How do Writers Write?

Over the years I learned that one of the most recurrent questions asked of writers is “How do you write?”

I know some carefully plan their books out chapter by chapter, or even scene by scene, while others take a more open approach, feeling their way along. I understand Agatha Christie carefully plotted each book, and obviously it worked for her. I’ve read that Georges Simenon, on the other hand, simply went into his study and started writing. Thirty days later he popped out with another book.

I’m sure many writers, especially hopeful, as yet unpublished writers, wonder about these things, sometimes questioning their own habits.

Most instructors will insist you establish a schedule and stick to it. Get up and start writing. I can’t argue with that advice. Jack Woodford wrote that while employed as a bank clerk, he got up at four in the morning, rain or shine, and wrote until it was time to go to work. He wanted to give his best to his writing, not to the bank.  Like Mr. Balzac I drink lots of coffee, although it probably hasn’t made my writing better or worse. As Mr. Woodford suggested: No-Doz will keep you going. Coffee will keep you going too… to the bathroom.

I thought that by addressing my own habits (?) some other writers might either take courage or on the other hand, see a pitfall to avoid.

I’ve always been a procrastinator.  I’ve never in my life been able to establish a writing schedule, and like everything in my life, I’ve always worked in fits and (often false) starts.

I’ve never been able to plan a book down to the last detail. In fact, I don’t do much planning at all. Since I write mostly mysteries, I take care to establish the killer before I start, but in between…well, here’s a typical scenario: I piddle on the computer for a while and then I have a cup of coffee and lie down on my chaise in the patio and close my eyes whilst listening to my babbling false brook. Or, sometimes I read for a while and then close my eyes.  Weeks may go by, even months, but one day an idea comes to mind and I start thinking about it, seeing possibilities. I begin to develop it more and more and may actually start writing and creating characters. I have several like that, a number of stillborn books that either linger somewhat mummified in my computer or books have already been lost to posterity.

But now and then an idea comes along begins to grow and the more I think about it, the better it seems. Where did it come from? It could be from something I saw on the news, or something I read about or heard about. I don’t know. It had been over a year — a very dry year — since my last triumph (LOL), “The Sand Bluff Murders”, and day after day I tried to think about things I might write. Just recently an idea began to form and each day I liked it more. Although I didn’t really start writing, I began to visualize it in my mind and — because it’s easier to get an acceptance from my particular publisher is I offer something as a sequel  — I turned it into a sequel to The Sand Bluff Murders and voià, The Morgenstern Murders was born. Here comes the really weird part. After such a long dry spell, I hadn’t even completely finished polishing The Morgenstern Murders when another book began to fall into place. I called it The Handyman but before I got off to a very good start, I realized the handyman was only a catalyst. The story was really about a small town deputy sheriff and it quickly changed from the Handyman to The Deputy. It should be out by July.

In the meantime, I confess, I play it by ear. I pretty much let the characters take over. That brings me back to my chaise in the patio. I’ll take a little break and lie down and close my eyes and start writing prose that would go down in history. I mean impeccable, flawless prose that rivals Shakespeare and the King James Bible.  It’s so good that no matter how tired I am, I just have to get up, go back upstairs and get to my computer. Unfortunately, by the time I get there, somehow things don’t turn out anything like they did while I lay on my back with my eyes closed.  They never do. Sad but true.

And that’s my system. When it’s going right, nothing can interrupt me. When I was working on my first published novel, “The Little Mornings”, my little spare bedroom which I had turned into my office, was invaded by my daughter, her husband and five kids, all of whom took over the office with air beds etc. This went on for a month, but I had reached a point in the book where the urge was too strong, so every day I literally climbed over air beds and, surrounded by noisy kids, kept right on going and finished the book without a ruffle.

I don’t know whether this will help anyone, or perhaps show people pitfalls to avoid, but there it is. Now that I’ve got my fingers warmed up on a hot keyboard, I can get back to writing.

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