My writing sweet spot has always been the three or so hours after the coffee first hits my brain cells. So I try to reserve my mornings for creative work. After lunch, my artistic focus shifts to refreshing Twitter and procrastinating on returning important emails by looking at photo galleries of basset hounds running.
You started National Novel Writing Month. Did you have any idea it was going to be as successful as it is and are you taking part this year?
Never in my wildest dreams. When I organized the first event back in 1999, I honestly didn’t think the 21 of us who signed on would last the month. None of us knew what we were doing, and few of us had bothered to plan our books. The saving grace of the whole endeavor was that we met up after work and wrote together. That camaraderie made the inevitable difficult stretches endurable. Which in turn gave us the focus we needed to bring the stories to life. It sounds corny, but finding out we had these novels inside us that we hadn’t known was there was a little like discovering we could fly. And I thought: Dang. If we can do this, anyone can.
I am taking part in NaNoWriMo this year for the 14th (!) time—I’m about to wrap up a tale of two monsters who find a VHS tape and set out to return it. It’s pretty ridiculous, but I’m loving it.
Can you describe your writing style in less than fifteen words?
Three parts absurd humor and one part adventure. With a dash of tender sincerity.
Are you working on anything at the moment? Can you tell us about it?
Yes! I’ve been revising a young adult novel for about six years now. It’s set 100 years in the future, in a small town that’s become completely obsessed with burying everything they own in time capsules. The main character is a 14 year old boy who goes exploring beneath the town and discovers something that threatens to tear the whole town apart. Every time I think it’s done, I discover another part of it that is deeply sucky. But I’m stubborn.
I’m also working on co-writing two different movies with friends—one a teen adventure story and one a romantic comedy.
Which book has influenced you most as a writer and which book is your favourite?
When I was about fourteen, I went on a huge Kurt Vonnegut tear. I absolutely loved his mix of big (weird) ideas wrapped in a simple, conversational tone. Nick Hornby is another one of my favorites for similar reasons—his books go down easy but have a lot of funny, thoughtful observations about life and relationships in them. I guess my dream is to write books that live somewhere between High Fidelity and Galapagos.
Do you outline much or do you simply run with an idea?
I typically come up with a really broad scenario (“two monsters find a VHS tape and set out to return it” or “a small town is obsessed with time capsules”) a couple weeks before diving into the first draft. I then spend those prep weeks figuring out who the main characters might be, what they want, and what could go wrong (and right) when they set out to get it. I’ve come to really value knowing what a few tent-pole moments in the story will be before I start writing, but I also deliberately leave large chunks of the story unexplored. Not knowing exactly where the story is going keeps me invested as writer, because I’m really curious to see how these characters are going to get themselves out of these horrible situations I’ve put them in.
How do you approach editing?
I let my first drafts be really, really messy. When it’s time to edit, I get very OCD and methodical. I tend to make outlines and synopses of the story and share those with readers to get their feedback before touching the second draft. I’ve learned the hard way that you really need to get the arc of your story as close to right as possible before putting time into things like word-choice and smart dialogue.
Which part of the process do you like/dislike the most?
Like: Arriving at that point in the first draft where things miraculously come together in ways you never would have predicted.
Dislike: Facing a story that just isn’t working and you can’t figure out why.
Where do you like to write? Do you like noise or silence?
I’m one of those people who spends about half my annual income in cafes because I can’t write at home. It’s worth it though—being out in the world while writing makes the process feel much less lonely. That said, as soon as I sit down in a café, I block out all of my companions with headphones. It’s kind of a strange relationship—I need a lot of people around, but I don’t want to actually hear any of them.
How do you deal with writers block?
Writer’s block is such a scary idea, and I totally see how it would happen to people. I think a lot of blockage comes from feeling like your ideas just aren’t good enough, and I guess my expectations for myself are just so low that I get around that. I know my writing isn’t good enough. But I have faith that it will get better over time, so I just keep putting words on the page. I think things like NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy help a lot with it as well—when you confront your inner editor with an impossible deadline it tends to throw up its hands and go away for awhile, giving you room to have fun getting it done.
Which three things would you like with you on a desert island?
My trusty stovetop espresso maker, a laptop with infinite battery life, and a guitar.
Who would your ideal dinner guests be?
Oh man. That’s such a good question. Probably Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and the writing staff of the Onion newspaper.
What are your music/TV guilty pleasures?
I’m a music nerd with the requisite loyalty to the world’s under-appreciated indie rock bands. But I also spend a lot of time listening to Top 40 acts like Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and Drake. One of my favorite guilty pleasures is watching the American version of The Voice. So bad! So good!
I have a Spotify playlist of what I’m listening to if anyone wants to eavesdrop.
Five tips for aspiring writers?
1) Follow your heart. Don’t write the book you feel you should write. Write the book that excites you.
2) Know that the books that inspired you to write started out as craptastic first drafts. Don’t be discouraged by the quality of your early drafts. They’ll get better over time.
3) Turn writing into a social activity. The sound of other people writing will make you want to write. Find other folks who are working on books and pick one night a week (or more!) to get together and write.
4) Use mini-deadlines to break up large, daunting projects into smaller, achievable tasks.
5) Remember that completion is more important than perfection. You have a lot books left to write. Get this one done and move on to the next.
For more information on Chris, visit his website.
Visit his poster shop.
Visit the website for National Novel Writing Month.
Follow Chris on Twitter.