Here’s the final installment of the mutual interview I did with Terry Brooks. If you’d like to start at the beginning, here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
And now, without further ado, Part 4….
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Pat: What’s your revision process like? How many drafts do you go through?
Terry: I outline pretty thoroughly before I put pen to paper. I don’t write anything until I have it all pretty clear in my head, then I do the outline, and then I do the book. This doesn’t mean there won’t be changes, some of them extensive. But it is my blueprint for the book’s foundation and support timbers. I can pretty much rely on it to see me through. That said, nothing tells you more about your book than the writing of it. So I pay attention to newer, fresher ideas that crop up as I write. I listen to my instincts.
But here’s the good part. With this method, I only write one draft.
Pat: Boy. I think I’d hate to outline everything. But I have to admit, I’m really jealous of a one-draft model. I end up doing somewhere between 50 and 300 drafts, depending on how you want to count them.
Hopefully I’ll manage to streamline that a bit as I gain more experience. I’m the first to admit my way isn’t very efficient. I end up going back and forth a lot. Once or twice I’ve gone back and realized the best thing for the book was to hatchet out an entire chapter.
What’s the biggest cut you’ve ever made to a manuscript?
Terry: I did a lot of cutting when I was learning the craft under Lester. Lots of pages went by the board. But along the way, I’ve learned a few things. So I haven’t had to cut anything much in a long time. I should add, though, that I decided a while back to curtail the length of my books. I am an advocate of less is more these days. I use fewer words and actively look for ways to cut bits and pieces as I write. I was feeling wordy about my books about 15 years ago, and that was the end of big books for me.
Pat: Strange as it might seem, that’s actually my philosophy too. I really believe in less is more. And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds coming from someone who just wrote a 400,000 word book. Believe me, it would have been much longer if I wasn’t constantly riding my own brake.
Terry: I think you will do more of this the more you write and the older you get. This isn’t meant to be a warning. I just think that you learn how to say more with less (that less is more thing again) as time passes and writing skills improve. You change because that’s in the nature of who we are as writers.
Pat: Roughly speaking, how many copies of your own books would you guess you have in your house?
Terry: I don’t know how many of my books I’ve got in my house, but I’ve got thousands in my book storage rooms, and about half of them are European paperbacks!! Those guys insist on sending out dozens of author copies every time there is a new print run. If you put them altogether I think you would find I have somewhere around 20,000 on hand. Anyone need a foreign edition? Croatian, Thai, Hebrew or Inuit?
How about Martian?
Pat: The foreign editions really do pile up after a while. And I’ve only got the two books. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you, so many different editions of so many books. There’s really only so much you can do with them, too. One to the library. One to a friend who wants to brush up on his Estonian, then the rest of them sit on a shelf…
Terry: Do you see yourself writing fantasy twenty years from now? Or do you think you might go off and write something else entirely?
Pat: I don’t think I’ll ever stray very far from fantasy. Not only is it what I love best, but there’s so much room to write any sort of story you want.
Terry: That’s pretty much my thinking, too. I’m writing what exactly what I want to.
Pat: Rumor has it that Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin for a while before she began her day’s writing. Do you have any little rituals that help you write?
Terry: I’m kind of like Monk. Very anal. I have my writing space and I never write anywhere else. I have my stuff all carefully arranged, and I don’t like it if something gets moved. I have several recourses that I can turn to when I am stumped or bothered about a piece of writing to remove the so-called block. I always write in silence. No sounds, no music, no interruptions. This is all weird, but it beats lying in a coffin!
Pat: We’re birds of a feather there. I’m not orderly or neat. But I do have my writing space. Nobody is allowed in there, with a few rare exceptions.
And I’m with you. Silence. No interruptions. I can’t understand how some folks write with music playing. I know it’s an issue of different strokes for different folks, but writing with music on strikes me as being profoundly counter-intuitive. Unnatural even.
Pat: The internet has really changed the face of fandom in the last ten years. Has it had much of an effect on the way you interact with your fans?
Terry: When I started out, there was no internet, of course. My connection with fans was all by snail mail and personal appearances. I’ve never been good about mail, but I loved going out and meeting readers. I did it every year, sometimes for as many as 5 or 6 weeks a year, here and abroad. Can’t do that anymore because my energy level and tolerance for airport security won’t allow for it. Now I do maybe 2 or 3 weeks a year. But the personal connections, face to face, always mean more.
On the other hand, the internet allows for instant communication, and a different kind of closeness between writer and reader. Before, there was no central venue for communicating with readers. It was all done one on one. If you were doing a tour, you could send out fliers or the stores could print and distribute them. You could rely on word of mouth, but you didn’t have video or audio mass distribution available that didn’t cost an arm or a leg. The internet changed all that. About ten years ago, I went out on tour and asked at every stop how many people were there because they had read about it on the website. Web Druid Shawn asked me to take this survey. The response was eye opening. More than 80% were there because they had read about it on the site.
How about you, coming in later on when the internet was already the established form of communication? I know you blog regularly.
Pat: Yeah. I have a lot of fun interacting with my readers online. I’ve met a lot of cool people that way. It can be very rewarding….
But part of me also thinks that it would be nice to be able to go back to writing in a vacuum, like I did before I was published. I get about 10-15 e-mails a day from readers. That’s not counting print letters, or Facebook, or Goodreads. It can get a little overwhelming.
As for the blogging, I do that almost as a defensive measure. I know I can’t write a detailed letter back to every one of my fans that contacts me, but I can write something that anyone can show up to read. I use it to tell little stories out of my life and answer questions. I’ve run a contest or two. We’ve sold some t-shirts at our online store, The Tinker’s Packs, to support my charity.
I mostly goof around, in all honesty. But in between the goofing around, I keep people filled in about events and new projects.
Plus it gives me a venue to do the occasional interview with another cool author….
Terry: I like your thinking about using the blogs to answer questions for a general audience when it is virtually impossible to answer individual letters. I used to do that by snail mail before the internet, but I can’t manage it anymore.
Pat: It works out pretty well. It lets people know that you care. Plus you get to be helpful without having to spend three days of the week doing nothing but correspondence.
Terry: Hey, Patrick, this has been a lot of fun. I love finding out how other writers manage their lives, why they choose to write what they do, and what makes them tick. Especially writers I admire. Thanks for taking time to do this.
Pat: The pleasure has been all mine, Terry. This has been such a thrill.
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There you go folks, share and enjoy….