How did you become a writer? Basically by writing. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve been doing it - or trying to – since I was six. (My neighbor, Joey Palumbo, paid me a quarter to write a play, and it was a long time before I got paid that much again.) I started seriously trying to write crime novels much later. I’d heard Joseph Wambaugh say that when he was starting, he decided to write ten pages a day, no matter what. I didn’t think I could do ten, but I could do five. So I wrote five pages a day on my first crime novel, no matter where I was or what I was doing. After a while (okay, quite a while) I had a book. The first fourteen publishers I sent it to disagreed. The fifteenth thought it was a book (it was nominated for an Edgar) and I’ve been writing since.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). There’s not time or space for me to list all those. Shakespeare was a huge influence when I was a kid. In my genre, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, Lawrence Block, Joe Wambaugh, T. Jefferson Parker, Robert B. Parker, James Crumley, Ken Bruen, Ian Rankin, John Harvey...it goes on and on, and I’m always afraid I’ll leave someone out. Tolstoy inspires me, so does George Eliot. I don’t ever want to ‘close the list’ on my inspirations – I want to find new things every day.
When and where do you write? Depends on where we’re living. If I’m at home in California, I write in my office. If we’re in Rhode Island, I write on my mother’s porch. The ‘when’ is pretty much the same – I start work at 5 or 5:30 AM depending on the time of year (earlier in the summer) and work all day. In winter, I take a break around 10 and do a few miles. In summer, I knock off late afternoon and hit the waves until dark. It’s a good life.
What are you working on now? I’m always working on a couple of books, but I’m usually pretty close-mouthed about what they are. I think you can talk about writing or you can write, but it’s pretty hard to do both. At least for me.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? No, but only because I refuse to believe in it. I’ll whistle past that particular graveyard, thanks. My hunch is that writer’s block is really an attempt to write perfectly on the first draft, which is hard to do. I just write badly until the good stuff comes. The other possibility is that I’m trying to write a scene that doesn’t really belong, or I’m trying to write it from the wrong character’s point of view. So I try switching it up. But if I take four or five stabs at a scene or a chapter, and it’s still not working, I have to decide that the scene or chapter simply doesn’t belong and I move on. It might be, too, that I don’t know enough about the characters or the story to write it yet. A lot of times, I’ll just skip it and go back later.
What’s your advice to new writers? Write. That sounds glib, and I don’t mean it to. But at the end of the day, it comes down to sitting – usually alone – in front of some kind of writing instrument and getting it down. There’s just no replacement for ‘time on the mat’. The other thing I’d advise young writers is not to put too much stock in ‘peer review’. If you’re going to seek advice, get it from people who know more than you do, and, even then, do it sparingly. It’s too easy to get nibbled to death by ducks.
Don Winslow is an American author most recognized for his crime and mystery novels. Many of his books are set in California. He has published a series of five novels that have a private investigator named Neal Carey as their main character.