Wednesday, August 20, 2008
MEET MAN OF MYSTERY, TIMOTHY HALLINAN
Timothy Hallinan has divided his time between Los Angeles and Southeast Asia, (primarily Bankok) for more than 25 years. He has had eight novels published and one book of nonfiction. His current series of thrillers features rough-travel writer Poke Rafferty and is set in Bangkok. The most recent is The Fourth Watcher. Hallinan taught writing for years and maintains an extensive Writers Resources area on his website, www.timothyhallinan.com
And now, Acme Authors Link is proud to give the floor to our Man of Mystery, Timothy Hallinan.
Okay, I know that resolutions are traditionally a byproduct of New Year's Eve, often blind stabs at virtue made in the hope that good intentions will prove to be a cure for hangovers. But I believe we should make resolutions whenever they occur to us, if only to keep from forgetting them. And that's especially true of writing resolutions, since writing is the activity that absorbs most of my time and energy.
So here are my August 2008 writing resolutions. In the future, I will:
1. Write daily, and by that I mean seven days a week. I will take a day off only when it’s absolutely unavoidable and never, under any circumstances, take two days off in a row.
2. Read widely, not just the kinds of books I write, but classics, science, history, biography, poetry, drama — remembering, as Nero Wolfe says, “The more you put into a brain, the more it can hold.”
3. Live consciously, remembering that everything in the world, even the things that are most unpleasant (and maybe especially those things) are all material.
4. Take chances every time I write. Try to write things I haven’t written before and don’t know how to write. Take myself off the map of the familiar.
5. Avoid glibness and try instead to bring the words from the heart. Remember that clever isn’t the same thing as smart.
6. Follow my characters rather than trying to push them around like chess pieces. Remember that plot is what characters do, not a box to jam them into.
7. Remember that the book I eventually write will not be the book I thought I was going to write. Have the courage to take off in new directions as they present themselves, and to discover, as you do when you travel, that it's possible to get on the wrong bus and then realize it's the right bus after all.
8. Be grateful that I’m allowed to take part in this internal miracle, in which whole worlds appear inside my head, usually one vivid glimpse or one turn of phrase at a time, and I have the freedom to chase them down and try to get them on the page.
9. Be open to criticism from my circle of first readers, without getting defensive; remember, if nobody likes it, it’s just barely possible that there’s something I didn’t get on the page.
10. Write hot, edit cold: when I am writing, have the thermostat on high; be open, fecund, and grateful for everything that comes through. Rewrite only when something obviously better presents itself. When I am editing, be cold, assessing, and gimlet-eyed, willing to sacrifice even the most precious of my babies in the cause of the book’s greater good.
I could easily list ten more, but ten is the tradition. So I'll add an eleventh in the guise of a closing paragraph. In the first chapter of his new memoir, What I Think About When I Think About Running, the great Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami quotes a marathon runner as saying, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I need to keep that in mind whenever I write.
What that means to me is that there are going to be times when writing hurts: when the words won't come, when the story seems to end in a blind alley, when your characters all turn into people so awful that you would come back from the dead just to prevent them from attending your funeral. All of that is inevitable. What's optional is internalizing that, handing it to the writing demons so they can make me doubt my idea, my characters, my talent. The trick to writing (for me, at least) is the same as the trick for running: keep going anyway. The pain may be there, but I can run (or write) through it as long as I don't turn it into suffering.
And get the next word on the page, which is all that really matters.
You're all invited to leave comments for Tim. What are your writing resolutions? Would you like to adopt one or more of his?