11 Questions and Answers with Christopher Paolini
More than a decade ago a young man wrote a book called Eragon. It became an international bestseller, followed by three more volumes in The Inheritance Cycle. Tomorrow the paperback and deluxe hardcover editions of the final volume, Inheritance, will be available.
Christopher Paolini joins us today to talk about some of the events of the last ten years, what he’s reading, where he’s been, who he’s met and even shares some advice for aspiring writers.
What is one thing you’ve learned as a writer since you wrote Eragon?
Persistence is more important that talent. Talent helps, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of life. Sometimes those with talent don’t work as hard as they should because it’s naturally easy for them. In either case, persistence is what allows you to better your craft, complete large projects, and otherwise succeed where others fail. I attribute most of what I’ve accomplished with the Inheritance cycle to my stubborn inability to give up on a project once I’ve started it. (The rest I attribute to my family, friends, and upbringing.)
It’s been more than 10 years of Eragon for you and for your readers, could you ever have imagined in your wildest dreams that you would have accomplished all that you have?
Never. When I started Eragon, all I wanted was to write the sort of story that I would enjoy myself: something with a magic sword, a wise old mentor, an evil villain, a young hero, a dragon, and all the other elements I loved in epic fantasy. To this day, I still find it astonishing that people all around the world have read my books, and I am continually grateful for the opportunities this experience has given me.
Do any events stand out over the entire series?
So many it’s hard to pick just a few. Starting Eragon. Finishing Eragon—and the other books. Finishing the series as a whole. Writing certain scenes that I’d had in my mind for over ten years. Hearing from readers how the books had affected them. Having a marsupial gnaw on me at one of my signings. Meeting a fan who got my signature tattooed on her arm. Watching actors in a film reciting lines that I wrote when I was fifteen and sixteen.
But above everything else, having the chance to do what I love for a living. That means more to me than I can say.
What is the last book you read? And what do you plan to read next?
I just finished Feersum Ennjin by Iain M. Banks. Next up is probably Anathem by Neal Stephenson.
Do you think you’ll write more fantasy series or do you have something else in mind? In other words, what can we look forward to from you?
Over the past ten years I’ve plotted out between twenty and thirty completely new books. Some are fantasy. Others are science fiction, romance, horror, historical fiction, comedy, etc. You name it, I’d like to try it. Of course, fantasy is still my main love, and I have no intention of abandoning, but I’d still like to stretch my wings and experiment a bit. I think my next book might be science fiction . . . but don’t hold me to that. I might change my mind in the next few weeks.
Do you have any special writing must haves—a place you write, music you listen to, snacks you can’t write without?
The only things I have to have in order to write well are relative calm and quiet. I can’t concentrate if I can hear people talking or if there are objects moving around within my field of vision. In addition, I like listening to music and drinking cinnamon tea, but neither of those things are absolute requirements.
Most of the music I listen to are movie soundtracks. They’re designed to mesh well with dramatic stories, and I find if I match the mood of the music to the mood of the scene I’m working on, the speed and quality of my writing improves immensely.
You’ve traveled quite a bit to promote your books and meet fans, do you have a favorite city that you’d like to return to?
Every place I’ve been has something to recommend it, whether it’s food, people, scenery, weather, or something else. It’s impossible to pick a favorite spot out of the whole world (unless of course it’s the valley where I live in Montana). I’d love to visit Tasmania again and Edinburgh and Barcelona and Germany and Paris and . . . and so on. I like to travel, and I’d happily go back to every place I’ve been.
What’s the largest number of books you’ve signed at a single event?
Well, I signed 9,400 copies of Inheritance (including a hundred bookplates) at Random House warehouse before the release of the book last year. Now that hurt! As far as actual signings go, I’m not sure. I usually measure it by how many pens I go through. Once I use up three or four pens, then I know it’s a big signing.
You’ve met a lot of your fellow authors, are there any who stand out?
They all do! Seriously, I’ve yet to meet an unpleasant author. In fact, one of the great pleasures for me of getting published has been interacting with some of my childhood heroes, like Tad Williams, Jane Yolen, Anne McCaffery, Raymond E. Feist, and so forth.
Anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
I hope that they enjoy the deluxe edition of Inheritance, which comes out on the 23rd of October and has a huge amount of new material in it. And I hope that they enjoy my future works as much or even more than the Inheritance cycle.
And as always, I’d thank them for supporting the books for all these years.
Anything you’d like to say to aspiring writers?
1. Read, read, read, read. Good writers are good readers. Read what you love, but also read things outside of your comfort zone, because you’ll learn more than if you just stick with what you’re familiar with.
2. Write every single day. Don’t wait for inspiration. I only get inspiration about once every three months. In the meantime, I write. I write on weekends, I write on holidays, and I write on my birthday. In short, I write. I do take Christmas off—and of course I can’t really write when I’m traveling—but that’s the extent of it.
Writing is like playing a musical instrument: if you want to get good at it, then you have to practice every single day, even when you don’t feel like it. So unless you’re in the hospital—and maybe even then—you better write.
Of all the traits an author can possess, persistence is the most important. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. If you don’t practice, you’ll never master your craft. As Calvin Coolidge said:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
3. Write about whatever it is you care about the most. Writing is often difficult, but if you truly care about the subject material, that’ll help you through the rough patches.
And it doesn’t matter what your interests are. Just don’t let someone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t write. If you want to compose a twelve-volume epic about singing toasters and flying unicorns … then go for it! There are over six billion people on this planet. Through sheer odds, I guarantee that there are lots of other people out there who like the same things you do, no matter how obscure they might be.
4. Learn everything you can about the language you’re writing in. Grammar is boring, I know, but the better you understand your language, the better you’ll be able to get what’s in your head onto the page and into someone else’s head.
5. Find someone in your life—friend, family member, teacher, librarian, etc.—someone who is a good reader, who likes the sort of thing you’re writing, and who can help edit your work. As painful as editing can be, I guarantee that you’ll learn more from editing than you ever will from just writing. The trick isn’t just to perform (and make no mistake, writing is a performance), the trick is to perform and to consciously evaluate what you’re doing so that you can improve.
For example, when singing, it’s sometimes hard to hear if you’ve hit a bad note. That’s why every professional singer goes to a voice coach. Sometimes more than one. Writing is no different. Your trusted readers, your editors, are your voice coaches. Listen to them, and you’ll improve at your craft far faster than you would otherwise.
6. This doesn’t work for every author, but I would also recommend plotting out your stories beforehand. Again, a musical analogy may serve: it’s hard to compose a piece of music while performing it, so first you compose it, and then you can concentrate upon performing it as beautifully as possible. So too with writing. Also, read the book Story by Robert McKee. It’s highly useful when it comes to learning how to understand the underlying structure of stories.
If I try to write without knowing where the story is going, I get instant writer’s block.
7. As a corollary to No. 2 – don’t give up. It’s incredibly easy to give up, and there are many, many people in the world who will tell you that you can’t do something. Well, I’m here to tell you that you can, assuming you’re reasonably intelligent and willing to put in the work. Sure, you’re going to get discouraged, and there are going to be days when it seems impossible to finish a book or get it published. That happens to all of us. Even once we’re published. The trick is to keep plugging away and trying to get better.
8. And lastly, try to have fun. You don’t have to have fun every day, but try to have fun more days than you don’t. If you can’t, maybe it’s time to think of a profession in a different line of work.
Aaand that’s it!
Sé onr sverdar sitja hvass!
May your swords stay sharp!
Many thanks to Christopher Paolini for joining us at RAoReading today, and many, many thanks for the amazing Inheritance Cycle. We all look forward to what’s next!
Please share your thoughts in our comments section.