Friday, February 08, 2008

Robert Crais (author) Story of artistic discipline

I always find it interesting to here how other (especially successful) creatives live. Usually it is not glamorous (Warhol and Dali being exceptions). Usually what I find is obsessiveness.

I happened upon a blog entry from a mystery/thriller writer whom I like named Robert Crais. Reading about `artistic discipline' I find inspiring.

My Writing Day
4:57 PM PST, February 9, 2007
I get letters through my website. About a dozen letters every week are from people who want to know what my days are like. The folks asking are usually students or aspiring writers, and I do my best to answer, but I figure they’re always disappointed with the answer. I mean, think about it:
What’s your day like?
I write.
Uh-huh. And what’s that like?
It’s like typing.
What do you do when you’re not typing?
Worry about not typing.

Well, okay, it’s not that bad but you get my drift. Still, people take the time to write, and ask, so I worked up a cut & paste answer that gives a pretty good overview.

My alarm is set for 5AM, but I usually wake between 4 and 4:30, and hit the kill switch before the alarm can wake my wife. I like rising early, being awake and functioning in those dark hours before sunrise when the rest of the world sleeps. It feels as if I’m getting a jump on the day. Bonus time.

First thing I do is head for the gym or run. I like to work out, and pursue it with the same obsession that I pursue writing. I’m at the gym by 5:45AM four days every week, then home, showered, and at my Mac by 7. The gym might be four days per week, but the writing comes every day.

The intensity of my writing day varies along predictable patterns. The first three months or so that I spend on a book are when I outline and make general notes to figure out the story and the characters. My outlining days are low-key and pleasant as the deadline is still usually far away.

I’ll work until late-morning, then take a Tivo break to catch up on the shows I missed the night before (hey, I get up at 4, remember?) Current faves are HEROES (“Save the cheerleader, save the world.” Ya gotta love it.) and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (the best drama on television, imho.) After my Tivo break, it’s back to work.

During the outlining is when I do the bulk of my research. Because I write crime novels, I spend time with police officers, learn how they do their jobs, and visit crime scenes to gain the necessary color to create believable fiction. Most times this is great fun, and it’s always interesting, but sometimes it is not fun at all. I saw a young man who had been shot in the head die in his own driveway, the victim of a drive-by shooting. Sometimes, the research gets too real.

After the outline comes the actual writing of the book, which can be beautiful, but, just as often, painful. When I’m outlining, I work from about 7AM until 3PM. Once I start writing, however, my work hours expand and the daytime Tivo breaks are history. When I finally start writing the book, the fun part of the process is over. Now, I’m all business.

My obsession--my need--is simply to create a complete first-pass manuscript, nothing more than that. I work hard to write it as well as I can during that first pass, but my goal is to get the story down on paper, beginning to end. After that, I rewrite. I rewrite endlessly. I fuss over every word, I obsess about character and dialog. I make my life hell to get my work just the way I want it.

I’ll write from 7AM to about 6PM, but as the deadline approaches, I shift into overdrive. I hate deadlines more than the ebola virus, more than cosmic injustice, even more than taxes. No writing was ever made better by a deadline, but an awful lot of good work has gotten finished because of them.

During those last two or three months as I finish a book, I’ll work fourteen to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. I lose all track of time and family obligations. If my wife didn’t pay our bills, the power company would turn off our electricity. The only reason I’d know the power was off is that my Mac would stop working. I’d probably just pick up a pad and keep scribbling.

When the book is finished, so am I. I’ve put everything I have into the pages. I collapse, sleep for days, walk around in a stupor, then start the next book.

THE WATCHMAN will be published in just two weeks. I’m already writing next year’s book.


Robert Crais

Robert was born (1953) and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He grew up in a family of oil refinery workers and five police officers (three uncles and two cousins).

He was trained as a mechanical engineer. He did attend Louisiana State University (being the first person in his family to do so) but left before graduation to pursue his literary career. While working at his craft Robert had several 'day' jobs, including digging ditches, cleaning out dog runs and painting oil derricks. He was also involved in amateur film-making.

In 1976, he moved to Los Angeles, California. Within a year, he sold a science fiction short story called With Crooked Hands. This was his first professional sale...and just the beginning! He found work writing for a variety of television shows, including Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, Miami Vice, L.A. Law, Quincy, and JAG (under his Elvis Cole pseudonym). His work on Hill Street Blues earned him an Emmy Award nomination.

Sadly, in 1985, Robert's father passed away. His parents had been married for 42 years and his mother had a hard time after his death. Robert stepped in to help out. It was during this time that he came up with his hugely popular Elvis Cole character. He was able to deal with certain themes and issues which he could not in his television work.

In addition to his television work, Robert has written numerous novels and short stories. His work has been translated into eleven different languages and is available around the world. His writing has earned him many awards.

Robert is currently living in the Santa Monica mountains (Los Angeles) with his wife, daughter and three cats. When he is not busy working, he 'plays' as an aerobatic pilot, backpacker and gourmet cook. Elvis would be proud!

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