In the last Boston Sunday Globe, there was a feature on the writer Elin Hilderbrand.
Seems she likes to write at the beach. There she is yucking it up in a bikini, pad and pen in hand, sun beating down. My reaction? Ugh. Hot. Itchy. Sun glare. Bugs.
But what do I know? Her 21st book, a mystery novel, comes out next month. She turns out two a year writing at the beach. Without an assistant! (That threw me off a little, wondering if I did have an assistant what he/she would actually do. Go fetch me more Reese’s cups! Something like that).
At the other end of the spectrum is “Castle.” I haven’t watched that show in years. Is it still on? Yet I’m haunted by the episode where he submitted a book to his “publisher” and a few days later there it was, piled up, a huge end-cap mountain at a fancy New York bookstore. I’m even more haunted by the fact that I see books “written” by “Richard Castle” at my local bookstore. But again, I’m getting off topic.
When he “writes” on his show, he’s basically posing handsomely with has laptop in front of a fire, or at his stylish kitchen counter, handsome (did I already say that?) brow furled as he decides, I don’t know, whether to use a semicolon or period. Memo to Castle: Always go with the period if you have to think about it.
It’s so sterile. It’s just handsome him, his furrowed brow and his laptop. No notes or messes or writing stuff. At least Elin Hilderbrand (an actual real writer) looks like she has two notebooks on that beach towel.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably saw the group post last week in which several Maine Crime Writers talked about where they write. If you didn’t, click here to read it. AFTER this. Sheesh.
I didn’t get in on the post. I was at Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland, making new friends. I was not stalking Louise Penny. It just looks like I was. For an account by an author who WAS stalking her, click here. After.
Seeing the Elin Hilderbrand story, as well as the group post, reminded me that where writers write is as varied as their writing process and style, and probably almost as important.
Just like my writing process, I never thought too much about where I would write until I started writing fiction. It’s not a thought-out thing, but it’s weird how it evolves with each book. I always start out — all three of my Bernie O’Dea mysteries so far — writing on my desktop in my home office room. Then things kind of get out of hand.
I have to do the actual writing with a keyboard (unlike Elin Hilderbrand and others who write it out longhand). My brain is faster than my hands (insert joke, thanks). But once I get going, things come to me at all hours of the day and night, so I have legal pads and pens by my bed, in the kitchen, by the chair in the living room. I also email myself or write them on anything handy. If I’m in the car, I use the voice memo feature of my iPhone. I learned a long time ago that a brilliant idea that can solve the books plot blockage can flitter away as fast as it came if you don’t write it down.
With my second book, I ended up doing the huge push to the end, always the most intense writing time, in the chair in my living room, the laptop on my ottoman. It was dumb, because it caused severe pain in my elbows and forearms that took months to go away, but I was compelled to do it there. I couldn’t control it.
My dog, Emma, who’s no longer with us, would let me know when I was writing too long — usually around the three-hour mark — and sit in front of me staring until I stopped. If I was on a roll, I’d take a break on the couch to make her happy, then get back to it.
With both my first book, COLD HARD NEWS, and the one I’m finishing up now, BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST, I ended up at my kitchen table without really making a firm decision that’s where I’d write. The first one was in New Hampshire, and it was a nook with a hard wooden bench, but I could do about eight hours without severe complications, if you don’t count the fact that I had two dogs at the time.
The book I’m “finishing up” now, BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST, is really benefiting from my kitchen table here in Maine. I get a nice view of the street, which is soothing rather than distracting. When it gets dark out, I close the curtains so I’m not on display.
The azaleas are in bloom, so a lot of bumble bees and at least one hummingbird a day visits. I haven’t had time to clean out and replant the window box, so robins and cardinals are helping me with that.
Things were pretty exciting a month or so a go when a pair of pileated woodpeckers decimated a dead tree in my neighbor’s yard across the street. The fun ended, though, when the neighbors had the tree chopped down.
I an also keep track of who drives up and down the street, which also isn’t distracting, believe it or not.
What is distracting is email and cellphone. The phone goes in a drawer and the email goes off.
I’m not sure what’s so compelling about the kitchen table. I think part of it is there’s a lot more room than the desk where my desktop is, and I can spread out all my notes and stuff.
There are some hazards to that, naturally. The biggest is the inevitable coffee spill all over the notes. But I also had one with my last book, when I was ruining my forearms in the big chair, so yeah, it’s going to happen no matter what.
When I’m cruising toward the end, I have to do a giant outline as I go through the book to keep the plot and other things straight. With NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS, I did it with post-its on a piece of poster board, which wasn’t great because they fell off and my cat and dog thought it was a new toy.
This time, I got a giant piece of whiteboard panel at Lowe’s ($9.99!) and some colored dry-erase markers, propped that baby up on a couple chairs and BOOM! Some people like Scrivener, but I go with the giant outline every time.
I think writers who are just starting out — and even those of us who have been doing it for a while — get a little hyped up about how it’s “supposed” to be done. We mine other writers for how they do it, then kick ourselves because we do it differently and maybe their way is the “right” way. The more you write, the less it happens, but it still happens.
I think I was finally cured of that when I saw that photo of Elin Hilderbrand on the beach. She looked lovely and like she was having a ball. She has 21 books, I know. But man, the sun. The sand. The bugs. The wind. She can have it. I’m doing just fine right here at the kitchen table.