What Andy Weir (Author of “The Martian”) Can Teach Us About Writing

The MartianThis summer I burned through several books in the down time between publishing The Terminarch Plot all the other things I had to do around the house.  One of the best books I read this summer, soon to be a major motion picture starring Matt Damon, was The Martian by Andy Weir.

The book is amazing, a very well researched adventure novel about what it would be like to be stranded on Mars, but the bit that caught my attention even more than Weir’s expertly written book was his essay at the end of the novel entitled “How Science Made Me a Writer”.

I suggest you read the essay yourself, but in case you don’t I have gleaned out the main points about his experience reaching the best seller list.  They are points that all indie writers need to take to heart in order to help them reach better success.  I’m not saying that these tips will guarantee a best seller, but Weir did some things that led to his success that we can try ourselves.

  1.  Know Your Subject – One of the things that made Weir a good writer was that his hobby was planning hypothetical  trajectories to Mars.  He stated that:  “One day, in between doing highly charismatic non-nerdy things, I started working up a manned Mars mission in my head. I even wrote my own software to calculate the orbital trajectory my imaginary crew would take to get from Earth to Mars. And not some boring Hohmann Transfer, either! I envisioned a constantly accelerating VASIMR-powered ship, which— ahem. Sorry, got carried away.”    It is highly obvious from the text of the novel that Weir has researched his subject because at times it felt like he had a NASA techie sitting at his elbow.  One reason for the novel’s success is its believability, and as I have stated on this blog time and again, a good writer is a researched writer.
  2. The Hero Sometimes Makes His/Her Own Problems – In “The Martian”, astronaut Mark Watney goes through some pretty harrowing peril stranded on Mars.  However, what makes the novel work is that the peril is a logical progression of plausible events.  Weir decided that Watney’s peril would be “an unintended consequence of his solution to a previous problem.”  This is genius because usually we work as writers to come up with peril that is believable but then often put protagonists into a host of messes that seem, at some times, contrived.  Watney’s problems arise from things that he does to survive and are most times brought about by the fact that he just can’t think of everything (as is true of human nature).  This created plot twists that even surprised Weir as he wrote them because once he had worked out the science of Watney’s decisions he then found that they created more peril for the protagonist which had to be dealt with in order for said protagonist to survive.
  3. Publish for Free – Weir published The Martian as a serialized book on his website, chapter by chapter, and pretty soon people were wanting him to put it on Amazon so that they could read it on their Kindles.  Here is where things became interesting.  Pretty soon it was a Kindle best seller, then the agents and movie producers came calling.  This part of Weir’s story always astounds me because I’ve done the same thing with little results.  The truth here is that becoming a best-seller is something of a lottery ticket or random event.  There are over 300,000 books published per year and the fact that he was able to get his book noticed was a miracle.  Perhaps the reason for his success was that he serialized it, shot it out to a thousand different sites that aggregate that type of thing for readers, and just got lucky.  The book is great, however, and is written as one continuous surprise for readers as we truly do not what could happen next chapter to chapter.  It keeps readers guessing, and that is perhaps what is needed more than anything for the modern reader to make your book go viral.

All quotations taken from the essay “How Science Made Me A Writer” by Weir, Andy (2014-02-11). The Martian: A Novel . Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.
Weir, Andy (2014-02-11). The Martian: A Novel . Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

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