David Hewson is the author of several mystery/crime novels as well as Writing: A User's Manual: A Practical Guide to Planning, Starting, and Finishing a Novel.
What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?
I'm really not sure there is such a thing as writer's block. Imagine going into Walgreens, trying to pay, having the person behind the counter say, "No. Sorry. I can't serve you. I have checkout person's block." A few different things going on when you don't want to write. One is you simply don't feel like writing. In which case it's best to walk the dog, study Croatian, or even—heaven forbid —read a book! Nothing wrong with not being in the mood. Just wait for it to go. The more subtle 'block' stems from failing to understand where a project is headed. I keep a book journal for every project I write, noting feelings, ideas as it goes along. That's a great place to look from time to time. There's always something there I've forgotten about and sometimes that can spark a project back to life. But more fundamentally... you have to have a sense of direction with a book, even if you don't know exactly where it's going. If the direction's not there it's not a question of block but of structure and architecture. One tip: if you begin to struggle on page 180 and I guarantee the problem lies not there but somewhere around Page 130. Address the disease, not the symptom.
What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?
If a project's working I don't need prompts. I'm desperate to know who these people are, what their story is, how it will resolve (because it certainly won't be exactly as I originally pictured it - their own characters will determine that). When a project's right it provides its own momentum. If I think I'm having to inject that myself then something's wrong in the architecture, and a quick fix won't help. Again the book diary is a great place to look for prompts. Sometimes I'll go back and realise that a few months before I thought X was an important story thread and its fallen by the wayside. Sometimes it should have done. Other times...no.
What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?
My very first agent, Vivienne Schuster, was one of England's finest, one of the old school agents who'd been everywhere, knew everyone, seen everything. When she wanted to rep my first book I went in to see her and she asked what I wanted of all this. I said, 'A career.' I think that sold her more than a book. Viv taught me to be patient, always to be thinking of the next book as soon as the last one was written, to behave professionally and to have reasonable expectations. Too many people come into this business thinking their first book will make them rich and famous. It won't. You have to work at it, listen to people with greater experience, expect to fail along the way, and build the strength to pick yourself bloodied off the floor for the next round of the long fight.