Tom Clancy On Writing

The bestselling American author of The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games died Wednesday at 66. Here, his advice and musings on writing thrillers.

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Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.

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Whenever somebody comes up with a good idea, there’s somebody else who has never had a good idea in his life who stands up and says, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’

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Nothing is as real as a dream. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Because the dream is within you, no one can take it away.

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Two questions form the foundation of all novels: ‘What if?’ and ‘What next?’ (A third question, ‘What now?’, is one the author asks himself every 10 minutes or so; but it’s more a cry than a question.) Every novel begins with the speculative question, What if ‘X’ happened? That’s how you start.

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What happened to me was pure dumb luck – I’m not the new Hemingway. Of course, fortune does favor the brave. In battle, you forgive a man anything except an unwillingness to take risks. Sometimes you have to put it on the line. What I did was take time away from how I earned my living. My wife gave me hell – ‘Why are you doing this?’ – but she doesn’t complain anymore. I wanted to see my name on the cover of a book. If your name is in the Library of Congress, you’re immortal.

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[Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4]

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Jessica Testa is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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