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5 To Try

List of five things I’ve never done (successfully) as a writer that I’d like to try:

1. Write a novel in present tense.

2. Write a feature screenplay. (Need not be original – could be an adaptation of an existing work)

3. Write a historical novel.

4. Write a novel on a typewriter.* Preferably for Hard Case crime.

5. Write for an ongoing television series.

* Have done this, but not since I was sixteen years old. Note my emphasis on doing something “successfully.” For my purposes, success indicates getting paid… not because I’m money obsessed, but because a paycheck is an indicator of professional level work. That said, the novel I wrote when I was sixteen – The Bones – was a kind of success for me at the time.

At the moment I’m not working on any of those things. I’ve got my hands full polishing the new novel, NOS4A2, and beginning on the scripts for Locke & Key: Omega. And after that, I have another novel in progress, which is neither historical or written in the present tense, and which currently exists as a Microsoft Word document. But a boy has to have goals, and at some point, maybe I’ll start checking some things off this list.

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30 Responses to 5 To Try

  1. Nice list! I especially like #1. Such a challenge, and I do find that I get really mystified while reading books that have been well written in present tense. It sounds like you’ll be checking a few off this list soon enough. =)

  2. Joel Allyn says:

    What a great set of goals. It’s always great to keep reaching and trying something different. Your story ‘My Father’s Mask’ inspired me to reach deeper and write something more ambiguous. I am just now wrapping up my goal of writing short stories for a year straight, before writing my first book. Thanks for sharing your own list of challenges.

  3. Brendan Johnston says:

    You could take care of 1, 3 and 4 all at once. Just saying.

    Also, since you mentioned it- is Word the program you write in?

  4. Joe Hill says:


    Heh. I’ve thought that.

    Yeah, I write at Word. I’ve enjoyed Scrivener’s, Pages, and several other programs, but Word is industry standard, and it’s what I’ve worked on since I was a teenager. Very hard to break old habits.

  5. Shannon says:

    I would actually pay $ for real movie tickets (as opposed to waiting for the public library to finagle a copy) if you adapt DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers for the big screen!

  6. Casey says:

    That typewriter thing sounds like it could be fun or it could be a pain in the ass. I’d like to try a short story on one.

    I also want to write more long hand. Somehow that is less intimidating. I keep a long hand journal but I never write more than a hundred words on one thing in it, but I think I could craft something more complete that way, and it would keep me moving forward.

  7. Tinker says:

    Picturing Joe clattering away at his antique typewriter in his 1930s black and white noiresque office, a cigarette smoldering in a tray. Then, a knock at the door halts his fingers, drawing his attention to the feminine silhouette outside the glass frame.

  8. Tinker says:

    Note: my previous comment reads better while listening to the jazz tune “Harlem Nocturne.”

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  10. Alyssa says:

    I think all these goals are good…but if you do begin to type out a novel on an old typewriter, I think you should document each day as it becomes increasingly frustrating and you finally lift the typewriter above your head and throw it:)Kidding. I tried to do that a few years ago and it took me an hour to type one page. It was a real old typewriter, an antique, which is the only reason it didn’t go flying out the window.

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  12. Josh says:

    Having just finished reading “Heart-Shaped Box,” I think that would make an EXCELLENT screenplay.

  13. Mark Harwood says:

    Great goals, Mr. Hill. You could get halfway (cheat) on #4 by downloading one’a them apps that make your desktop clack when you type. (Never tried it myself. My old ‘board rattles enough as is.) I’m curious what a professional manuscript on Word looks like, as far chapter/section breaks, italics/bold, etc. are concerned? (I’ve read contradictory recommendations.) Thank you!

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  15. I’ve often thought of writing a book in first person too, but so far none of the ideas seem to translate well to it. Any story can be adapted to it, but I think it takes a specific type of story to do it well.

    And as far as completing a novel on an old typewriter, you’re on your own there. I learned to type on one, but I don’t miss ‘em at all. Truly amazing to think of all the great works clacked out on an old typewriter, before the advent of edit-as-you-go storytelling.

  16. porkchop says:

    I’m pretty sure you could write the s*** out of a screen play, and I would like to see that movie.

    In Mary Karr’s _Cherry_, she goes back and forth between 1st person past and 2nd person present, and it’s so smooth you can’t even feel the transition. It’s the verbal equivalent of the slow motion in a Scorsese movie (just when you want to be MUCH more involved in the action, you are).

  17. Judas says:

    I loved Heart-Shaped Box; as a plus, my name is Judas. But I have read your three books and I have to say you’re one of my favorite writers (I was hooked before knowing you are SK’s son). Looking forward to read the new novel.


  18. Vicki B. says:

    How in the world do you pronounce that: NOS4A2?

    Writing a novel in the present tense has got to be the most difficult thing I can think of mastering. My evidence that best proves the point is that, until I read ‘Last Seen Leaving,’ I always HATED novels written in the present tense. Something about doing so takes away a certain something that a novel needs in order to NOT sound phony. But with ‘Last Seen Leaving,’ I never felt like it was so phony that the actions couldn’t also appear to feel like they’re really happening.
    I usually just get annoyed when I read a novel in the present tense. Especially when it’s a piece of history and they’re writing in the present tense but your brain knows damn WELL it isn’t happening now.

  19. Vicki B. says:

    This is obliquely related to the topic, but I’d like to be one of the consultants they get to help them make a movie realistic in terms of medical scenes.
    But I recently met a guy who DID do movie consulting and he said they’d ask him for his opinion, he’d give it to them and they’d scrap everything he said to write it the way they wanted to. But they could put on the credits that they had consultants.
    He disliked it b/c he was in Navy Seal Six, and he had to consult on the movie ‘Navy Seals,’ which he found very unfortunate. He says unfortunate, b/c Charlie Sheen was the star of the movie and he kept complaining about difficult tasks. Then he would stop the shoot so the camera could pick up the good side of his face.
    The guy deduced that Charlie “wouldn’t have lasted a week in Basic Seal Training.”
    I was LMAO at that.

  20. Carrie's Younger Brother says:

    NOS4A2 = Nosferatu

    From Wikipedia: The name Nosferatu has been presented as a Romanian word, synonymous with “vampire”. However, it seems to be largely a literary creation and its basis in Romanian folklore is uncertain.

  21. M Granier says:

    For a novel written in the present tense you might give Roddy Doyle’s ‘Paula Spencer’ a go. It’s the sequel to ‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’, his novel about an alcoholic mother, written in the first person (risky for a male writer, but it works).

  22. Betsy Boo says:

    The thing I love about present tense novels/short stories is the tension I feel about what’s going to happen. When you have a narrator telling a story in past tense you know at least he/she is going to be ok. With present tense everyone’s at risk and it’s happening RIGHT NOW!

  23. Andre Farant says:

    So, pie in the sky: which TV series would you like to write for (past or present)?

  24. grasshopper says:

    B.B. Your words remind me of the broadcast by Orson Wells “War of the Worlds”

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  26. Betsy Boo says:

    Grasshopper…I have that broadcast on vinyl. Listened to it alot as a kid. I loved imagining people listening to it and not knowing what it was!

  27. Carrie's Younger Brother says:

    @Betsy Boo
    I think the “magic of time” has turned this famous broadcast into a lot more than what it was. I remember asking my mother who was have 16 at the time of the original airing what she remembered of it and she said that she and most people she knew did not believe it and took it for what is was, a radio drama. Still, the whole concept of what Orson Welles did is pure genius.

  28. Carrie's Younger Brother says:

    @Betsy Boo
    I think the “magic of time” has turned this famous broadcast into a lot more than what it was. I remember asking my mother who was 16 at the time of the original airing what she remembered of it and she said that she and most people she knew did not believe it and took it for what is was, a radio drama. Still, the whole concept of what Orson Welles did is pure genius.

  29. A typewriter, Joe? You’re brave. Anyway, they sound like a decent goals. I’d sure be curious—you know, in a good way—about a historical novel of yours, but I’d be VERY curious about a TV screenplay. What happened to the Locke & Key adaptation?

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