Five Things I Learned From Lee Child

The January issue of Writer’s Digest contains an interview with bestselling thriller author Lee Child that I found fascinating for several reasons:

  1. “Lee Child” is actually a pen name.  People who read my blog know by now that I, too, will be selecting a pen name. My real name is far too common (and I’ve never liked being a “Debbie”). Unlike Child, whose real name is Jim Grant, I’m not “playfully” toying with various possibilities; Virgo that I am, I’m methodically trying to come up with something that’s me, something I can grow into, something that will serve me for the long haul — because I sure don’t want this aggravation again down the road!
  2. Lee Child debunks the myth of writing what you know. He says, “In the thriller genre, for instance, nobody knows anything that’s worth putting in.” Rather, he advises writers to write what they feel. That makes sense on a lot of levels. Shoot, I’ve never killed anybody, but my yet-to-be-sold first novel is full of murders! The Internet puts information on a wealth of topics right at our hands (just be sure you research the research!). With facts to back you up and feelings to provide the oomph, you’re steps closer to writing a story people will want to read.
  3. Lee Child says you don’t need vices to write. Other than admitting to being nosy and watching people, Child says he doesn’t claim the oft-mentioned writers’ habit of downing too much alcohol. Despite my Irish heritage, neither do I. In fact, I cringe when I hear of another writer battling seen or unseen demons through drugs or liquor. Or prescription pills or oversleep. I don’t have to be an alcoholic to understand one’s inability to just say “no.” Nor do I need to gain 200 lbs. to empathize with an overweight individual.
  4. Lee Child came to writing rather late. Fired from his job at an English TV channel just before his 40th birthday, Child turned to fiction writing. He says working all those years gave him good work habits and skills; he also had absorbed life. He explains, “I honestly believe that writing is possibly the only thing that not only can you, but you should do it later.” I tend to agree. Now I’m sure there are many young writers fully capable of telling a gripping tale (and plenty of older ones incapable of that), but for myself, I know I wouldn’t have had the courage necessary to call myself a writer if I hadn’t experienced life’s ups and downs over the years.
  5. The publishing industry has changed since Lee Child came on the scene. Child admits he signed with the first agent he queried and the first publisher they pitched his novel to. Amazing, huh? Especially to those writers who could paper a room with rejection letters. But as he says, “All that matters is coming up with a great original story.” Amen!

So, do you have a favorite mantra when it comes to writing? Something the rest of us could benefit from? Do share!

16 thoughts on “Five Things I Learned From Lee Child

  1. Seth Godin is my ongoing hero who encourages us to fail often, write every day and ship. Keeping my fanny in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard are my challenge every single time I sit down to write.
    Interesting about Lee Child especially debunking the myth to write about what we know, but it’s true with google we know a lot more than we use too.

  2. I like the idea that writing is an activity better done later in life. I don’t think I had any sort of perspective on the world when I was 25. I also didn’t have any sort of word processor.

    • No young person wants to hear that he has to pay his dues. Some professions are more insistent of that than others. But you’re so right about the blessings of technology — can you imagine writing War and Peace by hand???

  3. I agree that you don’t have to write what you know, but I don’t think I’d say “write what you feel”. I’d say, “Write what you’re interested in”. After all, if I bore myself with my writing, what chance do I have to gain someone else’s interest?!

    • I’ve heard that, too, about writing what you’re interested in. I think he was referring to building tension through his genre (thriller). For example, maybe you’ve never had to elude a bad guy who was after you, but you know what it feels like to run, to be afraid, etc. and you transfer those feelings to your writing. But you’re right — thrillers, especially, should never be boring!

    • “Little Debbie” is a snacking cake, Monica — you know that! Scarlett, I’m afraid, will forever be “Gone with the Wind”-attached; and Talulah feels wrong on lots of levels (something about the way it rolls off one’s tongue — too many syllables, I guess). Back to the drawing board, but thanks for the suggestions!

  4. Aack! Choosing a pen name would be too much strain on my brain!

    You shared some interesting tidbits here. I like the idea that with writing it’s never really too late. Thank goodness for Google. But if anyone ever checks my searches, I could have lots of explaining to do!

  5. I love Child’s take on debunking old writing myths. With the technology the 21st century, publishing is a whole new ball game! So write on, Domer Mom!

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Pat — I can always use it! I’ve often heard it said that those who wrote ages ago probably wouldn’t have been published if they were trying today. Still, I’m told, a good story wins out every time, so maybe we need to hang onto that!

  6. I have no mantra… no tricks or tips. I just try to write when I’m feeling it. And when I’m not, I still try to write. I loved reading your highlights from this interview because it really fuels my love of writing. I feel like a late bloomer in many ways in my life, particularly in regards to acknowledging my enjoyment of and desire to write. To hear from a successful author that these are things that might work in my favor just adds to my enthusiasm. Thanks for sharing Lee Child’s viewpoint with us, Debbie!

  7. Just practice, practice and practice. Which I’ve been really, really bad at lately – besides keeping up with my blog – and even that’s been a bit spotty since the first of the new year.

    Something I bear in mind when writing or thinking of what I want to write, is to write something I’d enjoy reading. Sounds unnecessary to even say, but good to bear in mind.

    • Great advice, Barb! I’m particularly fond of your suggestion to write “something I’d enjoy reading.” After all, we’re our first readers and if something we write doesn’t interest us, why do we think it will interest others (particularly a publishing house?). Thanks for weighing in!

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