Guest Post: Ben H. Winters and The Theory of Rotating Dessert

Jordan here! Today’s guest post is by Ben H. Winters, author of a number of scary/funny books! To get into the Halloween spirit, we are doing a giveaway of Ben’s scary poetry book Literally Disturbed: Tales to Keep You Up at Night!

Literally DisturbedI am not the kind of writer, in general, who goes around giving advice to other writers, because I feel like I have no idea and am making the whole thing up as I go along, every day. (It is my impression, by the way, that most writers to some degree feel this same sense of day-to-day fraudulence, which I call writer’s blech—as opposed to writer’s block—but I think a lot of other writers are better than I am at hiding it).

I shall break my self-imposed prohibition on writerly advice to release this single, probably useless, pearl: if you’re writing a trilogy of increasingly bleak detective novels about the end of civilization, try also to be writing a series of spooky poetry books for kids ages eight to twelve. (The corollary rule, which you may have inferred, is that if you’re writing scary poem books, be sure also to also be writing apocalyptic mysteries.)

This might actually be terrible advice. There are writers who would say that working on two books at once—especially if one of them is poetry and one is prose, especially if one is for kids and one is for adults—will muddy the mind, slow your progress, and confuse your style.

But what I find, what I have found throughout my working life, is the opposite. I like to be doing two things at once. I sort of need to be. One thing in active motion and one in the starting gate, warming up, ready to come out swinging—something else I’ve started to play around with, to make notes on, maybe done a wild first pass on.

Because as any writer will tell you, an IDEA for a book is like falling in love, it’s all wild emotion and headlong rush, but the ACTUAL ACT of writing a book is like building a relationship: it is joyous, slow, fragile, frustrating, exhilarating, painstaking, exhausting, worth it. So when I get through the lovey-dovey stuff on Project A and I’m deep into the difficult and complicated part, it is sheer anticipatory pleasure to have Projecet B, still in the pure-joy IDEA phase—waiting, patient, a temptation to which I can look forward.

See what I’m getting at here?

(And yes, I recognize that if I extend the love/relationship metaphor much further, what I get is a new lover waiting for me to get done with the current one. That’s why I switch over to a new metaphor right about now).

I call this The Theory of Rotating Dessert. Because you do, no matter how excited you are about your book when you first set out, you reach a point where you feel like it’s murder, it’s killing you, you hate it and you wish you’d never started. But there! There in the distance, far but not too far, is this other project, your delicious dessert, and the sight of it, the knowledge of it, will keep you going, maintain your excitement and your inspiration and your diligence until you get to the end.

And then when that Project B is actually underway, when you’re deep into it, banging your head against the wall trying to conjure up clever ways to rhyme with “ghoul”, you know you’ve got a whole new detective novel waiting for you: the part of your writing life that was active is now in beautiful abeyance, gleaming under lights in the magic part of your mind, like a slice of diner pie in a rotating glass case.

Hopefully I haven’t mixed my metaphors too terribly. And hopefully the books themselves—which, let’s face it, are all that matters—are satisfying and delicious.

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ben winters photo Ben H. Winters is the author of six The Last Policeman (Quirk), which was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America; it was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by and Slate. Ben’s other books include the New York Times bestselling parody novel Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (Quirk) and a novel for young readers, The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman (HarperCollins), which was a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2011 as well as an Edgar Nominee in the juvenile category. Countdown City, the second book in the Last Policeman trilogy, and Literally Disturbed: Tales to Keep You Up at Night (Price Stern Sloan), a book of scary poems for kids both came out this summer.


10 Responses to Guest Post: Ben H. Winters and The Theory of Rotating Dessert

  1. Sue Needham Oct 22 2013 at 5:18 am #

    What a great idea! I’m half way through writing my first children’s fantasy and have had another idea for adult crime novel which I keep trying to suppress! I had wondered about making a start but have been afraid I would lose the momentum of the first story. You have given me something to think about……thank you!

    • Ben Oct 22 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      Oh, Sue, if there’s one thing I’ve learned (and it’s possible there is exactly one thing I’ve learned) it’s don’t suppress any idea ever. Write it on a scrap of paper, write it on the lid of a shoebox. Dictate it into your iPhone. Writing momentum is a self-multiplier — excitement about the new project translates into excitement about yourself and your ability, which will translate into excitement (and progress) on the current project.

  2. Susan Dennard Oct 22 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Oh my god, I love this post. I laughed aloud the entire way through. Thank you so much for stopping by!

    Plus, whoa. This is SO true for me. I’m all about the Shiny New Ideas to warm my cold nights when all I want to do is toss my current ms into the fireplace and NEVER look at it again. Three of the projects I’m working on now are from starts I made WHILE doing my contracted series–and I’m so glad to have giant chunks of words waiting for me, rather than having a bunch of blank pages…And of course, I have a few more appetizing desserts to work on on the side now. 😉

  3. Creative A Oct 22 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Yay for this post! This is a great way of putting it, and so very true. This is why I write short stories, and also why I allow myself to brainstorm and worldbuild on other novels while currently deep in the trenches of a different WIP. You do need a sense that dessert is still out there, coming soon. And if I’m sick of cheesecake, well, I can go have chocolate ganache truffles next. As soon as I finish this cheescake.

    Loved the metaphors. Great post! 🙂


  4. Steve Pettit Oct 22 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    Reminds me of Hunter Thompson saying that he was working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as an outlet for the tension created by his investigative reporting in Los Angeles about the time of Ruben Salazar’s death.

  5. Gretchen Oct 22 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    This is great! And I totally understand the idea. I split my time between television pilots and novels and always the key is to always be excited about what your writing. Also from a film/tv person we talk about developing and working on slates rather than a project. A slate being several projects all at various stages of development/progress. This way things are always in the mix and always moving forward.

  6. David Guest Oct 22 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    Fantastic advice, and it had writing, love and dessert all in the same post: three of my favorite things, though not in that order.

  7. Faye M. Oct 24 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    I agree. That is true.

  8. Alyssa Oct 24 2013 at 11:54 pm #

    This was an incredibly entertaining read. It also makes me feel so much better about the fact that my mind keeps wandering from my shoulders-deep MS to the shiny new idea that I’m just beginning to work on.

  9. Michael R. Oct 25 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    I balance writing two different projects by writing one until I am at block and than I switch over to the other one and do the same thing there and then I plan more the for both books

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