Neil Gaiman explains Terry Pratchett’s writing success.

June 9th, 2008

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In the back matter of the current edition of their jointly written novel, Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman offer some reflections on each other. Among other laudatory things Gaiman says about Pratchett, he offers this summary of why Pratchett has been so prolific and so funny for so long.

He was having fun. Then again, Terry is that rarity, the kind of author who likes Writing, not Having Written, or Being a Writer, but the actual sitting there and making things up in front of a screen. At the time we met [in 1985], he was still working as a press officer for the South Western Electricity board. He wrote four hundred words a night, every night: it was the only way for him to keep a real job and still write books. One night, a year later, he finished a novel, with a hundred words still to go, so he put a piece of paper into his typewriter, and wrote a hundred words of the next novel.

This is the same approach taken by that other prolific Englishman, Anthony Trollope:

And though in the quick production of my novels I had always ringing in my ears that terrible condemnation and scorn produced by the great man in Paternoster Row, I was nevertheless proud of having done so much. I always had a pen in my hand. Whether crossing the seas, or fighting with American officials, or tramping about the streets of Beverley, I could do a little, and generally more than a little. I had long since convinced myself that in such work as mine the great secret consisted in acknowledging myself to be bound to rules of labour similar to those which an artisan or a mechanic is forced to obey. A shoemaker when he has finished one pair of shoes does not sit down and contemplate his work in idle satisfaction. “There is my pair of shoes finished at last! What a pair of shoes it is!” The shoemaker who so indulged himself would be without wages half his time. It is the same with a professional writer of books. An author may of course want time to study a new subject. He will at any rate assure himself that there is some such good reason why he should pause. He does pause, and will be idle for a month or two while he tells himself how beautiful is that last pair of shoes which he has finished! Having thought much of all this, and having made up my mind that I could be really happy only when I was at work, I had now quite accustomed myself to begin a second pair as soon as the first was out of my hands.

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5 Responses to “Neil Gaiman explains Terry Pratchett’s writing success.”

  1. Sheryl A. McCoy Says:

    Wise illumination from writers I would listen to when they provide it. You picked an excellent topic, Terry Pratchett, as seen through the eyes of Neil Gaiman.

    I guess I must not be the only one who reads the postscripts in books. I was never taught how cool and informative the foreward, editor’s notes or other apocrypha were in learning more about the story, characters, or author(s). When I discovered this, it seemed an entire world opened up.

    Thanks for sharing this story about two great authors. I agree with the take home lessons: Write any chance you get! Be consistent! Enjoy your work!

  2. What I’ve Learned So Far » Blog Archive » More good advice on writing. Says:

    […] Neil Gaiman explains Terry Pratchett’s writing success. […]

  3. Succeeding under constraints. -- Hoover’s Business Insight Zone Says:

    […] (As I said in this post on my personal blog, Pratchett’s doggedness in the face of constraints is much like Anthony Trollope’s.) […]

  4. Ullala Says:

    Thanks for the Gaiman quote about Pratchett’s love of writing. Having read all of Pratchett’s books, that love is obvious, and I am glad that he is so prolific… I love reading his stuff…

    Have a great day
    Ullala

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    […] They don’t have the talent or the time to write the book. […]

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