Jerry Jenkins on Writing the Left Behind Series
With the length, detail, and frequency of the Left Behind series, a reader could imagine one of two different scenarios: either author Jerry B. Jenkins's mind never stops churning out an endless flood of ideas, or he sits at his computer for hours at a time struggling to concoct the next action-packed plotline. As our interview with him reveals, it's somewhere between these two extremes. Read on to discover how Jerry's discipline style, choice of environment, and simple philosophy on writer's block factor into his formula for writing success.Do you have thoughts constantly running through your mind about plotlines and characters? And if so, do you keep a pad and pencil by your bed? Isn't your mind constantly thinking ahead to the next book?
It is. And that's one way I know whether the basic idea for a book is working. My very first idea for a novel was for Margo, my first piece of fiction. I wanted to write a story about a judge who tries a man for a murder that the judge committed. I thought the idea was good, and it kept "working" on me. I would think, Well, he could do this and he could do that, and the judge could be a woman and her daughter knows what happened; she's the only one who knows, and that's Margo. So I kind of pieced it together.
I know one of the secrets of the success of Left Behind is that Dr. LaHaye interprets most of Revelation as literally as he can. If it doesn't say it's symbolic, then he takes it literally. With Glorious Appearing, when Jesus comes back and there is no battle of Armageddon—they all marshal to have this battle and never have it—he wins and slays them all with the sword from his mouth. We know that it's not a literal sword; he's not going to come with a big sword hanging out of his mouth and kill millions of soldiers. But we also know that it says that in the Word—it's a novelist's dream.
I have so much research on everything from Scripture that Jesus could say about himself. I want to be really careful when I quote Jesus, because anything that's not in the Bible is going to sound made up. Would he really say, "I'm here, and I'm about to kill you"? It doesn't sound right. But when he says, "I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End," it's true to Scripture. The very words are going to kill people and even make them bleed, because we think that part is literal. The blood is going to rise to the height of the horse's mane for hundreds of miles.
So, yes, those thoughts are always working. There is a line, though, between maintaining the interest and letting the ideas overwhelm me. I do tend to shut it off when I need to sleep. If I don't, I have to regurgitate the thoughts and make some notes about them so I can get rid of them. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to sleep.How long does it take you to write?
It's interesting you ask that. I recently asked Karen Kingsbury about that because she has six kids and she writes a lot of books. I asked her, "When do you write?" She replied, "I don't usually talk about it because I write so fast." She actually writes faster than I do, and I've always thought I was the fastest writer. I can do this because of all the media associated with Left Behind and the fact that I have three grown boys who are in various stages—one's in college, one's coaching in college, and one's running our film company. I can't write every day like Stephen King and other writers can. I envy them sometimes. It would be nice to just do a few pages a day for six months and have a book; I have to carve out time to write all at once.
I'll write Glorious Appearing in October and November, and I'll go to the cave where there's no phone, Internet, radio, or TV. (There is in the house, if I have to transmit chapters.) But that's all I'll do—I can either write or procrastinate. I'll do a good deal of both when I'm there, but once I'm in there I'll probably write 20 pages a day until it's done. If I get behind, then I'll write more than that. I try not to get behind because I don't like to write more than 20 any more. I used to write 40, sometimes 60 pages a day if I had to. I wouldn't turn in anything that I wasn't happy with. But now that I'm older, my standards are higher, and I like to pace my writing. I'm pretty religious about finishing the 20 pages. If it takes until noon, that's fine. If it takes until midnight, I'll still do it because I don't want to fall behind.Do you ever get writer's block?
I don't. And I worry. People say, "Are you ever worried about coming up with more ideas?" I'm convinced I don't have enough time or pages for the ideas I already have anyway. Plus, I teach writers that writer's block is totally psychological and almost lunacy. Think of any situation, such as you at your job. What if you called your boss one morning and said, "You know what? I've got worker's block. I'm just not going to come in," or "I have factory block. I can't come to the factory and do my thing"?
This is exactly what you'd hear: "You know what? You bring your writer's block in and we'll work with it." I have a little sign that says, "The only way to write a book is with seat in chair." So regardless of how I feel, inspired or not, the second half of the advance is the inspiration. There's a deadline. You have to do it. I realize that I just need to park myself in front of the keyboard and get to work. Once I get to work, I ask myself why I put this off or why I worried or felt that I didn't have anything. I've learned that eventually, it will come.