Daily Dispatches
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Starbucks and tears: How Andrew Peterson finishes a book

Q&A

Andrew Peterson was a struggling songwriter with a passion for Rich Mullins music when the Christian band Caedmon’s Call asked him to open for their shows in the late 1990s. That providential turn of events, plus a critically acclaimed first album called Carried Along, put Peterson on the musical map. But music is not all he does. His four-volume young adult fantasy series, the Wingfeather Saga, has won him fans outside the musical world. The fourth and final volume of the Wingfeather books is now out. I sat down with Peterson near his home in Nashville at a Starbucks coffee shop, a place he recommended partly because that’s where he wrote much of the series.

Andrew, you’ve got a new book out. It’s the fourth book in your fantasy series.  Tell me about the series and specifically about this fourth book. I started writing the books after I read the Narnia books to my kids when they were really young. It reminded me how much I loved good stories and how much I wanted to write when I was a kid. I remember having a meeting with my wife and saying, “Are you cool with me not watching Lost with you tonight and going and instead trying to write this book that I've been talking about?” She gave me the thumbs-up. That was a good, solid decade ago. It’s nice to be finally finishing it up.

A lot of folks have an apprenticeship in the fiction writing, maybe short stories, maybe a couple of failed novels in a desk drawer somewhere. Is that your process or not? I think in some ways my apprenticeship was songwriting. No, I was not trained. I went to Bible college so I ended up with a Bible Degree. I had no creative writing practice, other than the Batman novel I tried to write in ninth grade. When I first started writing these books, the first thing that happened was I drew a map. I was surprised as I began, not only with the map, but with sketches for the monsters and the stuff that I was going to be including in the book. I was surprised that my sketches were better than they were when I was in high school, back when I was the art kid at school. I planned to go to art college and planned to be an illustrator before music took over.

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You were surprised because, as a guitar player whenever you stop for 20 years your guitar playing normally gets worse, right? Not better? Exactly. To my shock, I was a better illustrator. It really bothered me. I couldn't figure out why. I realized that there are theories that abound about how being a student of different disciplines improves all of them. It was the first time I began to realize that one of the things that I have now that I didn’t have when I young is patience, or at least more than I had when I was in high school. You learn to see better. You learn to think about revision. … The cool thing was that working really hard at a completely different discipline than songwriting, I think, in some ways prepared me not to be a good writer, but at least for the work that it was going to take to finish the book.

Were you surprised how much work it took to write a book? I think that’s the thing. Anybody can write a book. It’s free. You just need a pencil and some paper. The trick is you’ve got to be disciplined enough to sit down and stick. With songwriting, it’s like going fishing. You get your guitar out, which is the equivalent of going and sitting by the pond. You get your pencil and your notebook out, and that’s the equivalent of tossing a line into the water. You do a lot of waiting and a lot of teasing the line and trying to find it. With book writing, it’s a 9 to 5 job. It’s sitting down in the chair, trying to establish a routine where you sit down and you go, “I’m going to write 2,000 words today, and 2,000 words tomorrow, and 2,000 words the next day.” If you break it up like that, it's like raking your yard. If you think of raking the whole yard, you'll never do it. If you rake piles, you're okay. I think, for me, it was about carving out the time to have a routine.

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