It sounded like my spine cracked apart in six places. “Good, Joe. Really good,” said Gary McGinnis, my chiropractor. After he was done I sat up on his adjusting bench and lifted my arms, testing my “new” back. I felt jello-like and unbalanced.
“So when are you going to write your next book?” I asked, still stretching. In 2003, Gary published Unsettled: At Odds with Destiny, a thriller about a real estate agent who nearly misses his true purpose by getting involved in shady real estate deals and how he gets back on track, but not before someone close to him is murdered and his own life is threatened. But he hasn’t published anything since, and, speaking of destiny, he believes he still has six more books in him.
Gary’s process toward publication is like many first-time authors. Unsettled took over five years to write. It sat unnoticed in a drawer for six months sometimes. At one point, Gary had something came over him. He knew he had to finish his book.
“I’ve got to get this out and finish it now.” He wrote in a fury—by hand—and soon had a finished manuscript. “You write by hand?” I asked. Not only does he write by hand, he told me, but he uses quills and fountain pens, some of them costing $1,500.
“I’ve never spent more than $1,800 on a pen. If I ever win the big one, there are $20,000 worth of pens I’d get—you know, only five or so pens.”
Who knew pen collecting was such an expensive hobby? Remind me to avoid that one.
Later, I asked him how he writes and what advice he’d give to other writers who are looking for advice. So without further ado…
1. Just Write.
When starting a book, Gary says, “You just write. You don’t worry about whether you have too many adjectives or adverbs. You just write. Later, you sit down and say, ‘Alright, I don’t need that adjective or that word.’” Writing comes first. Save re-writing for later.
2. Don’t write on a computer.
“Everyone is different, but for me one of the worst things a person can do is to use a computer,” says Gary. Computers distract in so many ways. “There’s something about having a pencil and paper, the touch. Buy a quality pen, quality paper. Put value into what you’re doing. ”
If you’re like me though, you’ll steer clear of the $1,800 pen aisle at Office Depot that Gary’s shopping at.
3. Write with your body.
“I’m visual and kinesthetic. So if my character was doing an action, I would get up and do the action.” Then, he actually did get up. “If my character were reaching out to grab something, I would reach out.” He was closing his eyes, reaching out to an imaginary object. “How did I reach for it? Am I angry?” He swiped for the imaginary object. “I would actually act it out.”
4. Don’t use too many characters.
The more characters you have, the more difficult it is keeping your story straight. Gary told me he would beat his head against the wall trying to keep track of all his characters.
5. Get into the flow.
The goal is to find the flow. The flow, as Susan Perry talks about in her Writing in Flow, is when you “disappear into your writing,” you become completely absorbed, in the zone, often for hours at a time. Gary describes it this way, “There’s a difference between trying to write and writing. When you’re writing, something happens. There’s a flow. You could write page after page and when you look at it, you know you didn’t write it.”
Gary is Christian, but he says that anyone who wants to write can get inspiration from the “Author of the Universe,” as he calls God. “Sit and think for fifteen minutes about how the God who created the tree and the Grand Canyon gave you the ability to write. ”
I want you to act out a scene between Bill and Fletcher, real estate brokers working on a shady deal as a front for a notorious drug dealer. What Bill doesn’t know is that Fletcher is an undercover cop. For fifteen minutes, write about their meeting, acting out the actions.
Post your practice in the comments, and if you post, make sure to help a few others. Have fun!