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Wise Words from Douglas Adams

“If I’d written something as good as Hitchhiker,” I said to Douglas, one afternoon in the 1990’s, “you wouldn’t see me for dust.  I’d keep churning them out.”

We were sitting in the back garden of our house in Los Angeles.  Douglas and Jane (nee Belson) and their daughter Polly had recently moved from London to Santa Barbara.  I’d known Jane since Oxford, where we were contemporaries, and had met Douglas at the Edinburgh Festival when he was in the Cambridge Footlights revue.  A few years after leaving university, we met up again when we were both clients of the same London literary agent, Jill Foster.

Douglas frowned, and said, a little uncomfortably, “It’s not as easy as that.”

Reading Hitchhiker, I just assumed, like any other fan, that there had to be an endless supply of more in there, ready to come pouring out of their brilliant author.  I had no idea what I was talking about, of course—just as I had no idea, back then, that I’d ever write fantasy fiction.  Decades later, I now see what he meant.  New Rock New Role took two months to write.  There were many months of rewriting and editing, but the first draft came out in a burst of creativity.  New Rock New Realm took about seven months.  The third book in the series, New Rock New Rules, took a year and a quarter.

It seemed, after a year working on the fourth, New Rock New Roads, that it might take two years or more.  I was simultaneously busy working with my brilliant editor, Lezli Robyn, on New Rock New Role, and recording the audiobook, but that’s not the reason it was slow going.  At last, the heart of the story revealed itself, and in six more months I had the first draft.

[In another blog I’ll address the difference between plot and story—a very useful, and simple, distinction for any writer to understand and use.]

Four years ago, I might have naively thought I’d be completely in the groove by now, and that I could just breeze on ahead, on automatic pilot.

If only.

I now see what Douglas meant.  What’s written is written, and what hasn’t been written doesn’t exist yet.  It has to be found, day by day, word by word.

Douglas was right.

It’s not as easy as that.

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