A Writer’s Day Off

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here to tell you what you may already know. The writer’s day off? There isn’t one.

I say this having been in a holding pattern for some time with two completed books (ONCE BURNED, McMorrow No. 10, and THE DEAD SAMARITAN, a stand-alone crime novel written with Emily Westbrooks) as we try to figure out just where the publishing industry is going. Short answer: it’s like Maine weather. Wait a minute and it will change. 

But that discussion is for another day (want a clue? Read this blog on Monday, June 17). Today we talk about what writers do when they’re not actually writing. They  think about writing.

I’m headed into a new book, PORT CITY KILLSHOT, a Brandon Blake set in Portland and in a down-at-the-heels textile town a few miles to the south. I’m sketching. Plotting. Replotting and resketching. Next week or so I head down to do some location research. And then off we go.

But in the  meantime I do other things. (not). I just got back from a family vacation on a warm and beautiful beach. I sat and sketched on the plane, down and back. I got up early and sat on the couch, looking out on the pale-green Atlantic. And sketched.

And when I’m not actually fiddling with pen and paper, I’m fiddling in my head.

Case in point (and a little secret, between us). My escape is riding a bicycle around the countryside in my part of Maine. Sometimes I’m in Waldo County. Sometimes Kennebec. Sometimes I’m flying down hills way past the speed limit. Sometimes I’m grinding my way back up. All the times I find myself thinking about books. Characters. What they’ll do next. What the readers will least expect.

Because the fact is that writers may not be workaholics but they are writeaholics. Plots whirling inside your head. Characters haunting you like ghosts.

Maybe you can escape this fate but I haven’t done those drugs.The writing thing is like a blood oath. Once you’re in, you’re in for life.

I was mulling this the other morning as I pedaled my way through the hills in my neck of the Maine woods. Past pastures and forest. Horses in the fields and roadkill on the pavement. Cranking up the hills and tucking my way down. Fifty miles an hour, the trees a blur, and I’m thinking, But what would Brandon think if she were killed the next day? If she dies in, say, the third chapter, is that too soon to have established her character?  Should I let her live? Would a flashback be too much of a distraction?

And then I start to pedal, crank it for the next climb. Nah, maybe not the flashback. Maybe just compress the timeline. The initial crime and the murder, all in six months.

If this sounds a little obsessive, it is. The other writing blokes on this page will tell you (chime in guys. Show them I’m not nuts).

We’re not quite normal. We’ve got to tell these stories. Sometimes we get paid a lot to do so. Sometimes we get paid jack. Doesn’t matter. The story has to be told. We didn’t choose the writing thing; it chose us. And it can’t be escaped.

I once got a great idea for a plot twist when I was painting the cupola on my barn. I was tied in and I had to unclip, climb inside, down the ladder and all the way to the first floor to find a pen and paper. I stare at people in restaurants, in the car next to me at stoplights. I imagine whole lives to go with a face    in a coffee shop. You can try to turn it off but you’re kidding yourself. Ain’t happening.

So I offer this up in solidarity with my comrades in this little venture and countless others who share the same fate. And to readers who wonder where all this made-up stuff comes from. We don’t know. It just does.

So the photos with this post? Just a little scenery from one of my routes. Yes, it’s beautiful in these Maine hills. No better place to ponder your next chapter.






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7 Responses to A Writer’s Day Off

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Great post, Gerry. I think my current book badly needs a bike ride. I, too, find characters everywhere, and imagine lives for unknown people around me. Get sudden plot insights when I’m in the grocery store and have to abandon food and go write them down.

    Sometimes the book just needs to be walked away from for a while. And over the years, I’ve discovered that the hour I’m falling asleep and the hour before I wake can be extreme rich times for plotting. I just set out the question, close my eyes, and the gears start turning. Deeply into a book, I will dream it and watch the scenes unfold.

    The only true vacations I take from writing are when we go on a walking tour. Hiking through unfamiliar places eight or ten miles a day usually takes me out of story and into what I’m doing. Otherwise, the story is always there.

    Looking forward to those new books!


  2. Gerry Boyle says:

    Yes, a writer’s work is never done. And for those who don’t know, the commenter above is our own Kate Flora.

  3. I tend to think of writing as an addiction (or maybe an illness, as in “bitten by the writing bug”), but I don’t really want to be cured. I can get away from the WIP, but only by getting sidetracked by a different “drug,” usually my unending nonfiction project (1800+ entries and still growing). Writers truly are a strange bunch!

    Thanks for the plug for Monday’s guest blog. It’s from another Maine writer who didn’t have any choice but to write but did have choices when it came to breaking into print.


  4. Lea Wait says:

    Yes. Yes. YES! Although sometimes I wish it weren’t true. Places plots come to me? Bathtubs. Long car trips. Walks. Sometimes, while reading someone else’s books. (I keep re-writing … thinking, “If I were writing this book, I’d set it ___ and I’d take character X and make her …” and by the time I stop thinking I’ve forgotten the plot of the book I’m reading and have designed a whole new book.) Sometimes I really want to escape. I told my husband the other night that we needed to get away — away from writing .. away from painting … if only for a few days. But, of course, there’s no time, no money … and, besides … the writing and art would always come with us. Thanks for sharing, Gerry!

    • Bob Thomas says:

      Lea, Gerry and Kate are correct. A pa9inter wouldn’t describe it quite the same way, but it’s basically the same affliction. Addiction is a good word. Took me a long time to get my first “taste” of smearing color around in shapes that some people find attractive, but once you’re in, you’re in.

      • Gerry Boyle says:

        It’s like musicians. They can’t not play. Terrible sentence but you know what I mean. Love the link to other art. All in the same boat!

  5. John Clark says:

    Totally agree. The day Kate and I pulled into our late mother’s driveway, only to realize someone had stolen the 50 foot rock wall Dad built one summer, we were in shock, but I looked at her a moment later and said, “One of us will turn this into a dandy story.” I beat her to it and Level best published it.

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