Monday, August 13, 2018

Writing Routine

OK, now I’m embarrassed. Just how many of us want to admit that we (male or female) write in our nightgowns (loose waist = creative freedom) or have a wee quart, near to hand, of a libation with an alcohol content banned during Prohibition? Do we become the Mr. Hyde of Creativity, snarling at loved ones and demanding trays at our locked door, which are often ignored because we are chained to the Muse? Or must we confess that… Oh, you mean “how do you schedule your day”?


With a few books now under my preferably very loose belt, I have developed a comfortable routine. I must know location, theme, and a first scene plus last scene as well as whodunit/whydunit before starting any new book. A quote to give the story focus and a title come next. Then I scrape parchment, sharpen quill, and spend one to two months scratching out a chapter-by-chapter synopsis without regard to logic, grammar, or even any changes of names in minor characters. In short, if I die during this process, even the computer on which the thing has been composed must be burned.

I own some pride.

This mess does have value. The chapter-by-chapter synopsis is an outline of the book for both me and my editor. (Her idea. A bow of gratitude.) Before sending it off, I move chapters around, add chapters to fill plot holes or adjust tension, fire pointless characters, correct names, and otherwise strengthen the story bones. Once the synopsis returns, I make my editor’s suggested changes in the synopsis itself. Thus I end up with an outline from which a mystery can be crafted.

The remaining process takes six to eight months. I am an excruciatingly slow writer, sweating blood to reach the 65,000 word publisher minimum while knowing I must still cut. If interrupted in mid-scratch, I must restart two or three chapters back because I have lost the flow of the story. Unfortunately for the family member who cooks, I work in the kitchen with a view of the untamed backyard. Unfortunately for my waist, I work near the refrigerator, requiring that need for little binding about the middle. Part of my routine is to diet after a book is done and ban Mr. Hyde style howling except during football.

Much has been made of a daily routine. In principle, I agree. In practice, I’m flexible. I write between lunch and dinner or four to six hours. There are days I write myself into corners or toss dreck into the computer. Conventional wisdom says to write through this. I opt for lunch in the wine country. There is merit in shutting off the louder brain and delegating work to the sub-conscious, a function often ignored in a 24/7 world. Some of my best solutions have come when I was falling asleep.

Bottom line: find a routine that works for you, keeps you creative, and keep to it. As for other quirks we have, I suggest you always thank the loved one who leaves that tray by your door…

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