The other night, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a talk by mega bestselling thriller author Lee Child. He is funny, charming, and down-to-earth, not at all the prima donna stereotype of an internationally successful writer. Even in the face of reader controversy (and these were some passionate readers in the audience of about 650) Child stood his ground, explaining why in the upcoming film, Jack Reacher, his main character, standing six-foot-five and weighing in at 250 pounds, will be played by Tom Cruise, who stands a tad shorter and is a wee bit lighter weight. (Short answer–there aren’t too many actors who can “open” a movie and none of the ones who can are of Jack Reacher’s physical stature).
One of the best parts of the talk was when Child described his working style as a writer. He’s not a morning person. He’s up by around 10:30am and doesn’t start working until about noon. He tends to write for 4-5 hours, then the well is pretty much dry. (Side note: My husband was there, and I was glad he heard this. Because my experience is similar in that I have a limit after which I just have to walk away from the book).
It takes Child about 90 days like that to finish a book. I’m going to guess his books are at least 120,000 words long, which means he’s writing close to 1500 words/day. That’s a hard pace to keep up. Could be even more words if that 90 days counts editing time.
One tidbit I found especially interesting about Child’s method is that he does not outline his books. At all. He wants to have the same experience as an author (gee, I wonder what’s going to happen next?) as a reader does. This is utterly amazing. He writes big, complex books, and I’ve never seen anything in them that seems out of place or extraneous. To write all that off the cuff is awe-inspiring.
After the talk, I had an even more delightful opportunity–to exchange a few words with Child. I’d bought two of his books at the event, the newest Reacher novel, A Wanted Man, which came pre-signed, and a backstory book, The Affair, which wasn’t signed. So I stood in line with hundreds of other equally excited fans wondering if I would just stand there squeeing like a fangirl, or if I would be able to say something coherent.
I’m glad to say I was mostly coherent. I said to him, “So, you’re a pantser,” and he confessed he was. I then told him that I was a total plotter, my very unsubtle way of announcing that I was also a writer. He asked my name, asked me what I wrote, I told him young adult, and squeezed in that I’d just sold two mysteries to Angry Robot’s new Exhibit A imprint. His assistant (publicist?) said, “Oh, we’ve heard really good things about them,” and I was totally chuffed. I moved on, not wanting to monopolize his time any more than I had.
Very fab night. But here’s the grand revelation I experienced. Yes, I’m a plotter before I start writing. I’ve got a 21-page synopsis of Revolution, the third Tankborn book. But when I’m writing, an entirely different process takes over. I almost never look at that synopsis. I get brilliant inspirations. I have someone come into a room and have no idea why they’re there, and they’re looking for something, and I have no clue why that thing even matters. But then something clicks, that pantsing moment, and I realize this seemingly mundane scene I’ve written is a set up for something wonderful later on down the line. Something very important to the story.
So, by God, I am a pantser. And I’m glad to tell the world.