Writing Advice

19 Comments to “How I Write: David Baldacci”

  1. It’s refreshing for me to hear that his writing method isn’t wildly different from my own (although he spends a lot more time doing it, and I need to work on that!). I love that he doesn’t set a word goal. Sometimes I do, but mostly so I can motivate myself to write, otherwise I’d flit between FB and message boards all day long.

    I also loved that he isn’t a structured writer in that he plots out a book from beginning to end. I’m like that, although I have a general idea where I want to go with a novel. Just last night I was at a writing group and I read a piece I’ve been working on. I’m almost done with it, but I didn’t want to go into the whole plot and all, as there were a couple more people waiting to read their pieces, so I just summarized and said I was still working on the ending. One guy sadly shook his head and said I really should have had the ending worked out way earlier.

    The way he said it felt condescending, so I said yeah, I did know what was going to happen, it was just too much to get into right then. I’m not a great public speaker and it’s hard enough for me to read my pieces in front of people. Grr…plus, as I’m writing, as I’m sure happens to most writers, you get ideas as you write and that can change everything.

  2. I guess everyone is different, but his writing style (perhaps work flow would be better) sounds like my wife’s. That should make her happy – a little reinforcement for one’s habits is nice. Still, there’s no one way.

  3. My schedule may be instructive. I get out of bed about ten, have a cup of coffee and eat a Pop Tart and then go back to bed. I awaken at about four and think about writing for a couple of minutes. But this usually gives me a headache so I open up a bottle of a nice Cabernet. After dinner and wine, I try to write one true sentence as my literary hero Ernest Hemorrhoid recommended and I never outline. Then it’s off to bed for a quick read of my favorite author David Balducci who always provides an explosion or a dead body on page one which is good because I never read past page one. Too many big words.Good night.

  4. You made me cough on my grapefruit juice. This blog should come with a warning.

  5. I did learn something new from his interview. I need to check out Bill’s Barbecue. (I’m in Richmond.)

  6. “I’m not a words-per-day kind of guy. I always felt that if you have an artificial number, it probably means that you don’t want to be writing, anyway. If you say, okay I do 2000 words, but what if the next words would’ve been fantastic? You’re just going to stop and go play golf?”

    I don’t play golf, and believe me, I’d love to spend every waking minute writing. 🙂

    Setting word count goals is a way to track progress, so that I have visible proof I’m making some each day/week/month. It’s also a way to make certain I’m not holed up in my office all day long.

    I hear a little sunlight every day is good for you. 😉

    • I set word count goals for the same reason; it’s a way to maintain discipline for certain people (me…) who lose their way without strictly defined goals.

      I also wonder if I’m reading him wrong – where does it say that a 2,000 word goal means you stop when you hit the goal? If the next words would’ve been fantastic (presumably because you’re on a roll and feeling the mojo), then by all means write those next words!

    • Yes, Mr. Balducci sounds like he’s firmly planted in the present. But future-time orientation usually yields more consistent results.

  7. I think, once again, the caveat that “this works for me, and may not for you” should be in play.

    I found it most interesting that his advice to new writers is to write what they don’t know. That works if you like to do a lot of research. I like to make stuff up in my head and then make it conform to my world’s made-up logic.

    Some days, I go for word count. Some days, I go for hours spent. One day, I would very much like to be able to say I have three people working for me so I can just write. In the meantime, I am a one-woman publishing house.

  8. I always love to get into the head of a best-selling author to pick out any tips or advice that can be molded to fit my routine and hopefully improve. This tells me again that not everyone writes like I do, but not everyone doesn’t either. It’s always nice to see what works for others.

  9. Unless I’m doing Nano, I don’t have a daily word goal. Writing is something I couldn’t live without, like breathing. Some days my stories won’t let me escape my computer as scene after scene is thrown at me. At other times, my stories drag me out of bed at night and while my family is fast asleep I’m tapping away on the keyboard. I also often work on several projects at once, usually editing and writing since editing isn’t my favourite task. My favourite is that first draft where the story and characters form and develop as I write, often surprising me with the direction they take.

  10. “What has to happen on page one, and in chapter one, to make for a successful book that urges you to read on?”

    Come on, this is an easy one. The answer is explosions and/or sex. Preferably both.

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