By Dr. Eugene Brink
If you want to write well, you have to read – as wide as possible and continuously – and then put shoulder to the wheel.
“The best advice for any aspiring author is to read. Read as widely as possible, as much as possible, as long as possible, before you start writing. Read hundreds of books, especially in the genre you intend writing in. Read the world’s best,” says Deon Mayer, laurelled author of Afrikaans suspense stories.
Why is it so important? “Because you have to educate and train the reader in you. You-the-reader will be the one you will be writing for, who will be the first to judge your work. In addition, reading is the best way to learn about structure, dialogue, characterisation and all the other essential ingredients of a book.”
He says it will also give you very comprehensive schooling in what publishers and the book market find appealing and acceptable. “I see so many manuscripts in which people invested months and years of blood, sweat and tears, for which there is no market.”
Then follows the unavoidable second part of the process. “If you want to write, you have to sit down and do it. Every day, day after day, week after week. Let your motto be B.O.C: Butt On Chair.”
His routine and ideas
As full-time author, Meyer follows his own strict advice regarding his writing routine. “When we are at home, I write every day, from early in the morning (roundabout six o’ clock) until lunchtime. Seven days per week. I try to do between 500 and 1 000 words per day. Sometimes it’s a struggle, on other days it’s plain sailing.”
He says he suspects all authors are collectors of ideas for stories. “I read, I listen, I think, I talk to people, I ask questions, and through all of this, hundreds of ideas take shape. The big challenge is to choose the right one or two or three.”
The sweet and the sour
There is great pleasure in being a writer, he says, and it surpasses the less pleasurable aspects by far. “The joy of being able to hold a published book in your hand, readers who let you know they enjoyed it. To be able to meet book people in wonderful places all over the world.
“Not working for a boss, not being stuck in traffic on the way to work every morning. To live my passion. To do work that does not feel like work.”
According to him, the bit of “sour” that accompanies the “sweet” is the shrinking of your world while you are busy with a book. “The book dominates your life and only you know what goes on in there. It would have been a lonely existence if it wasn’t for my wife, Marianne.”
What other famous authors say and do
John Grisham is a lawyer-who-became-an-author and who is well-known for his thrillers set against a legal background. His writing routine and advice are in complete accord with those of Meyer.
In the late 1980s he got up at 05:00 every morning to write a page, despite a home full of children and a busy work as legal practitioner. Eventually it led to his first book, A Time to Kill, that was only published after 40 publishers had turned it down.
His second book, The Firm, that was later turned into a movie with Tom Cruise as the main character, was his big break-through and enabled him to give up his work as lawyer and pursue his dream to write full-time.
Even after having already written 40 books, he sticks to his daily routine. “Write a page every day. Do about 200 words, or 1000 words per week. Do this for two years and you will have a story that is long enough. Nothing will happen until you produce at least one page every day.”
Since A Time to Kill, Grisham writes one book every year.
Stephen King, renowned author of thrillers and horror stories, says there is nothing else that he has ever wanted to do. “I was made to tell stories and I am mad about telling stories. That is why I do it.”
He says he gets his ideas from everywhere. “But what it boils down to for me, is to see one thing, but in many cases to see two things and combine them in a new and interesting way. Then you add the question, ‘What if?’. That is always the pivotal question.”
Just like Meyer and Grisham, he has difficult but also reassuring advice for aspiring authors: Write for yourself in the first place, write every day because otherwise you lose your rhythm, renounce your fears and ideas about “good” and “bad” writing, read and be yourself.
As with everything else in life, there are no short cuts to being an author Read, get your butt on to that chair and write. Last but not least, don’t give up.
Glen Leibowitz, 26 June 2017, “This simple writing strategy helped John Grisham sell over 300 million books”, https://www.inc.com/glenn-leibowitz/this-simple-writing-strategy-helped-john-grisham-sell-over-300-million-books.html.
N.A. Turner, 3 September 2018, “12 lessons on writing by Stephen King”, https://medium.com/publishous/12-lessons-on-writing-by-stephen-king-ec7bebcfd26e.
Stephenking.com, 2019, “Writing”, https://www.stephenking.com/faq.html.