Sunday, April 29, 2012

Plan A. Plan Be. Plan See. by guest Jon Jefferson

Plan A. Plan Be. Plan See.
Guest blog by Jon Jefferson – the “Jefferson” half of the crime-fiction duo Jefferson Bass. Working in collaboration with Dr. Bill Bass, the forensic anthropologist who founded the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee, Jon writes the bestselling series of Body Farm novels. The latest—The Inquisitor’s Key—comes out May 8.

I have writer friends whose workspaces are immaculate. I have friends who write every day, including one who gets up at 5:30 a.m. and writes for two hours before heading to his day job as a lawyer. I have friends who make detailed outlines. I have friends who start at the beginning and write their way forward, in perfect linearity, to the end. That is to say, I have friends who are neater, more disciplined, better organized, and generally much smarter than I am! But a beautiful thing about being a writer is that there are a zillion different paths up the mountain. Doesn’t matter which path you take, long as you’re climbing.

Three tricks to keep climbing: Change course. Be your inner TV writer. And see what’s in your headlights.

Change course: When I was a kid, I had one of those windup toy cars that, when it ran into a wall or a chairleg or the dog’s dish, would back up an inch or so, change directions slightly, and tear off again. Not, perhaps, the most efficient way to go from Point A to Point Z, but I couldn’t help but admire the little car’s persistence and energy. In practice, what that looks like for me (messy, nonlinear writer that I am) is jumping to a different place in the story when I’m stuck, and writing a scene that comes more easily than the one that brought me to a screeching halt. I end up doing a fair amount of joinery eventually, fitting all those pieces together, but I’ll take joinery over a blank screen any day of the week.

Be your inner TV writer: Back in my twenties, I had vague aspirations to write a novel—actually, the embarrassing truth is, I had vague aspirations to “be a writer”—but nothing came of them, because (a) I didn’t have a story I was burning to tell, and (b) I was too damned intimidated by my inner critic (my straight-A English-major critic) to write stuff I knew would be far inferior to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dickens, and a legion of other great writers. Then I spent half a dozen years making cable-television documentaries, and I got over myself. Writing for television taught me to write fast and to write “good enough.” The liberating thing about it was that nobody cared if a script was Faulknerian or Hemingwayesque; what counted was that it got done, and that it was good enough. Since then, I’ve written nine books. My inner critic still winces at some of what I write … but at least I’m writing.

See what’s in the headlights: Somewhere, taped to one of my computer screens or walls (underneath a few other strata of index cards offering words of wisdom), I have this wonderfully reassuring line from novelist E.L. Doctorow: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Another analogy, which I offer from my experience as a pilot of small airplanes in the humid summers of the South: When you’re a mile or two up, on a hazy August afternoon, it’s often impossible to see the ground more than a couple miles ahead. The world seems to coalesce, to materialize, just ahead of the plane, just in time to fly above it. Sometimes when I’m writing, the world of the novel materializes one paragraph, or even one sentence, ahead of me. What a relief, and what a privilege, to see—to catalyze—that world’s creation!

For more on Jefferson Bass, LIKE them on Facebook, find them at their blog, and follow along on Twitter.

Pre-order The Inquisitor’s Key:


Rose Wade said...

Sis, I am SO jealous that you hooked my favorite writers as your guests! Especially since you STOLE them from ME! :-) S'okay, one day I'll get to meet Dr. B and I'm not gonna let you come with! Muahaha

You know me, Sis, I'm always very proud of you!

Thank you, Mr. Jefferson for the great info. I'm always eager to get my hands on the next Jefferson Bass book.

Anonymous said...

Jon, I've known you for most of 40 years and I've always been impressed.

I'm reading Lisa Gardners "Love you more" at this point in time... she recommends your works... and she is at the top of her game. (OK, mountain)

Janet and I love your books.. you and Bill make a fantastic team.

Thanks for explaining your method... or at least your approach.

Chet Thornton

Authors Promoting Authors said...

Great guest-post! :o)
Love the "Change Course" advice.

KaYe said...

I have been interested in writing since I was very young. I love this blog, as it recognizes the many different pathways of writing, not to mention the recognition of the awesome Jefferson Bass team! I love to know the details of this writer because it gives me another way to view the novels they produced. All the labors of love and talent really shine through!

Lisabet Sarai said...


This is my first time popping in at Elise' blog, but it won't be the last.

This is a fantastically wise post. Especially your comments about there being many different ways up the mountain. Some new writers become paralyzed by all the advice they get, much of which just won't fit their style. Your "advice" is far more useful.

Wishing you continued success.


"Imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac"

Maryann Miller said...

It is always so refreshing to have a successful author give us all permission to find our own way. I so tire of those who say there is only one way to write a book, or take a journey, or do any of the things that our heart prompts us to do.