A Tale of Two Writers – Michael Connelly and John Grisham

To begin at the beginning, this is not an exhaustive comparison of Connelly and Grisham. There will be plenty of writers/journalists out there who have already done this better than I can.

These are my thoughts and notes from a great interview with the two authors by the bookseller Waterstones, earlier this evening.

Connelly and Grisham have been writing for a similar length of time, around the thirty year mark. Both are bestseller authors.

Connelly writes novels with a number of repeating characters. Detective Harry Bosch is his mainstay, but then there is the Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller, journalist James McAvoy, and his latest detective Renee Ballard.

The majority of Grisham’s novels are stand alone, with only the recent ‘Camino’ stories being based on the same protagonist.

So, should you write serial characters as a new writer, or have a constantly refreshed cast? The success of both authors would seem to suggest its a tie on that score.

Connelly and Grisham both have work schedules which begin on January 1st.

They are both full-time writers and their writing habits reflect this.

Newer writers may have to work their writing in around other jobs, but there is a key point which is be disciplined. Whether you have all the time to write or practically no time, you have to sit down and write.

Connelly and Grisham both write in areas that they are very familiar with.

Connelly’s stories are very much based in Los Angeles and his previous career as a journalist covering crime clearly still has an influence on his work.

Grisham was a lawyer and most of his books are legal thrillers, with his latest ‘Camino’ books straying from that to a roguish bookseller.

I’m not a fan of the old adage ‘write what you know’, but both authors very much are of the opinion that you should write in areas which you are knowledgable.

What you know the best might not be your current career area. Your interest in sports or politics, cars or mental health, may be what you know best?

Whatever your key area of interest, make sure you keep up to date, read and watch everything you can find and look out for those story ideas.

Ploter or Pantser?

Connelly and Grisham both know what the end scenes are before they begin writing the first scene.

Grisham tends to be more heavily plotted than Connelly.

For you as a writer, plot or pants, but make sure you know where the end is before you start at the beginning.

Connelly and Grisham generally stay within their ‘genre’. Success probably has a part to play here, but they know the lay of the land and they find plenty of stories there.

Grisham has written non-fiction and sport-based stories.

As a writer you can jump around the genres but you will probably find more success in those areas of your knowledge and expertise.

Connelly and Grisham are both fans of Ian Rankin.

Connelly has had his Bosch stories made into a very successful Amazon TV series and a movie made of The Lincoln Lawyer.

Grisham has had a number of his books made into big movies, such as The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill, and The Firm.

Both writers still see themselves as novelists and TV/Film are interesting side-tracks.

Writers write!

So what’s keeping you – get writing!

Connelly and Grisham could do with some competition!

Creativity on the Clock.

Photo by Tristan Gassert on Unsplash
Photo by <a href=”http://Tristan Gassert on Unsplash

Normal is no longer ‘normal’.

The rules have changed.

All those books, videos, and articles, telling us how to streamline our days to gain us that often small precious window of time to achieve our creative endeavours, are now a thing of the past.

Why?

Because we all suddenly have gained lots of extra time.

Commuting time. Coffee break and lunch time, where most of us probably still sat at our desks and worked. Outside the house hobby and sport time.

You can make your own list.

Instead we have the pressure to create because we have all of this ‘time to create’ time.

It turns out that having all the time we need is just as paralysing as not having enough time for our creative endeavours.

So what’s the solution?

For me, I went on the clock.

Some of you might remember going to work and having to ‘clock in’?

You had a card and you put it in the machine and your name and time ended up on a little printed receipt roll, which told the office that you had turned up on time, worked your day (when you clocked out) so they should pay you your full daily amount.

My own version of this has been to set a count down timer for fifteen minutes.

I clock in – press start.

Then stop when Chewbacca roars at me.

It doesn’t sound much, does it?

Fifteen minutes.

But with this timer I’m hitting an average of 440 words in that fifteen minutes and this includes ‘thinking time’, as I am generally a ‘pantser’ when I write fiction.

Two fifteen minute sessions and I am almost hitting my minimum 1000 word target a day.

Why did I choose 15 minutes?

Two reasons.

I realised that I often wrote as much in 15-20 minutes as I sometimes did in an hour!

And, I could not possibly find an excuse not to write for fifteen minutes if/when our new normal goes back to the old normal.

Try it for yourselves.

Set a timer for whatever period works best for your type of creativity.

It might be a 30 minutes session if you are a musician? An hour session if you paint.

Remember you can do multiples!

Experiment.

Clock in and clock out.

Let me know how you get on with it.

 

 

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 11.

Like the anticipation of any big event, the few days before are nervous and conservative. In a bike race like the Tour de France all of the GC favourites become chess players, mindful and trying to think ahead as many moves as they are able. The difference being their eventual execution of those moves will rely on their physical capabilities to match their intellectual efforts.

Any creative mind embarked upon a project will exhibit similar tendencies. There is a natural state of anticipation, nerves, euphoria, a sense of what might have been if only we had done this or that. There is a flow and ebb. We need to recognise this and react accordingly.

I’ve written already about preparation and scheduling. We are on a journey, like the Tour. Mountains and flats. Sprints and individual races against the clock.

Caleb Ewan has been there or there abouts on pretty much all the stages where there has been a main group sprint. Up until now he has not had the ‘luck’. Still he has persisted. That persistence paid off today. He is a young rider who had to leave his wife and newborn child, still in the hospital, to go to the Tour. He has a job and that dictates your life at times. I am sure he will dedicate that stage win to his wife and daughter.

Creativity can be a career or a hobby. For one you have to make sacrifices, for the other you can easily place it to one side. If you are pursuing the former it can be difficult to make that transition from the latter. Like Caleb Ewan, this is where persistence brings you the win.

Stage Summary:

167km – Albi to Toulouse.

A 4th Cat and a a 3rd Cat climb, so generally should be a sprinters’ day.

Caleb Ewan took his first major tour stage win with a good sprint from a long way out. He held onto the right wheels and made it across the line to take his first major tour, let alone his first Tour de France stage, win. The French are still cheering on Julian Alaphilippe in the Maillot Jaune. Interestingly, the French seem to be holding out for Thibaut Pinot, but evert Tour commentator which mentions him immediately follows it up with the assertion that he does not have the mental edge to win the Tour. It has been a long time sine Bernard Hinault last won the race in 1985, and maybe the French are used to wanting to win so are banking on Pinot, or probably won’t win, because they don’t know what to do if a Frenchman does actually win it.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Rest Day 1.

The total time for the Maillot Jaune wearer of Julian Alaphilippe to complete ten stages of the Tour and reach the first rest day is 45h 27’ 15’’.

So what do you do when you have a day off and are only halfway through the race?

Get out on your bike of course!

You go for a team ride of around four hours. You are keeping your body going, keeping it under strain but giving it a little bit of recovery. Some commentators will tell you that the winner of the Tour is the person who can suffer the most and recover the most between stages of suffering.

Rest days allow the media outlets to take stock of what has happened so far and make fresh predictions about the teams and the riders they will tip to be taking the stage glory and the jerseys overall.

It is like a collective sigh and deep breath all in one go.

Creative people should perhaps follow this pattern. Intense hard work. Rest day. Intense hard work. Rest day. Intense hard work. The creative equivalent of the the final stage procession into Paris and the laps around the Champs Elysees.

The actual length of the ‘rest day’ might be longer than 24 hours but here it is deliberate. Exhaustion and creative numbness don’t come into it. No need for ‘writer’s block’, as we’ve programmed in for our brains to think about something else.

The rest days could be promises of family time/trips out as a reward for your hard work and their patience and understanding.

Remember thought that you still have to get on the bike and spin the legs, because tomorrow it is another stage and another day of hard graft at the office.

Day 430 – 24 Hours.

One day.

One day I will . . .

. . . Learn to play the bagpipes, write a novel, learn how to sing better . . .

The list that can easily be added to at least once a day.

What if you took 24 hours and focused on just one thing?

Maybe not 24 hours in one sitting, but if you devoted 24 complete, undistracted, hours to one single thing.

What would you spend your 24 hours doing?

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 3.

This stage of the Tour leaves Belgium and enters France, travelling on one of the longest routes of this edition through the famous Champagne region. Dom Perpignan will watch over the riders as they pass through the vines of Moët and Chandon.

Also in this stage there is the relatively recent invention of time bonuses over some specific climbs, as a way to spice up the race. Interestingly, perhaps one of the reasons why not much happens in some of these early long stages is exactly that – it is an early stage in a three week race and it is ridiculously long.

Over recent years there has been much publicity attached to the design of each year’s Tour and the organiser’s attempts to break the control of the winning teams – well Team Sky really. It also happened before with the various incarnations of the teams of the now disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

This always seems to be the reverse of what should happen.

The weight of tradition and teams who carry on doing what they have always done – and not being successful or at least only being partially successful – seem to apply pressure to the race organisers to adapt the course to try and ‘defeat’ the top teams/contenders.

Surely those teams missing out on a final podium place and/or the Yellow Jersey should be adapting the winning habits of those teams winning?

One of the key developments in the Creative world recently is surely the amount of information which can be shared/learned from other creatives?

In the past there have been ‘schools’ of art and music, mostly from the physical proximity of those people involved. Now we can link up with creatives from all over the world at the tap of a screen or press of a keyboard.

What remains, however, is the individual’s uptake of those lessons, which I suspect is read/seen but then not fully adopted. You can see this in sport all the time.

I am not suggesting that we all follow the same blueprint and become clones of each other, but if a sports team/person, or Creative, is producing great results from following specific habits or actions, why wouldn’t we want to add that to our armoury also?

Here is my Tour inspired Creative list of things to do to accomplish your aims:

1. Be clear about the desired end result – e.g. at the end of 90 days you will have a 90,000 word story complete, or you will have a fully completed canvas after 3 days, or 12 song ideas for development after 12 days. The length of time does and doesn’t matter. It is the time frame which you set and will complete the task by.

2. What do you need to do to prepare undertake the task? Think planning, materials, schedules, letting people know you will be engaged upon your creative endeavour for a specific amount of time each day etc. Do you need to plot in detail or just have the basic skeleton of your story? Do you need certain paints or new strings for your guitar. Once you start your creative ‘tour’ if you don’t have it then it is to late.

3. Be clear about the route – each of the Tour riders have a handbook which contains every detail about each stage route they could possibly need. You need to think like this too. Each day you will write 1000 words and spend 20 minutes reviewing the previous day’s efforts. You will spend 3 days sketching and 5 days painting. Each song needs to be between 3-4 minutes and you will lay down the basic guitar chords and a hummed melody for each.

4. What do you need to do each day to optimise your performance? Make sure the cupboard is well stocked with coffee. A short walk before you start writing, or walking and feeding the dog before you paint. 20 minutes of warm-up on the guitar before you start with new ideas. Whatever works best for you.

5. How will you celebrate the wins along the way? Stage winners and Jersey leaders on the Tour get to stand on a podium, shake hands with the local dignitaries, wave at the crowd. What are you going to do? A meal out at the end of each week with your wife if you hit your target. Watching your favourite tv show at the end of your painting session. PlayStation with the kids once you have rough recorded the chords and melody.

Stage Summary:

215km – Binche to Epernay – Essentially flat apart from the one Cat 4 and three Cat 3 climbs right towards the end. The breakaways were kept on a short lead for most of the day but then the peloton were caught napping by J. Alaphilippe. Egan Bernal gained 5 seconds over Geraint Thomas from a small break in the chasing pack and the Tour press seemed keen to try and make something out of this. Potentially Alaphilippe could hold onto the journey for a few stages.

Day 422 – Sunday Reflection.

Is it just me, or did it seem to get around to Sunday again awfully quick?

It has been a busy week and I’m not sure I stood still long enough at any point to reflect on anything.

If you do any research on the habits of successful people and ‘reflection’ is often quite high up on the list.

I have The Five Minute Journal app downloaded on my phone but I still tend to be quite hit and miss in how regularly I use it. I like it when I use it. I think I probably would use the book version more, but there is quite a price difference. Tim Ferris has a video up on YouTube which shows how he uses the journal which is good.

I’ve set myself the challenge of trying to learn a new song on the guitar each week. I will let you know how that goes.

Now the summer is here I intend to get a novel written. And one I’ve completed revised and sent to an agent. And continue to blog everyday. Make that blog twice every day (for the next 23 days anyway). I’m sure no one will want me to do anything else for the next 50ish days, will they?

Today had a healthy amount of blue sky in it. It definitely suits my mood, so I’m going to ignore the weather forecasts and be positive about more blue!

Wigan Warriors have secured 4th place in the Super League this weekend with a great win over Hull KR.

Day 417 – Walking Slowly.

I read a list of productivity hacks. One of them was to walk faster.

Bruce Lee teaches a young pupil in Enter the Dragon and points at the moon with his finger. The pupil is chastised for looking at the finger and ignoring the splendour of the moon.

We can get wrapped up in either the process or the destination.

As creatives, both the process and the destination are equally important.

Walk slowly and take in the journey. Walk slowly and get to the destination.

Be the tortoise. A steady word count wins the day.

You can be the hare, but what did you miss along the way?

Your audience is just as interested in the journey as the destination.

Show those sketches and early versions, as well as the finished painting.

Some musicians have been releasing demo versions of songs on their special edition albums for a while now. They get the importance of the journey as well as the destination.

Walking slowly is okay.

Day 410 – Schedule.

There is a difference between an amateur and a professional in any endeavour.

Money isn’t the differentiating factor anymore. Both get paid; although you would expect the latter to receive more.

The professional is clear in what their job is. They have to meet specific expectations and everything else in their life works around those expectations and commitments.

The amateur has to fit those expectations and commitments around their actual day job. These are their add-ons.

With creatives, those add-ons can end up sacrificed to the circumstances of life and work.

So how do you solve this tension between probably being an amateur but wishing you were a professional.

The secret sauce is scheduling.

Any successful leader or entrepreneur will tell you that they live by what’s on their calendar. If it isn’t on the calendar then it doesn’t exist. Meetings, golf, family time, it is all in the diary.

If you are serious about your art and you want to make it into the professional leagues, then act like a professional.

You might only be brave enough to write up on the family planner for a twenty minute slot – but that’s fine.

7pm-7:20pm – In the Writing Cave – I can write with this pencil or use it as a prod/Painter armed and ready to paint the canvas or you!/Musician with Noise Cancelling Headphones – I can’t hear you even if you scream.

Scheduling also tells everyone else you are being serious about your art.

It also holds you accountable.

You’ve got twenty minutes – GO! – you don’t have time to waste.

You are a professional now, so act like it.

Day 399 – Writing Like . . .

One of the best ways for a writer not to write is to do research.

The best kind of research for a writer not to write is to research how other writers write.

Or don’t write.

Being able to counteract your wife’s accusatory statement of ‘I thought you said you were writing?’ As the reason why you weren’t doing all of those jobs in the garden, it is helpful to counter with ‘but this is how Stephen King writes!’

Okay, bad example – Stephen King would be writing!

‘Research’ on YouTube led me to Kate Cavanaugh.

In her Writing Vlog she has tried to spend a day writing like famous authors. She has done, amongst others, Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, and Nora Roberts.

Kate scours the internet and puts together as much information as she can about the daily routine of the particular author she has chosen, then attempts to work like them, recording her experiences as she goes.

Check out the videos.

Then when you’re done doing that, tell me who you would spend a day writing like?

Kate has done Haruki Murakami which would have been one of my choices. I would go for Lee Child – I could match him for coffee but the cigarettes would either kill me or give me a habit which would ultimately have the same outcome.

I think I will try writing like Ray Bradbury.