Professor Sir Terry Pratchett, one of the most successful authors in the world ever, continues to delight me with his Discworld series. I’ve read every single book, except the last one (because I can’t quite face it yet) multiple times.
(I miss him so much and I never even met him)
One copy of Pyramids has fallen apart it’s so well loved.
On the face of it, Terry Pratchett was a fantasy author—
sidebar: I will NEVER understand this snobbery directed at science fiction and fantasy. WTF? Incredible and moving stories have come from these genres. /sidebar ends
—but to assume his books were simply about witches and wizards and elves and goblins and a flat world floating through the universe on the back of four enormous elephants and a giant galactic turtle would be to miss the point.
Powered by rage and an unerring and unending sense of justice and fairness, Sir Terry wrote about people. The absurdity and hilarity and joy and delight and sorrow and fear and rage and bullshittery of it all.
Who better to take some writing advice from?
Yes, I’m a nonfiction book coach. Yes, I write (mostly) nonfiction. But that doesn’t matter. His musings on writing apply to everyone who writes.
#1 Meet people and watch them live
“There can be no better grounding for a lifetime as an author than to see humanity in all its various guises…”
Terry Pratchett spent his formative years as a reporter on a local paper, and later as a press officer for several nuclear power stations. He saw things. He remembered them and wrote about them.
Get out of your familiar places and meet people. Ask them questions. Listen.
#2 Read everything that may possibly be interesting
“I read anything that’s going to be interesting. But you don’t know what it is until you’ve read it. Somewhere in a book on the history of false teeth there’ll be the making of a novel.”
We don’t know what’s going to be interesting until we try it; there’s always an idea or story there. One of my favourite books is a religious tract on insects. It’s glorious.
Read widely, in and out of your genre, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, podcasts, movies, TV… and make connections.
#3 Then write a lot
“If you’ve been a good boy and worked at what you’re doing, the goddess Narrativia will smile on you.”
Terry Pratchett believed in the goddess Narrativia, who would throw ideas at him—once he’d read and read and researched and thought and done the work. We have to do the work.
#4 Write a lot and do it in public
The Carpet People began as a serial story in the children’s corner of his local newspaper. An agent noticed, and he turned it into his first published book.
Write and write and write—then publish it, online, on your blog, on LinkedIn and Instagram and wherever you want. Release it for people to see and read, and magic happens.
#5 Turn things around
Tiffany Aching, Pratchett’s teenage witch, digs into things. Take Hansel and Gretel. In The Wee Free Men, Tiffany says, “Excuse me? No one has an oven big enough to get a whole person in, and what made the children think they could just walk around eating people’s houses in any case?”
Don’t take things at face value. THINK about them and present them in a way that perhaps your readers haven’t considered. Most people do not like to think, so if you think out loud, you’ll be interesting.
#6 Stand for something and do it out loud
“There are some people who hate my guts. And the more I can make them hate my guts, the better.”
He’s not saying to be contrary for the sake of it. He’s saying stand up for what you believe is right and say it out loud and ignore the haters.
If you’re pissing someone off, you’re doing something right. If you upset no one, you’re not doing anything at all.
#7 A plan can be helpful but you don’t NEED one
“Generally I don’t have a plan, but I do have an instinct.”
Not everyone works well with a plan or a detailed outline. But it can be helpful. Have a destination in mind at least…
#8 Write the ending first
It might not end up being the ending you use, but it gives you something to aim at—and it’ll help you get 15 or 20,000 words out.
#9 “You have to know what works”
It’s not enough to read in and out of your genre; know what works, and why. Read the most successful authors in your genre—why are they successful? Study your area—and try it yourself until you discover who you are as a writer.
#10 It’s not the ideas that are important
I know, right? But wait.
Everyone has thousands of ideas, all the damn time. Some are terrible, most mediocre, a few amazing. But we have to write them down or they don’t count for anything.
“We all have ideas, all the time. I tend to write them down and remember them, but at some point you have to apply the bum to the seat and knock out about 65,000 words.”
I’m gonna dig into each slice of wisdom deeply over the coming weeks and months. To be the first to read, sign up for my Notes in the Marginright here.
And if you’re ready to write your nonfiction book and would like my help to apply these nuggets of wisdom in your own writing, maybe a Book Breakthrough Jam would be right up your street.
“A Life in Writing,” The Guardian.
“Terry Pratchett Interviewed,” Writers Online.
“Terry Pratchett 1948-2015,” The Paris Review.
“And the magic begins…” The Irish Times.
And, of course, everything Terry Pratchett has ever written, that I could get my hands on.
Psst: did you know you can book a 90 minute Book Breakthrough Jam session with me to get your book started? If you’re stuck and would like my help to get going on your book again, click the button below and book a slot.
Notes in the Margin
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