Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Observe a Lot by Andy Scheer

You can observe a lot,” said baseball great Yogi Berra, “just by watching.”

To that I add, “and by listening.”

This weekend in Denver I attended the annual convention of a group that collects books and memorabilia linked to adventure writer Clive Cussler. (The group's president, whom I met at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, asked me to call a square dance at the end of their Friday evening session.)

I had read at least a dozen novels by the evening's speaker, veteran writer Justin Scott, so I looked forward to his talk. I expected I'd hear about his experience co-writing with Cussler—especially his latest, “The Race,” about a 1910 cross-country airplane competition.

But I didn't expect to receive practical help on one of my own projects. Good thing I was listening.

Someone asked Scott about his research, as he'd never before written about aviation. I wasn't surprised when he spoke of visiting the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, a living history museum for early aviation. Then Scott mentioned a book “Stick and Rudder,” that, while written in 1941, had educated him about the basics of flight and piloting. Though his book was set thirty years earlier, the aviators in his novel needed to apply and be able to talk about those principles.

I wasn't prepared to take notes, but I found a napkin and jotted the title. Just what I needed for a story I'm writing that's set in the mid twenties and involves an aviator.

Then someone asked about Scott's writing practices, which enable him to create two novels a year: one for Clive Cussler and another (using his pseudonym Paul Garrison) for the estate of Robert Ludlum.

Not surprisingly, Scott said he gets up early and goes straight to his office so he can put in six hours of work by lunchtime. During those hours he doesn't take phone calls, check email, or succumb to other popular distractions.

Then he added a detail I've never heard an author mention: He uses two computer screens. One always shows his work in progress. The other displays resource material: his outline and notes, a dictionary, a search engine, and such. Reserving a second screen for those tools means his project always remains before him, open.

Maybe this technique can help you work more efficiently on your own big, research-dependent project.

Over the years I've observed that successful writers are always learning. Once when I was on staff at a writers conference, I rode in a car for some twenty minutes with two of the keynoters, novelists Jack Cavanaugh and Francine Rivers. Rather than discuss the North Carolina scenery, they took advantage of the time together to talk shop: How did they each approach a certain aspect of the craft?

After all, you can observe a lot by listening.


Jeanette Levellie said...

Don't you love when God puts you in the right place to receive some guidance you need, even when you didn't know you needed it? He is so cool.

Two computers sounds lovely.

Andy Scheer said...

One computer, two screens, as I understood what he said.

Rick Barry said...

I've never learned a thing by talking, but I've learned plenty by listening.

For my current work in progress, I repeatedly watched a video version of an old B & W training film for P-47 pilots. I also sifted through countless after-mission reports made by Thunderbolt pilots during de-briefings in WW II. But never had I considered using a second screen to keep my research separate and viewable while writing. Very interesting.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Oh, yes two screens are a must. Worth every penny of husbands money!!!!

Rick Barry said...

Thanks for the tip about the book Stick and Rudder. I found a used copy on ebay and just won it with a bid of 99 cents! Should be a handy addition to my library.