Writing Routines

Lee Child’s Writing Routine: “I have no idea what the plot is going to be.”

Lee Child is a British author, best-known for his thriller novels featuring the Jack Reacher character. His first novel, Killing Floor, won both the Anthony Award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel.

When I start [a book], I have no idea what the plot is going to be. I try to come up with a good opening sentence, and then I think, “Great,” and go from there.

How bestselling author Lee Child writes 2,000 words a day | Fast Company

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British author Lee Child has published a new book a year since 1997; he actually published two in 2010. To maintain his prolific output, Child has a tradition he likes to stick with, he starts writing on the first day of September every year.

“That was the day I started my first book, so it’s kind of sentimental, but it’s also common sense,” he explained to Fast Company. “I publish a book a year, so this gives me a structure, which is useful.”

Child wakes up between 7-8am every morning and goes to sleep between 1-3am. In between, he drinks “about 30 cups of coffee a day.” Writing starts between midday and 1pm, with cigarettes accompanying his voluminous coffee-drinking, and usually finishes up between 6-7pm.

He has two computers, one connected to the internet and the other one offline, at different ends of the office to discourage him going online. A 2019 New York Times profile featured a description of Child’s workspace:

He has lucked into the best room in the house as his office: double height and mostly glass with a fireplace. It should be the master bedroom. But the noisy furnace room below ruled that out, so here are two desks face to face, one for Reacher projects and the other for correspondence; plus high piles of books for Child’s recreational reading.

Jack Reacher Is Still Restless. But His Creator Has Settled Down. | The New York Times

Lee Child’s daily writing routine

Like many writers, he’s constantly afflicted with a case of procrastination when he needs to write. “The day I start writing, my creativity explodes in every direction except the book I have to work on,” he said. “I’ll start a project, like redecorating my apartment, when I should be focusing.”

Though he often goes through bouts of procrastination, Child doesn’t believe in the dreaded writer’s block, which he calls “a shorthand term that means you just don’t feel into it that day,” in an interview with Writers Online. “It’s just a reluctance to get to work and we all understand that. Everyone has days when you can’t be bothered. But if you want it, you just have to go and do it.”

Child aims to write 2,000 words a day, though the count can vary. “Some days I write just a couple hundred words, but if it’s crucial I feel pleased about it,” Child told Record Online. “There are so many invisible things – setting up mood, prefacing a transition. But routine narrative, I’ll write 2,000 words a day.”

At his usual pace, the Jack Reacher writer is usually finished with a novel in 6 months (“from the first blank screen until ‘The End'”), though unlike other authors, he doesn’t have an outline of the plot. In fact, he barely has an idea of how the story will play out, rather, discovering it along the way during the writing process.

In 2015, Cambridge academic and author, Andy Martin, convinced Child to let him shadow him during the writing of the 20th Reacher novel, Make Me. In an article for The Conversation, Martin describes Child’s writing process, noting in particular, the lack of outline or sense of plot.

Lee Child writes his books as if he were the reader not the writer. When he is sitting at his desk in that back room in Manhattan he is only typing. The real work takes place when he is “dreaming”, when he is being just another reader, wondering what is coming next, waiting to find out. It probably explains too why he allowed me to look over his shoulder and watch his sentences taking shape even before he knew how they would end. He feels a natural sympathy with readers because he is one.

The man with no plot: how I watched Lee Child write a Jack Reacher novel | The Conversation

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