Well, I finally did it. I updated my web site. It sounds so simple when I put it like that. Let me tell you, it wasn’t. It was not simple. I’ve been tinkering with this website since 1998 and each time I just slather more code on top of the old stuff. How it still works is a miracle.
The problem with doing this, instead of biting the bullet and making something new and modern from scratch, is that it becomes increasingly difficult to do anything without causing weird side-effects, like when you try to move a jigsaw puzzle, or colonize the Americas. It’s a real house of cards at this point.
But I had to update it, because the previous site was built around a photo of me from 2007, and it was feeling more and more like deceptive advertising. I mean, I wouldn’t be the first author to use an old picture. There’s one guy, I don’t want to name names, because I thought it was Tony Ross but then when I went to check maybe I was misremembering, he looks mid-thirties in his author photo, but in reality, he was born in the mid-thirties. I know this kind of thing does happen.
And I doubt anyone has been buying novels because of the vibrant youthful beauty of the author—in my case, I mean. I am guessing no. But either way, it was just too dated. It was a nice photo but I want people to be able to recognize me at book readings. So here we are.
I’m so excited; first visit to the US in 5 years! Anything happen while I was away? pic.twitter.com/ahGSe0IyR9
Just quietly, I am killing it in US-based Australian & Oceanic Literature. pic.twitter.com/a1YO6cuXyo
Here’s a piece I wrote for @CNN on the Aussie bushfires. edition.cnn.com/2020/01/02/opi…
Writing about dystopias was more fun before I was living in one. This is Sale, Gippsland, Australia at midday. Rain… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
First reviews are so nerve-wracking. A “terrific sci-fi thriller,” says this starred review of “Providence” in Publ… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
It’s good advice if you’re the kind of writer who gets stuck agonizing over sentences and scenes until they’re perfect. If that’s you, you can benefit by postponing a lot of that self-critique until you have a first draft. Because otherwise you won’t have one.
And first drafts are always bad. Reaching the end of a first draft and re-reading it for the first time is like waking up in bed with a stranger who seemed dazzling and irresistable last night, when you were drunk, but now it’s daylight and oh my God what were you thinking. But that’s okay, because now you can take care of all the other stuff that got overlooked when you were trying to invent an entire populated world with a compelling narrative through-line in your head.
So if you tend to endlessly re-read what you wrote last week and mentally compare it to the greatest novels of all time, you’re asking for trouble. It might be a red flag that your story isn’t working in some fundamental way—in which case you need to strip it down to the part you like best and start over—but you might also simply be operating under the mistaken belief that your first draft has to be excellent.
On the other hand: Your first draft does have to be excellent. I mean this in the sense that I don’t think it’s possible to write a good book you don’t like. Those stories of authors who found every sentence excruciating but their pain and toil created something magnificent—those didn’t happen. I don’t believe those at all. It’s the other way around: You think you’re creating something magnificent and only when you re-read the first draft do you realize, boy, I still have a lot of work to do.
It is possible to crank out a novel that no-one really likes, including you. I know this because I did it, right after I started writing full-time and mistakenly believed that the job was all about discipline. Since then, I’ve written four or five novels that will never be published, but none has been a bigger waste of time than that one, which was bad in every way, and I knew it at the time, while I was working on it. Each day, I was happy to finish writing, and I didn’t think about it again until I had to the next day. That is no way to write a novel.
Delusion is key here. You don’t have to write a great first draft. But you have to believe it will be a great book. You must know in your soul that it’s going to be great when you’re done. Not because you’ve re-read your first chapter a hundred times and every line is perfect, but because the story is in your head and it thrills you to think about. Write that book.
This may be the coolest thing a publisher has ever done for me. pic.twitter.com/pnEoZpeV7v
I apologize for asking Mr. Barry, but what would you consider yourself to be on the political spectrum? I’ve seen people call you a right-libertarian, a neo-liberal, and other times fiscal conservative. An answer would be much appreciated.
Well those are terrible guesses. I can rule out those three. Here, I took the Political Compass test for you:
I call myself a militant centrist because I’m a writer, and you can’t write unless you constantly put yourself in other people’s shoes, even shoes that are kind of gross. For example, if I’m writing a character who’s going to assault someone, I need to understand how he sees the world in order for that behavior to make sense. He wouldn’t do it for no reason, or if he thought it was fundamentally wrong or would make him a bad person. So he must have a view of the world in which it’s the right thing to do.
I might disagree with this character, but it’s my job to make his behavior rational. So I climb into that brainspace as far as I can, until it starts to seem totally reasonable to me, too, that he has to assault someone, and, in fact, maybe it’s the assaulters who are the real heroes, and the world needs more of them.
(I went back and re-read Machine Man a few years ago, and was really surprised by how strange that character is. When I was writing him, I had wriggled far enough into his head that it seemed quite logical. But with a little distance: No. He is messed up.)
Anyway, out of reflex, I do this in real life, too, so when I encounter an opinion that I find bizarre, I try to contort my mind until I can imagine the context in which it makes perfect sense. And once you can do this for people who want to amputate their own limbs, you can definitely do it for people who oppose gun control.
So although I have a lot of political opinions that are very left-leaning, I usually find something to sympathize with in right-wing arguments, too. I mean, I usually think they’re wrong. I really do think most right-wing talking points are, on the evidence, objectively incorrect nowadays. But I can imagine circumstances or contexts in which they would make sense.
This may make me the kind of person who would be appeasing Nazis in the 1930s, by the way, so it’s not an objectively good thing. It’s just good for a writer.
This is 100% accurate. youtu.be/NE-al0xSFJo
Brexit seems so much like the 1999 Australian Republic referendum, only inverted. In both cases, a majority agrees… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
“What he was actually onto was the premise for a dystopian novel. To be precise, he had blundered into the world of… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
Pictured (L-R): Tim Apple, Donald Government, Ivanka Government. pic.twitter.com/J9v3WoC5NI
This is so funny. Jennifer Government would be all over this. newyorker.com/humor/daily-sh…
The Nike shoe you couldn’t buy is now $675, but you have to run a sub-3hr marathon first. Brilliant. highsnobiety.com/p/nike-vaporfl…
I have acquired a dog. Henceforth all my tweets will be dog-related. pic.twitter.com/GZuVP9lRKo
AT LAST. Two new books are on the way! pic.twitter.com/kaLMjfZtvf
y u no post
Well let me ask you, Anonymous: y U no post? I mean, I don’t know you. But I’m guessing you haven’t blogged in a while. Why is that? Is it because you decided the world doesn’t actually need your random thoughts inserted into it on a semi-weekly basis? I’m just spit-balling. But that sounds right to me. I mean, there are a lot of human beings out there, Anonymous. A lot. And they can’t all be the chosen one sent to save humanity with the power of their opinions.
I know, I know; you used to feel that way. You used to be young, Anonymous. You were filled up with the righteous clarity and passionate delusion of youth that other people need to hear what you have to say. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a good thing for young people. But you’re not 23 any more, are you?
And opinions have become so digestible. You were raised in an age of op-ed pieces, I bet, where people thought about what they wanted to say, spent some time composing it into robust form, and delivered it in meal-sized portions. Today you wouldn’t be halfway through that process before the social media maelstrom had eaten, judged, and moved on, all in punctuation-free one-liners. That’s okay; that’s an evolution of sorts; but it’s not exactly your sweet spot, is it? If you’re delivering 500-word blogs (blogs!) a day after the fact, you’re kind of constantly late to the party, right?
But I do think you should start posting, Anonymous. Like for me, I had a really terrific year creatively in 2018; one of my most enjoyable. I didn’t post about it, though, for a few reasons, a big one being that the moment I say out loud something about the writing going well, I can already feel the thousand demons of writers’ Hell winging their way toward me. But then a few people started to think I had been killed in that fake balcony fall where Wikipedia says I broke my arm,* or abducted by winged writers’ demons, so I felt a little guilty about that.
And when you do post, Anonymous, you often get reminded that there are people out there who do like to know that you are still alive, and not consumed by demons, and some of those people you’ve been connected to for a really long time. And that’s nice. That’s really nice. So I do want you to give it a shot, Anonymous. Get back out there. Share your irrelevant thoughts, because that’s what people do. The second you have a book deal.
Great piece on the weirdly pervasive belief that boys must only read books about boys. washingtonpost.com/entertainment/…
2nd marathon: survived. pic.twitter.com/4EDseqBqgM
Jennifer Government mention spotted at @motherboard. motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/…
No-one is talking about the spate of terrible facial injuries caused by Claire North’s new book promotion. twitter.com/steviefinegan/…
Apparently kids today find writing fiction “too hard” because Daddy’s keyboard is “weird” and they “can’t see the k… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…
rewriting like pic.twitter.com/tMRX12mtwG
Please do not use Monster Assault camo edition to literally engage in war with our corporate enemies. twitter.com/BigPaulieDoyle…
Melbourne Comedy Festival show by @Wil_Anderson is a masterclass in storytelling — his best-written show ever. Get… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…
Someone April-Fools-vandalized my Wikipedia page. That’s not bad. pic.twitter.com/FNt35p68Em
Microsoft sending a guy to prison for recycling PCs. wapo.st/2o5iykw?tid=ss…
Did you write Lexicon chronologically and later decide which order to publish the chapters in? Or did you write it in the order in which the chapters appear? Or something else?
I wrote scenes in the order they occurred to me and moved them around later. That wasn’t chronological order, but wasn’t the published order, either, since I rewrite like a lunatic.
Actually, that’s misleading. I also write like a lunatic. It’s not just rewriting. When I had the basic idea for Lexicon, the first thing I did was write 20,000 words that never ended up in the book. I think a lot of writers do this. Many people have told me they started writing a novel and loved it for ten or twenty thousand words and then lost interest. I always say it’s not you; it’s the book. You haven’t lost steam because you’re not a good enough writer; it’s because your stupid story isn’t giving you enough to work with. You had something good but went wrong and now you’re trying to decorate the Sistene Chapel ceiling with crayons. Did Michelangelo use crayons? No. That ceiling would have sucked if he’d had crayons. People would say, “That is one mediocre ceiling. I can’t believe I came all the way here to see it.”
So when that happened to me, I threw it all away except for a 500-word scene of a guy getting assaulted in a bathroom and 1,000 words of a street hustler’s magic game gone wrong. I still found those interesting.
This time when I hit 20,000 words and began to hate it there was more to salvage: I had characters like Eliot, Yeats, and Bronte, and a stronger idea of what people were doing and why. Everything else was still terrible. I didn’t have a story so much as a bunch of different people doing different things. But there was more there. So I cut back to 10k words and spent a couple of years writing and cutting and rewriting my way up to 40k.
Then I threw it all out for the same 1,500 words I’d had before. I’d developed a lot more of the world, but the whole thing still sucked for reasons I couldn’t identify. So I decided to try a new approach.
(During this time Machine Man went from idea to online serial to published book. It was nice to work on something with a linear relationship between time spent writing and book length.)
This time, I made those simple two scenes the openings of Chapters 1 & 2 and spent the entire rest of each chapter exploring them. With all the other stuff stripped away, it immediately felt more like a real story. I ran it up to 80,000 words without too much trauma, relatively speaking, sticking with this new format of alternating point-of-view chapters: Wil, Emily, Wil, Emily.
That became increasingly challenging as the ending loomed and I needed to bring story threads together. For example, I would want to do something with a particular character in a particular time-frame at a particular point in the story, but it wouldn’t be the right point-of-view chapter. I managed to make it work anyway, kind of, and finished a first draft (110,000 words), but it was complicated and hard to follow, with too much jumping around in time and space. It even had the worst kind of flashback, where first you see something that doesn’t make any sense, then later the story is like, “Oh, so here’s what you needed to know back then. It’s pretty great now, right?” No! It’s too late. You can’t retrospectively save a scene. I already experienced it and felt bad.
The structure also made it impossible to change anything. My first drafts always need a lot of reworking in the back half, since they evolve through a beautiful, natural, organic process of creative discovery, instead of from a plan like a sane person would use. My structure was a Jenga tower of Babel where I couldn’t touch any part of it without risking collapse the whole thing, because it was all interconnected and inflexible.
So I straightened out the timeline, moving scenes to where they made the most sense from a story point of view, rather than the dictates of an alternating chapter structure. That sounds neat and tidy, like you can click and drag a scene from one place to another and it will snap into the right place, but the reality is more like operating on someone who has their big toe growing out of their forehead. It’s messy, is what I’m saying. You create a lot of ragged edges. There may be some crying involved.
Usual disclaimer: This process isn’t something I recommend. Ideally I would have an idea, plan the book, and write out a first draft in chapter order. I’m just not smart enough to do that. That’s the only problem. I can’t guess in advance what will be interesting about a story. I have to wade in there and figure it out from ground level. But maybe you can!