If you want to write, says Chris Lynch, the Printz Honor Award-winning author of several highly acclaimed young adult novels, you have to learn to be a watcher rather than watched, and you need to welcome silence rather than chattering away all day.
This advice is in keeping with his motto for life: “Shut up and write.”
Since setting out to become a writer, Lynch has diligently followed his own advice, producing such award-winning titles as Inexcusable, a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of six starred reviews, and Angry Young Man, as well as Freewill, Gold Dust, Iceman, Gypsy Davy, and Shadowboxer (all ALA Best Books for Young Adults).
He has spent his professional life as a writer, he admits, “ doing what I had spent my entire prior life fighting: I’m giving it up. I’m showing you, the reader, mine, and at the same time I believe you are showing me yours. If we’re in the book together, we are showing each other.”
Lynch holds nothing back as he explore his characters’ bruises and soft spots, their scariest thoughts, funniest jokes, and most perverse desires. And it’s this style of writing that draws him such praise from reviewers and fans.
“I believe the system I dys- functioned within is very much a part of many teenagers’ lives,” Lynch says. “My goal is to do my part to dis- mantle this system by exposing it.”
Lynch, who grew up in Boston, now lives in Scotland. He used to work at home when his children were younger, but leaves the house to work now. “I have started writing in the library of the Scottish Agricultural College, and the change of atmosphere has helped. I've been acting more like I have a regular 9-5 (ish) job that I go to in the morning and leave in the evening, with a trip to the gym in the middle. This has become something of a structure for me, though it's still evolving.”
Without his laptop, he says, his writing life would be entirely different. “It would be almost impossible to imagine a laptop-free existence at this point. My professional life is a testament to the progress of writing equipment, from pen to typewriter to clunky desktop to this practically self-sufficient machine I'm working on now.”
Lynch says he’d feel inept if he had to make a living in any of the old ways again. “It has gotten so serious,” he admits, “that, while I would love to do some writing in longhand again, I cannot do it. Every time I try now, it's a disaster because I have no respect for my handwriting. It's like the sound of my voice on recordings --- I find it hideous, and cannot work with it.”
Currently, Lynch is working on a four-book middle grade series for Scholastic on the Vietnam War. (The first two books are out--Vietnam #1-I Pledge Allegiance; Vietnam #2-Sharpshooter--and Vietnam #3-Free-Fire Zone will be out in the Fall, with Vietnam #4-Casualties of War closing things out next Spring.) His most recent YA novel, Kill Switch, has just come out with Simon & Schuster.
When he’s not writing, Lynch teaches in the low-residency MFA creative writing program at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, just across the river from his boyhood haunts, and mentors aspiring writers. He was kind enough to take a few minutes from his works-in-progress to share some thoughts on writing with wordswimmer.
Wordswimmer: If writing is like swimming…how do you get into the water each day?
Lynch: First thing, I studiously try to avoid all the other marine life. This is of course a lot easier for me at this point in my life than when my house was busier, but it still takes some maneuvering some days. The thing is, I want to get started swimming in my own head right from the get-go, and even the most routine interactions with other people pull me away from that. It can mean getting up really early and taking the dog for a long walk until I know I have a quiet house to come back to. It can mean hanging in bed until the coast is clear (which is harder than it sounds). But starting with no human contact can often mean the difference between a mighty focus and some maddeningly diffused morning hours.
Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?
Lynch: I love the rhythm of a short story schedule and it almost always means three days for me. Ramp up, full stride, pull it all together. I don't plan it that way, but I sort of expect it, and this pacing really helps me focus. To put it back into a swimming-related context I suppose it's like the pacing triathletes appreciate. Only way, way, way less brutal.
For novels, I can be thrashing away unproductively for a whole day, then hit on something that I know is good and right and it fits and while it doesn't amount to a lot of words it gives me a kick. Then when I get away from the keyboard for the day I wind up getting a stream of ideas over the next few hours at the gym or out walking or whatever I'm at. Those ideas become notes, which bridge to tomorrow's writing, which slingshots me into the next section of the work. Those slingshot moments are the ones that sustain long-form writing for me.
Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?
Lynch: Dry spells simply require you to keep hammering away. There are so many times when I feel like I don't need to be at the desk because stuff is percolating, and sometimes that's true and sometimes that's a ruse I pull on myself. During those times I have to sit down and write through the deadly dull dry bits until I hit that thing which does not happen unless I am typing. Trying to write a thing leads me to the moments that I need to really WRITE in order to progress. Writing leads to writing in a way nothing else can. Then, see answer #2. (I also recognize that there are times one needs to get away, but here I am just addressing something specific.)
Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?
Lynch: The hardest part of swimming is the ever-whispering voice in the conch shell that suggests you can't really swim at all. Or that you are going to suddenly forget how.
Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?
Lynch: You overcome the obstacles by acknowledging that ultimately you are always swimming alone. The mind is a pretty resourceful thing when it has to rely only on itself.
Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?
Lynch: The part I love the most is when I hit it--a phrase, sentence, paragraph, a characterization, chapter, whatnot--and I know, my subconscious editor knows, instantly, that I got it right, achieved the elusive it. And whatever happens to the piece from there, wherever it goes, almost doesn't matter because I just got the thing, the thing of all things, that makes writing so special, so singular for every last one of us who does this at any level, in any form. And yeah, just like first mastering that other form of swimming, at that moment little me is inside, splashing madly and shouting, "Look at me! Watch me, watch me!"
For more information about Lynch and his work, visit: