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Oct 31, 2016

How Bestselling Sci-fi Thriller Author Blake Crouch Writes: Part Two

International bestselling sci-fi and thriller novelist and screenwriter, Blake Crouch, took time-out from his busy schedule to talk to me about his mind-bending new book Dark Matter, and adapting his work for both film and TV.

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The hybrid author has penned more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over 30 languages, and his short fiction has appeared in numerous publications.

In addition to having his Wayward Pines trilogy adapted into a #1 hit TV show by FOX, Blake wrote the screenplay for his latest novel, Dark Matter, for Sony Pictures. He also recently co-created Good Behavior, a TNT show based on his novellas, starring Michelle Dockery (set to premiere November 15th, 2016).

His novel Dark Matter was described by the NY Times as an, “… alternate-universe science fiction …. countdown thriller in which the hero must accomplish an impossible task,” and bestselling sci-fi author Andy Weir called it, “An exciting, ingeniously plotted adventure about love, regret, and quantum superposition.”

If you’re a fan of The Writer Files, click subscribe to automatically see new interviews.

If you missed the first half you can find it right here.

In Part Two of this file Blake Crouch and I discuss:

  • The author’s tips for conquering writer’s block
  • Why versioning and backing up drafts is crucial
  • How to lean into procrastination and find your most productive writing time
  • Why understanding that ‘everything’s been written,’ can set your creativity free
  • Why you need to write the kind of book you want to read

Listen to The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

How Bestselling Sci-fi Thriller Author Blake Crouch Writes: Part Two

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM

Kelton Reid: Welcome back to the Writer Files, I am still your host, Kelton Reid, here to take you on yet another tour of the habits, habitats, and brains of renowned writers to learn their secrets. In part two of this file, the international best selling sci-fi and thriller novelist and screenwriter, Blake Crouch, returned to talk to me about his mind-bending new book, Dark Matter, and adapting his work for both film and TV.

The hybrid author has penned more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over 30 languages and his short fiction has appeared in numerous publications. In addition to having his Wayward Pines trilogy adapted into a number one hit TV show by Fox, Blake wrote the screenplay for his latest novel, Dark Matter, for Sony Pictures. He also recently co-created Good Behavior, a TNT show based on his novelas starring Michelle Dockery.

His novel, Dark Matter was described by the New York Times as an alternate universe sci-fi countdown thriller in which the hero must accomplish an impossible task, and best-selling sci-fi author Andy Weir called it an exciting and geniously plotted adventure about love, regret, and quantum superposition.

In part two of this file, Blake and I discuss the author’s tips for conquering writer’s block, why versioning and backing up drafts is crucial, how to lean into procrastination and find your most productive writing time, why understanding that everything’s been written can set your creativity free, and why you need to write the kind of book you want to read.

If you’re a fan of The Writer Files please click “subscribe” to automatically see new interviews as soon as they’re published. If you miss the first half of this show, you can find it in the archives on iTunes, on WriterFiles.FM, and in the show notes.

This episode of The Writer Files is brought to you by Audible. I ll have more on their special offer later in the show but if you love audiobooks or you’ve always wanted to give them a try, you can check out over 180,000 titles right now at Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker.

And you’re a fan of Christopher Nolan’s work. I definitely get that kind of atmosphere from your book.

Blake Crouch: He does original … He writes, I mean, he obviously did the Batman movies, but he writes these very cool speculative thriller ideas that also have an emotional core. I just love his approach. I love the way he presents his ideas, like when he dropped that first Inception trailer. You’re like, What is this about? They’re running upside down in a hallway, and there’s nothing else. I can’t get enough of that kind of stuff. He’s definitely a huge inspiration for me.

The Author s Tips for Conquering Writer s Block

Kelton Reid: Yeah, for sure. I got tinges of Memento at times from Dark Matter, but you describe it as if Christopher Nolan directed It’s a Wonderful Life, which is hilarious and apropos, for sure. So do you believe in writer’s block, the million dollar author question?

Blake Crouch: Yeah, I guess I do. I believe that you go through periods of time where the ideas are really challenging and eluding you. Why those crop up, I think, probably owe to a whole host of psychological reasons. But, I do think that just the idea of writer’s block, I mean, people say like, Oh, writer’s block doesn’t exist. You just sit down and you write. That sounds great, but you can also just sit down and write a bunch of ****, and you’re not actually getting closer to your goal of writing the next great thing. What’s hard is writing a book that was as good or better as the last one you wrote, which you thought was the best thing you could ever do at that point in time. That’s the thing that’s really hard, and I think that’s what leads down the path towards writer’s block.

It’s not really like, Oh I just can’t write for reasons. It’s more like, When I’m not writing, it’s because I haven’t found the idea that makes me want to jump up and down and tell the world this story. That’s, for me, what writer’s block is. It’s not just not being able to string a sentence together, it’s not having the idea that makes me want to string sentences together.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah. So much of writing is thinking, is it not? Kind of processing, letting your brain do

Blake Crouch: All of it. 90% of it.

Kelton Reid: For sure. Are you a PC or a Mac user, by the way?

Blake Crouch: I mean, I’ve been a Mac for the last, I don’t know, five or so years. I don’t know. When did Mac stop being cool? I don’t know when that happened, but it’s just not cool anymore. They’re not innovating, so I don’t know, I have a feeling after this Mac Air I’m probably going to go back to PC for my next book.

Kelton Reid: Interesting.

Blake Crouch: I just can’t. Before Mac, I had these giant, chunky PCs. You could hear, it’s like a jet engine when they were running. I love my Mac Air. I love the battery life on it. But, the general Apple approach is sort of wearing on me lately.

Kelton Reid: Yeah. Are you a Scrivener user, or do you use Microsoft Word primarily for your stuff?

Blake Crouch: I don’t know what Scrivener is, so … Yeah, I use Microsoft Word.

Kelton Reid: Okay.

Blake Crouch: Obsessed with fonts. Obsessed with fonts. I love new fonts and discovering fonts and that’s my favorite way to procrastinate. Maybe I should pick a cool new font, maybe that ll and it actually does jar me out of things occasionally. And I always think I’m going to use these fonts right up until the end, but when it’s time to turn them in, I pretty much bring it all back to Times New Roman 12, and keep it very normal. I think it’s actually more helpful for people who are reading manuscripts in manuscript form to not have any distractions. The font itself doesn’t help the story, they just need to be able to read the story and characters in a vacuum.

Why Versioning and Backing up Drafts is Crucial

Kelton Reid: That’s right. Do you have any great organizational hacks for writers? I mean, you must have, I d imagine, quite a few in place if you’re juggling the screenwriting thing and the prose thing. Do you have some you could share with us?

Blake Crouch: I have, if you looked into my Dropbox I have tons of folders. I keep every new, substantial new, when I finish a manuscript, when I feel like all right, that’s my first draft, I’ll save that, then I’ll copy that, and I’ll paste it into a new folder that’s second draft. I never go back to the first draft again. It’s always there in case I want to return to it. I think it’s good and important to have an iteration of every draft of the novel as you move through the writing process.

I’m just looking here now, I m curious how many I have. Dark Matter has… Let’s see, accepted manuscripts, I have so many folders. I have accepted manuscripts. I have a copy edited folder. I have a galley copy folder. I have a marketing folder. I have a miscellaneous folder where I threw everything else. I basically have five drafts of Dark Matter.

Kelton Reid: Hmm.

Blake Crouch: That would be my big one is just you can’t have enough folders.

Kelton Reid: Yeah. It’s all backed up to the Cloud there so you never

Blake Crouch: It’s all backed up, I back it up to Dropbox.

How to Lean into Procrastination and Find Your Most Productive Writing Time

Kelton Reid: Cool cool. All right. How does Blake Crouch beat the dreaded procrastination? Do you kind of lean into it?

Blake Crouch: I use Freedom sometimes. Have you ever heard of that program where it turns your internet off? I mean, it’s stupid, but I’ll do that sometimes. I find that I write most of my words for the day in very short bursts of time. Most of it is just like, procrastinating, emails, things like that, but then all the work that actually gets done say, in a four hour “writing period” happens in about 30 minutes.

Kelton Reid: Yeah.

Blake Crouch: Lately, I’ve been trying to think more in terms of like, tuning into those periods of bursts of creativity and capturing those.

Kelton Reid: Yeah.

Blake Crouch: That’s the best I can offer. I mean, procrastinating, I think is part of it.

Kelton Reid: For sure.

Blake Crouch: I don’t really procrastinate when I know what I’m doing. I think the procrastination comes from not being 100% sure of how the scene should go and letting my subconscious kind of work on it while I do other things.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah. How does Blake Crouch unplug at the end of a long writing day?

Blake Crouch: Well, I love to have a glass of wine and read over and paper what I’ve written. Print it out, read it over on paper, and just get a sense of how it reads with a little bit of distance and with a tiny bit of time. After I do that, once I’ve done that, I don’t think about it anymore. I’m like, done. I love to go and run. That’s why I like to, if I get my stuff done by noon, I have the rest of the day to go play.

Kelton Reid: Love it, I love it. We will be right back after a very short break. Thanks so much for listening to the Writer Files.

This episode of The Writer Files is brought to you by Audible, offering over 180,000 audiobook titles to choose from. Audible seamlessly delivers the world’s both fiction and nonfiction to your iPhone, Android, Kindle or computer. For Rainmaker FM listeners, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a 30 day trial to give you the opportunity to check them out. Grab your free audiobook right now by visiting Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker. I just hopped over there to grab Stephen King’s epic novel 11.22.63, about an English teacher who goes back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK. You can download your pick or any other audiobook free by heading over to Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker. To download your free audiobook today, go to Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker.

Why Understanding that Everything s Been Written, can Set Your Creativity Free

Kelton Reid: Let’s cruise through some creativity questions. How do you define creativity? Do you have a definition?

Blake Crouch:What occurs to me as you say that is I think creativity is taking all of the works of art, whether it’s books and paintings and movies and things, taking all of those themes and storylines that have inspired you over the years, and finding a way to mold and shape those into something new and fresh, that also says something about where you are at this point in your life. Cormac McCarthy had a kind of a famous saying, when someone asks him about originality, he was like, Well, all books are made of other books.

Kelton Reid: Yeah.

Blake Crouch: It’s so true, it’s so true. There is actually nothing purely original, and I think understanding that really frees you up to write about what you want to be writing about. I mean, you could look at Dark Matter … I mean, it’s one of the reasons I hesitated to write Dark Matter at first. Because it’s like, a multiverse story, basically, at heart. It’s about the multiverse, or alternate realities. And yes, we’ve had many, many, many stories like that.

If that’s your frame of reference in the way you view things, which I find is the way reviewers tend to evaluate books, then you’ll never write anything. You’ll truly never write anything because there’s nothing really original left. The only thing, the only way that originality comes into play is that you are telling a story that has probably been told many times before, but you’re telling it in your voice and you’re telling it from your unique camera angle of life as you see it, with all the baggage that you have in your life at that moment.

That’s where the originality comes from, and that’s what creativity is. It isn’t coming up with the new plot thing that no one’s ever come up with before, because I’m pretty sure there aren’t any of those left.

Kelton Reid: I love that, very well put. What do you think, in your estimation, makes a writer truly great?

Blake Crouch: I think continuing to evolve and push their own boundaries. You know, I have a lot of friends in this business, and one of the things you do is you read each other’s manuscripts. That s the first line of defense in letting people know where it’s succeeding and where you think it’s not succeeding. Whenever I see a writer trying actively and desperately to take a quantum leap in what they do, I respect that. I think great writers are not writing the same book over and over again. They are really kind of pushing themselves in the nature of their storytelling. That, to me, is what turns me on in the writers that I love.

Kelton Reid: Nice, nice. Do you have a couple faves sitting there on your nightstand right now?

Blake Crouch: What have I read? I mean, I’ve read a bunch of debuts lately. I’ve kind of been on a blurbing streak. I grew up loving Pat Conroy, because he was the first adult fiction writer I ever read. I read the Prince of Tides when I was 12. I mean, obviously my writing couldn’t be more different from his, but I have a real sentimental nostalgic love of his books.

Cormac McCarthy is one of those writers I would place in that category of you just don’t know what his next book is going to be. If you look at something like All the Pretty Horses in the Border Trilogy to The Road, oh I’m sorry, to No Country for Old Men, which is in some ways just a thriller, to The Road, which is just science fiction, he would definitely be up there.

I also read this awesome memoir called When Breath Becomes Air, which just came out, by the neuroscientist, or a neurosurgeon, rather, who gets a diagnosis of lung cancer when he is like 36 and he starts writing a memoir about his, basically last 2 years. It’s just devastating. Love Stephen King’s, I just finished the first book in the Dark Tower series, which I’ve never read. I’m blown away by it.

Kelton Reid: Fantastic. Well, I know we’re running short on time here. Your latest, Dark Matter, opens with the great T.S. Eliot quote. Do you have another quote just hanging over your desk that you wanted to drop on us?

Blake Crouch: Like a good writing quote?

Kelton Reid: Yeah, or just a quote in general that you come back to.

Blake Crouch: Yeah. Hmm. I have so many. Trying to think of a good one here. There is a really cool one by Margaret Mitchell. She said, I sweat blood to make my style simple and stripped bare. That’s really become true to me over the last seven years. Each book seems to be a condensing of style and trying to say more with less. That’s kind of been my North Star over the last few years from book to book.

Kelton Reid: Very nice, very nice. Yeah, definitely I’m a fan of your work. Cormac McCarthy came to mind. Also too, The Road has that very poetic style and it’s dark, kind of gritty sci-fi style. Your book has very poetic kind of structuring that’s just truly compelling.

Blake Crouch: Thank you.

Why You Need to Write the Kind of Book You Want to Read

Kelton Reid: I would encourage listeners to find Dark Matter, the sci-fi thriller, it’s definitely kind of a mind-bender, but it’s a fantastic read. Congratulations on the successes of that. Did you have any other nuggets you wanted to drop on your fellow scribes on keeping the ink flowing, keeping the cursor moving?

Blake Crouch:Yeah, no, I think the people always ask, What’s the best advice that you have? I really think it’s just, Write the kind of book that you would want to read. That’s it. Also have expectations, like if the kind of book that you’re dying to read is a quiet little gem that’s written in colloquial French set in the late 1700s, awesome, you should definitely write that book. You should also know that probably there’s not thousands and thousands of people who want to read that. I think it’s writing what you want to write, but also having expectations about what the audience actually is for what you want to write.

Kelton Reid: Love it, I love it. Lock, stock, and barrel with Blake Crouch. I believe that we can find most of your books at BlakeCrouch.com. There’s a books tab there where you can find all of these fantastic books by the author. Anywhere else you want to connect with readers and writers out there?

Blake Crouch: They can always find me on Twitter and Facebook. It’s fairly easy to find.

Kelton Reid: Fantastic, well thank you so much for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to rap with us about your process.

Blake Crouch: Hey, this was a blast.

Kelton Reid: Awesome. Hopefully, you will come back for your next one.

Blake Crouch: I’d love to.

Kelton Reid: All right, cheers.

Thanks so much for joining me for this half of a tour through the writer’s process. If you enjoy The Writer Files podcast please subscribe to the show and leave us a rating or a review on iTunes to help other writers find us. For more episodes, or to just leave a comment or a question, you can drop by WriterFiles.FM. You can always chat with me on Twitter @KeltonReid. Cheers, talk to you next week.