TJ Payne, Screenplay Writer Turned Horror Novelist, Offers Advice On How To Enhance Writing Skills
Updated: Aug 15
Hi friends. I'm baaaaack. Good to see ya! How ya doin'? How ya mom an' 'em? Two weeks ago I posted the first part of the interview with TJ Payne and I said I would be back two weeks later to post the rest. So here I am. I try to honor my word at least once a month. If you missed part 1, fret not, my pet! You can read it here. Before we dive head first into the rest of the interview, I have to get the few housekeeping items out of the way. I know, I know, you're tempted to skip past this part and head to the juicy stuff. I can't say that I blame you, but I do need to add this in here so you can't say I didn't tell you.
I have included pictures of Mr. Payne's work, in this blog post for your convenience. Each picture contains a link to purchase through Amazon. So if you see one that you've been dying to add to your TBR list, give it a lil clicky click and go ahead and buy it. Also, do me a huge favor and like The Booky Babe on Facebook. I'll even be nice and include the link here:
These author interviews have been incredibly beneficial. Not only does it bring people to the Booky Babe website to hopefully browse and find some interesting book related content, the advice these authors have given has been priceless. To say the least. Many novice authors, like myself, look at those who have already been published and shrink under the fear of putting our own work out there. It feels like an insurmountable task sometimes. Learning how they deal with negativity and what they do to get their creative juices flowing has really helped me. I hope it can help you too.
Now, without further ado, the moment you've ACTUALLY been waiting for:
What do you think is the best way to improve your writing skills?
Write, write, and write some more! And then, always be looking for ways to improve your writing by drilling down and forcing yourself to write toward your weaknesses. I know too many horror/thriller writers who are terrified of putting comedy, heart or genuine human connectivity in their stories. Conversely, I know many comedy writers who don’t know how to play with tension or drama and end up writing farts into moments that could have had deep emotional resonance.
The single best mistake I ever made as a writer was that I started out by writing romantic comedy screenplays. It took many years before I realized it was a genre I wasn’t particularly attracted to (or good at), but it forced me to focus my writing by focusing on relationships, and that foundation has stayed with me as I veered into darker, crueler genres. Despite all my books being horror/thrillers, they all center around human relationships, and most have a healthy dose of comedy to make the tension really pop. That comes from writing romantic comedies. And so, my advice to any writer is to play around. Experiment with genre. Write in genres that make you
uncomfortable. But always be writing.
Write, write, and write some more! And then, always be looking for ways to improve your writing by drilling down and forcing yourself to write toward your weaknesses
What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?
Simply writing books instead of screenplays was an enormous risk. I have a whole team
in Hollywood (agent, managers, lawyers), and none of them were excited about me taking months off to write books instead of scripts. But I was burnt out in Hollywood. I’ve had multiple projects fall apart before production, and months of work would suddenly be rendered obsolete. It was creatively unfulfilling, and I had come to not enjoy writing.
And so, I effectively quit being a screenwriter so that I could write novels. And for the first time in my life, my work was actually making its way to an audience. After years of producers telling me “I love your script, but we’ll never find a market for it” I was able to find a market for my stories by myself. Switching to novels — where I am effectively the writer, producer, and director — has been the most satisfying choice of my professional
Write in genres that make you uncomfortable. But always be writing.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
This is a hard question because I’ve made a lot of mistakes and wrong turns in my
career. I’ve definitely been cocky when I should have been humble; and I’ve been
insecure when I should have been confident. I shouldn’t have wasted years writing
romantic comedies. And I shouldn’t have tried so hard to write what Hollywood wanted
instead of writing what I wanted. And yet, it all led to a good place. If I were to help my
younger self avoid my pitfalls, then he would be at a different place right now, and
maybe that place sucks. So, if I were to tell my younger self anything, I’d simply say,
“Figure it out for yourself, buddy.”
What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?
Nothing. Literally, nothing. I can’t write with music, I can’t write with crowds. I really need
silence, which I believe is somewhat uncommon for writers (most writers I know, LOVE having ambient music playing). Other than a whiteboard for hashing out ideas, my walls are mostly blank. In addition to quiet, I need a comfortable chair that allows me to
slouch and think for long periods of time. When I get stuck on a scene, I’ll take a long
walk around the neighborhood to work it through. Usually that movement helps unlock
If you’re writing your first book, and you find yourself getting stuck, don’t be afraid to recalibrate your strategy.
What advice would you give a writer working on their first book?
They say that writers break down into two categories: plotters and pantsers. Plotters like
to outline their stories. They plot out every beat before writing a word of prose. They know their ending, and they use that knowledge to dictate their beginning. Pantsers, meanwhile, write by the seat of their pants. They’re nimble enough to go where the story/characters organically take them, and they make discoveries along the way. If you’re writing your first book, and you find yourself getting stuck, don’t be afraid to recalibrate your strategy. Plotters sometimes get stuck because their well-outlined plots lay lifeless on the page, and they need the energy and improvisation that the pantsers have. Pantsers get stuck because they improvise themselves into corners, and they would truly benefit from figuring out their endings and themes as guideposts. The end goal of any writer is to tell their story to an audience, and whatever strategy gets you there is one to cultivate and utilize.
So there you have it folks, from the mouth (read: hands) of TJ Payne himself. If you want to strengthen your writing skills, write in areas you are least comfortable. Always jump at opportunities to improve your writing skills and don't be afraid of negative reviews. Sometimes, the criticism is coming from a constructive place. The type of feedback that can be used to better your writing skills is valuable, even if it may be a little hard to swallow at first.
I hope you enjoyed part 2 to this interview. If you didn't, you probably weren't loved as a child but that's okay! No judgment from me. While you're here, check out my short stories page for work written by yours truly. I have decided that I'm going to release my first novel by the time I'm 30. These stories are a way for me to practice putting myself out there. Check them out here:
I just wrote a story called Gluten Free Singles (yes, you read that right.) that I am pretty proud of, if I do say so myself. Check it out. Go ahead. Do it. Do it now.
Feel free to poke around on other areas of the website as well. We have the short stories page linked above, the book reviews page, and the recommendations page. If you're looking for something to read, take a look at that page for some suggestions. All I do is read and write. I have no social life whatsoever. All my friends are book characters. Only place I go is the bookstore. You catch my drift, so there's plenty of material to look through. When you're done, come back and let me know what you thought! Also,
Happy Reading Babes! ❤