Interview with author, Don Bentley, writing for Tom Clancy (part 2)

Don’s flying days

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

DB. Writing a book on spec is incredibly intimidating, especially when you have no idea whether or not it’s going to sell. This combined with the fact that writing progress on a book can seem so incremental as compared to say a short story can make it really easy to procrastinate. After all, if no one’s clamoring for your book, and it takes forever to write, it’s easy to come up with a thousand better ways to spend your time. With that in mind, I’ve found it helpful to give myself a deadline and then make a plan to meet it. For me, that works best if I put my engineering skills to use by mapping out a word count strategy and then tracking it in excel. Every week I compare the word count I was supposed to hit with what I actually wrote, and I also plot the cumulative progress on a line graph so I have a visual representation of where I am versus where I’m supposed to be. I’ve found that the terror that accompanies knowing that you’re exactly 4,326 words behind schedule is a great anecdote for procrastination!

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

A. That’s a great question! I write more organically, so many of my secondary characters come out in the first draft when I get to a scene and realize that I need another character for one reason or another. Often times a character I think will only have a cameo ends up showing up again in later scenes. After I finish my first draft, I further flesh out my characters during revisions and this is when they become real. I think the treatment of secondary characters is one of the things that separates good writers from great ones. For instance, if you pick up a Daniel Silva book, you’ll find that he doesn’t have any “throw away” characters. Even if they only share the stage for a single scene, each one of his characters is elaborately and realistically drawn.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

A cold beer and a warm cat……

DB. I’ve been telling myself stories for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories were of listening to my mom read me a book, or watching a tv show or movie, and thinking how the story could have ended differently. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I started writing what would now be known as “fan fiction” for Star Trek. Writing was always my favorite subject in school, and I attempted to write my first novel in high school. It didn’t go very far, and I think this was because like most amateur writers, I didn’t yet understand the a novel’s structure. I could write a scene, but figuring out what to do next confounded me. In my late twenties I finally got serious about writing and took some excellent online classes from Writer’s Digest. These gave me a foundational understanding that allowed me to finish my first novel sometime in my early thirties. This novel didn’t sell, and neither did the two that came after it, but each book that didn’t sell taught me something different about the writing process. I guess to answer your question, I never really felt inspired to write. The desire to tell stories is just part of who I am.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

DB. Secondary character usually come as I’m writing, but primary characters always come first ,even before the situation. New York Times Best Selling author Brad Taylor is one of my friends, and I pick his brain for writing advice every chance I get. He once told me that characters are what bring readers back from book to book, and I believe that’s true. You can have the most unique story idea in the world, but without a cast of characters that a reader enjoys enough to spend three hundred plus pages and hours of their lives getting to know, you won’t have a successful book. As I mentioned before, Daniel Silva does a superb job with characterization, so much so that reading his books feel like coming home. He’s one of the few authors that I will reread time and time again because I miss hanging out with the people he’s created. That’s how I want readers to feel about my books.

Did you miss part 1 of our Interview with Don?

Check out part 3 of this fascinating interview with Don Bentley, July 2nd

My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan, June: Don Bentley writing for Tom Clancy, July: Veronica Henry.
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