How did you become a writer?
I've just always known. It's funny—we're all "writers" as children. We all play with Barbies or Transformers, and create our own stories. Most of us grow out of playing make-believe. I never did.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I've had a lot of great teachers over the years, especially at the University of Iowa. Chris Offutt, Daniel Alarcón, Alan Drew, and Deanna Fei all provided invaluable instruction and encouragement. As far as influences go, Stephen King is right up there at the top. Also Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, and Donald E. Westlake. Since everyone always recommends Stephen King's On Writing—for good reason—I'll recommend instead Block's trio of books for writers (Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel, Write For Your Life, and The Liar's Bible).
When and where do you write?
When I'm working on a project, I write every day. Usually at a coffee shop—not to be pretentious, but because it's easy to nap at home or find something else to fill my time with. I order a coffee, turn on the Freedom app to block social media on my computer, and do writing sprints of 30 minutes until I hit my word goal for the day (usually between 1,000 and 3,000 words, depending on my deadline). I follow the same process when editing or revising, just without a set word count every day.
What are you working on now?
I'm currently working on Hope Rides Again, the sequel to my instant New York Times bestseller Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery. I completed a fair amount of the book before going on my current book tour, but it's been a struggle to write on the road. I can't wait to get back home and finish the first draft. That's when the fun begins: edits.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
If we're talking about the dread you get when staring at a blank page (or blank Word doc), then yes. I might put off beginning a story for days or weeks as I research a project. Some research is necessary, but at a certain point it becomes its own form of procrastination. Best to just sit down at the computer and break in that blank page.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
"Kill your darlings." I first heard this phrase from Stephen King, but it's been floating around the writing community for well over a hundred years (sometimes attributed to Chekhov, sometimes to Oscar Wilde). Basically, it means you need to be ruthless with revisions. No matter how much you love a turn of phrase or scene, if it doesn't serve the work, it needs to go. I stenciled this advice on my wall as a teenager. It troubled my mother. I don't know if she believed it had to do with writing, seeing how it was sandwiched in between pictures of Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson.
What’s your advice to new writers
I regularly mentor beginning and intermediate-level writers, and the number-one thing I see—consistently, across the board—is a lack of awareness of genre. Are you writing literary fiction? A thriller? Young adult or middle grade? It's important to know where your book would be shelved in a bookstore. (Don't say, "With the bestsellers.") Even if you're not going the traditional publishing route, you'll need to know the genre so you can find bloggers and readers willing to take a chance on a book by a new author. Don't let this advice limit you, though: Let your imagination go where it wants. Have fun. Write without boundaries. But when you're finished, take a serious, detached look at what you've written.
Andrew Shaffer is the New York Times bestselling author of Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery, the parody Fifty Shames of Earl Grey, and numerous other humorous works of fiction and nonfiction. He attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and studied comedy writing at Chicago's famed The Second City. An Iowa native, Shaffer lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife, novelist Tiffany Reisz. He teaches and mentors writers at Lexington's Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.