Writers' Minds - Teri Terry

Illustration by Whizzy Barr
Ever wondered what makes a writer tick? What cogs of creativity whirr to bring stories to life? We take a peek into the minds behind the craft and probe for creative rituals, routines and inspiration hunting. 


This month award winning author, Teri Terry joins us on the couch. Teri published the first of her Slated trilogy in 2012, followed by Mind Games and Dangerous Games, her latest, Book of Lies, is due out on 24th March. I asked Teri how many words she thinks she’s written in the last five years, instead of counting, she rather sensibly sent me a photo. 

2012 - March 2016
That's a word count!

Last year Teri headed up the SCBWI Writers’ Retreat. This year Melvin Burgess takes the stand, but Teri, will be there too. Where do you find the time? 

Click here for details and book your place! 

So Teri, before you dash off to launch Book of Lies, sit back, relax and let’s see inside your writer’s mind… 

1. Inspiration - are you a hunter or gatherer? 

I’m picturing early humans, either hunting animals with spears or foraging for food...the vegetarian in me knows which way I’d go! I’m definitely more of a gatherer. Ideas find me more than the other way around. So far – touch wood – I’ve never struggled to come up with stuff to do next. It’s been more of a problem picking one thing. 

2. Are you a plotter or pantser? 

Both! Don’t you love a split personality? Really, it depends on the story, and how they start. I was more of a pantser years ago and am more of a plotter now. I find deadlines focus one’s mind on plots, because if you’ve only got a few months to finish a novel, you can’t waste too much time on dead ends. Plotting makes the whole process more efficient. I used to resist too much plotting, afraid it would somehow wreck the magical feeling I get sometimes when characters take over and the story just seems to happen in the way it was somehow meant to happen. But even apart from deadlines, plotting is essential sometimes. I’m writing a new trilogy now that has a complicated world and characters and different points of view, and without a reasonable amount of plotting, it just wouldn’t work – I’d be in even more of a constant muddle. 

But plots can always be changed as you go, and often are! 

3. Shed sitter or cafe dreamer? 

My favourite writing time is in the morning in bed in my PJs, half asleep, cup of tea – generally growing cold and forgotten – at my side. Also late afternoon in my favourite chair, the sort with a footrest that comes up. In the summer I also have a shack in the garden for afternoons. I’d use it in the winter, but it hasn’t got power and is too cold. 

I’ve never been able to understand how people write in cafes! They’re noisy, and there are people to distract you all around, and treats to be had. I’d be both broke and full of caffeine and sugar. 

4. Any mottos or words of wisdom hung above your desk? 

I never use a desk for writing. Desks are for things like paperwork and taxes: bleugh! What I look at when writing in bed is a window and a Chilterns country view. I love, love, love having space around me when I work, and facing a window and a view are the best. Also train windows, or writing retreats in the country with views – especially if over water: bliss! 

5. Target word count per day or as it comes? 

If I’m in a panic, word counts are handy because it lets me break it down and see that what feels impossible is actually possible. This involves making a table with the days available, and setting word counts for each day – variable, depending on what else is going on – and weekly word targets. 

Having said that I haven’t used a table like that for a while. I did for the first three books, and a bit with the fourth, but seem to have abandoned that now and more take it as it comes. 

6. Pen or Keyboard? 

Every story has its own beautiful notebook! I’m obsessed with stationery. My favourites are A4 coil hard bound ones, with interesting covers. The paper must be white, lined, and not have weird spacing or colours of lines. Every now and then I try to use notebooks smaller than A4, but the muse just refuses. Oh, and gel pens. They were purple ink, then blue, and lately, black. Once I start with one pen I have to use the same pen in that notebook, which can be a real pain if I can’t find it. I always buy pens in multiples to reduce the frequency of this calamity! 

With all that effort you’d think I’d write the story in the notebook, but no! Most of my writing is done direct on the laptop now. The notebook I use at the very start with a new thing, for notes about the story, scribbles, flowcharts, bits of plotting, bits of research. I write by hand when I get stuck, or when I’m feeling dreamy and a pen in my hand feels right. But the bulk of writing is on the laptop. 

7. Music or silence? 

Most of the time in the morning, it’s a very large Mark Knopfler playlist on low in the background – it runs for hours. It makes the world go away and seems to tell my brain it is time to write. In the garden I don’t have music: I like to hear the birds twittering, the wind in the trees etc. In the afternoon I go for silence, unless there is noise I need to drown out with music. I absolutely CANNOT write with the TV or radio on; maybe some light editing, but that’s about it.

8. Chocolate or wine? 

Yes. And yes. 

9. Perspiration or inspiration? 

Both! Inspiration is divine when it happens, but you can’t write a 90K book every year if you only write when you’re feeling inspired. It’s discipline, and writing whether you feel like it or not, and copious amounts of willpower some days (which is why the items in no. 8 are required for bribery). 

10. To get into the Zone, do you use any techniques or triggers? Anything truly weird and eccentric? 

I listen to Mark Knopfler, and use Self Control on days that I need it (an App that blocks whatever websites you tell it to). I usually read back what I wrote the day before as I begin, and maybe edit it. Before the thing gets too long I often start reading it from the beginning every day. I try not to end the day before at an ending – a finished scene or chapter – without at least writing a little or some notes of what comes next. This makes it much easier to start the next day. 

11. Do you ever hear your character’s voice in your head? 

I don’t hear voices. That’d be crazy, right? RIGHT? 

It is probably more apt to say I feel my characters, rather than hear them speak. 

12. If there one key piece of advice, one gem of wisdom about the craft of writing, be it character development, re-writing or plot vs story, what would that be? 

Lower the setting of your crap meter! Celebrate getting words on the page, even if they are illegible, nonsensical, downright weird, doomed to be deleted, and you’d cringe if anyone ever read them. Keep going. Don’t listen to that voice that says they must be all the right words in all the right order. That can come later. 

Thank you Teri for your insight and honesty. 

Book of Lies launch dates:
Waterstones Islington at 2 pm on 19th March 
Waterstones Birmingham at 12 noon on 2nd April 

Scoobies - bring yourselves and your teens/tweens!

Teri has been a member and sometimes volunteer of SCBWI since 2008, with her first book, Slated, being published in 2012. She still can't believe it. She has lived in France, Canada, Australia and England at more addresses than she can count, acquiring four degrees, a selection of passports and an unusual name along the way. Past careers have included scientist, lawyer, optometrist and, in England, various jobs in schools, libraries and an audiobook charity. The footpaths and canal ways of the Buckinghamshire Chilterns where she now lives inspired much of the setting of Teri's first books, the Slated trilogy. 2015 saw the publication of Mind Games and Dangerous Games. Making a break from futuristic thrillers is Book of Lies, a contemporary supernatural thriller, in which twins raised apart meet for the first time at their mother's funeral. It is out on 24th March. 

Lou Minns is the joint Features Editor for Words & Pictures SCBWI BI and the new Social Media Co-ordinator for SCBWI San Francisco North & East Bay. 

Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org 

Follow: @LMMinns


  1. Thank you, Very interesting. I too have a fetish for notebooks and pens

  2. This is ACE. Actually, Teri gave me that advice about lowering the crapometer and it's really helped me with my new book!

  3. The regarded values would possibly help students establishing all those grounds which must have been followed by them. structure statement


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.