Z.J. Czupor recently talked with Laurence MacNaughton about his writing approach and publishing. Pull up a chair and a cup of joe, and enjoy:
Laurence MacNaughton is the author of several prize-winning stories – mostly a protein blender of mysteries, thrillers, science fiction and fantasy featuring strong female characters, cool cars, fast action and a world weirder than ours. Laurence has published several books, his latest is the Spider Thief and his first, A Conspiracy of Angels, is now out in paperback. He also provides professional writing critiques. Be sure to check out his website: http://www.laurencemacnaughton.com/.
He’s active in RMFW and cut his writing chops with our Littleton Writers’ critique group. Laurence lives in Denver with his wife Cyndi. He was kind enough to take time out from killing monsters and brewing his magic mysteries to give us a brief insight into the “real” Laurence MacNaughton.
What do you do for a living?
I write. I thought we covered that?
But seriously, that’s what I do for living. I spend part of every day writing and marketing my novels, and the other part copywriting. It’s a little challenging switching back and forth from fiction to nonfiction, but it exercises both sides of my brain. And let’s face it, nobody wants a flabby brain.
Do you have an agent? If yes, what do you like most about him or her?
My agent is Kristin Nelson, and she’s fantastic. She’s unstoppable. She’s always pushing me to succeed.
Sooner or later, we all need a push. This is a tough business, and you have to work insanely hard to get anywhere.
“The Spider Thief” is told in four thrilling novellas. You can read each one alone, or enjoy the complete story in “The Spider Thief: Omnibus,” which collects all four episodes into one gripping novel.
After the publication of my newest book, The Spider Thief, she didn’t let me sit around admiring my handiwork. She told me to get back to work and send her two more manuscripts before the end of the year.
Needless to say, I headed straight back to the keyboard.
It’s rumored that you still write on a Remington manual. That true?
True, but increasingly rare these days. With a jam-packed writing schedule, I have to work as fast as possible. That means writing on a computer, even though I’m not particularly fond of it.
Like anyone over a certain age, I grew up pounding on the keys of a typewriter, and there’s something almost meditative about going back to that. When you type on a typewriter, you have to be deliberate about what you put down on the page. Every time you hit a key, thwack, that letter hits the paper. You can’t take it back. It’s there. You have to accept it and keep moving forward.
If you’re on the computer and you find yourself constantly going back and deleting what you’ve written, maybe it’s time to try something else. Something that forces you to keep putting words down.
If you don’t want to take the plunge back in time to the typewriter era, you can get a similar boost with a word processor. I highly recommend the AlphaSmart Neo. They don’t build them anymore, but you can find them cheap on eBay.
What is the most challenging part of writing fiction for you?
Honestly, the most challenging part of writing fiction is doing it every day.
Before I became a full-time writer, I often went for weeks without writing. Then I would sit down and blurt out a full chapter or two. But I would quickly run out of ideas, and stop writing, and the cycle would repeat itself. That’s a great way to go nowhere.
Now I write every day, consistently, and I have a rock-bottom minimum word count. But the well can run dry. The tough part is training yourself to continuously generate a stream of new ideas.
You have to find meaning in the whole process by staying as creative as possible. After all, the whole point is to imagine new ideas and turn them into stories that really reach people.
But there’s also the production schedule. Every morning when I wake up, I know that I have a certain number of pages that I have to write that day, no matter what.
You can’t give in to that relentless pressure and let the creativity get buried under all of that stress. You have to train yourself, find ways to keep being fresh and exciting, and have fun with it.
As a young kid growing up, what was your first career choice?
Mad scientist. But that had limited career opportunities.
Oh, and once I figured out that I wouldn’t actually be allowed to create monsters, I switched to writing.
What was the seminal moment in your life when you realized you wanted to write?
This is going to sound like a load of B.S. But it’s absolutely true:
When I was 17, I met an African storyteller. This was a guy who traveled from village to village, learning the ancient oral traditions of native people around the world. He would write their stories down to capture them, to preserve the heritage of these vanishing cultures for the future.
At the time, I was just a punk kid. But he took my stories seriously, and showed me how to make them better. Once I started to see the universal truth inside a story, and see the art behind creating stories built on emotion and human foibles, I knew that I wanted to be a writer more than anything.
That’s never changed.
Do you have a favorite writer’s blog that you would recommend to our readers?
Why, yours, obviously! 🙂
Also, every year, Writer’s Digest puts out their list of 101 Best Websites for Writers. That’s a great place to find fresh new inspiration.
You often provide professional critiquing to amateur writers, so what’s the top one or two mistakes you see aspiring writers making?
To be honest, the biggest mistake I see is people who stall out in the middle of the book, and think that they need to wait until they find some kind of inspiration to finish it.
I hate to say this, but you won’t just find inspiration somewhere. You have to sit down and create it.
You need to keep going until it’s done. Find new ideas, or make them up on the fly.
Don’t get hung up on the little stuff: whether you need a comma somewhere, how you described the lead character’s clothing, what so-and-so said in critique group, whatever.
None of that matters unless you finish the book.
So do it. Finish the book first. Worry about the other stuff later.
What is your favorite book and author? Why?
Dracula. It was the first best-selling supernatural thriller, ever. (Or urban fantasy, if you want to look at it that way.) Even today, it still holds up as an incredibly gripping story.
Who is your favorite dead author?
Robert B. Parker. I have plenty of other favorite authors, but they’re still alive and kicking.
Who is your favorite living author?
I could list hundreds. But I’ll narrow it down to three: William Gibson, James Rollins, Jack Campbell.
Cowbell. I’ve got to have more of it.
What’s more important: writing? Or editing?
Writing. You can’t edit what you haven’t written.
Yes, editing is crucial. But you don’t want to get caught in the eternal revision loop. It’s heartbreaking to see a writer struggling with critiquing and re-editing the same old book over and over, for years on end.
Let it go! Be brave. Make this book as good as you can, in a reasonable amount of time. And then go write another one.
You’ll be glad you did.
Are you a plotter? (Write detailed outlines before you write); Or a Pantser? (Write by the seat-of-your pants and see what happens); Why?
Funny you should ask. A few years ago, I wrote an e-book called “Instant Plot: Planning Your Novel the Easy Way” and it turned into a pretty popular class at the RMFW conference. (Note: you can still get the free e-book at http://laurencemacnaughton.com/get-a-professional-writing-critique/
In a nutshell, here’s my theory of Instant Plot. Practically any story in the world follows the acronym FICTION:
F = Flaw. What’s already wrong in a relationship, situation, or character?
I = Incident. What sudden change threatens the lead character’s “world”?
C = Choice. What’s the lead character’s plan to fix this new situation?
T = Trouble. Who and what stands in the lead character’s way?
I = In Vain. What happens when all seems lost? What does the lead character finally realize?
O = Overcome. How does the lead character finally solve the problem?
N = New Normal. What does the “after” picture look like?
There. Now I just told you how to outline your next book. You’re welcome.
If you could offer one tip to writers working to make the “big time” what would that be?
Well, if you do the same things that big-time authors do, then doesn’t it stand to reason that you’ll get the same results that big-time authors get?
If we want to be skinny, then we need to do what skinny people do. Not what we imagine they do – not with some crash diet or weird supplement – but what they actually do. Eat healthy foods, exercise, break up with Little Debbie.
Same thing if we want to be rich. We need to get out of debt, live on less than we earn, invest wisely, read the Wall Street Journal, follow all of the behaviors of America’s millionaires (and there are ten million of them today).
Writing is no different. To become a big author, you need to do the same things big authors do.
I’ve interviewed dozens of best-selling authors, and almost every single one has told me that they write every day. Most of them piled up a stack of manuscripts before they finally got one published – and then they wrote another half-dozen or dozen books before they hit the bestseller list.
So the lesson is clear. First, write every day. Second, don’t worry so much about any one manuscript.
Your career is a process, not a destination. If you want to hit the big time, you need to constantly write new books and market them. It’s dirt simple.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. But it is simple.
How would you define success for yourself as an author?
Being an extremely goal-oriented person, I often catch myself falling into the trap of trying to measure success by how many people are clicking on my website, or downloading my e-books, or how many stars I get on my book reviews.
But ultimately, none of that matters unless you’re happy. And dude, I’m ecstatic. I get up every day and write for a living. How awesome is that? I have no complaints whatsoever.
I just hope that anyone reading this who truly wants to become a successful writer can find a way to write every day. Because that’s the key to success. And it’s absolutely worth it.
ZJ, thank you so much for having me on here! It’s been a real pleasure.
By the way, I’m giving away free copies of my newest e-book, The Spider Thief, Part One: Stolen Memory to everyone who joins my author newsletter at www.LaurenceMacNaughton.com.
Hope to see you there!