Wednesday, August 12, 2009

John D. MacDonald on Words and Writing

Ever wondered what a day-in-the-life of John D. MacDonald was like? Well, in Herbert Brean’s The Mystery Writer’s Handbook, Mr. MacDonald shed some light on his writing process. Here’s what he had to say:

“I write everyday except Sunday. Never less than four hours, never more than eight. I get going at 9:30, 10 or 10:30; take a short lunch break; work after lunch until I can sense things going stale. Then I quit, because I have learned that once I feel that way, I am just doing stuff I will be forced to destroy.”

-John D. MacDonald, “Why I Write,” from The Mystery Writer’s Handbook, ed. Herbert Brean (Harper and Brothers, 1956), page 149.


  1. JDM is obviously best known for his hero Travis McGee, and there is a lot to love about that series of books. But, many people feel that a lot of JDM's pre McGee Gold Medal releases are among the best of the 1950s golden era of crime writing. In those books, you can see elements of style, and approaches to character and plot that would bare fruit in the McGee books. I still have a hand full of his Gold Medals that i have not read, saving them like great wine, for the right occasion.

  2. The every day thing is the key, I think.

  3. JDM's Gold Medal novel Cry Hard Cry Fast was the one that got me into him, and is still my favorite. I'm hoping to track down some of his other pre-Travis McGee books soon.

  4. Cullen ... I have a copy of Cry Hard Cry Fast, but have not read it yet. Sounds like i need to grab it first chance. Some other JDM titles that i really enjoyed: Soft Touch, Dead Low Tide, On The Run, and A Bullet for Cinderella. All great, and each one totally different, yet obviously MacDonald. Because of his popularity, his titles have been reprinted numerous times over the years, making decent copies fairly easy to find today. I have yet to browse a used book store and not find a row of JDMs.

  5. I haven't read any of those. Once again, my reading list grows ever longer. Thanks for the suggestions, as always.

  6. In similar vein, Len Deighton wrote an essay saying that he writes every day - even on Christmas Day.

  7. Julian Symons said 'Readers who share my liking for the tough American crime novel should read John D MacDonald.' Besides his great McGhee books, I enjoyed The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything; one of his sci-fi books I've yet to read is Ballroom of the Skies. Plus Death Trap and Barrier Island. Like Frank, I'm saving them to savour when I'm in the right mood. May not be so long now.
    Nik (Ross Morton)

  8. Nik:

    Julian Symons said 'Readers who share my liking for the tough American crime novel should read John D MacDonald.'

    Are you sure it was Symons who said that? In his Bloody Murder he almost tosses out every other American hardboiled writer, except Hammett, Chandler and Ross Macdonald. He certainly didn't have any liking for the tough American novel.


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