Oh, come on, you fantasized about the glamour, didn't you? When you first harbored those secret desires to be a writer, you pictured yourself in a little villa in the south of France, maybe? A woodsy cabin by a New England lake? At least an oh-so-romantically seedy flat in a major metropolitan area?
And there were the afternoons in Paris cafes. Jetting off to tropical climes to do a little deep sea fishing or big game hunting. Or maybe you'd get to solve crimes like TV's Jessica Fletcher or Richard Castle.
Thing is—have you ever seen those TV and film novelists actually writing books? Of course not. For the same reason they don't have TV shows about watching paint dry.
As Ruth Harris shows us this week, a lot of real writers' lives are pretty boring. And living with us can be kind of a pain. But she's found a few who have some exciting tales to tell...
DANGER: Writer at Work
by Ruth Harris
Anyone who has ever lived with a writer knows it ain’t easy.
Cranky, quirky, obsessive, prone to long silences and short bursts of typing? Ditto.
And those are only the subclinical descriptions.
We kill people, make them miserable, give them impossible challenges, break their hearts, subject them to rainy days and stormy nights, vicious enemies, terrible wardrobe choices and soul-shriveling bad hair days not to mention fires, floods, avalanches and tornadoes. We do nothing but cause trouble and then pile on more. We’re dangerous for sure.
But what goes on behind the scenes? Are our own lives as dramatic and crisis-ridden as our characters? Do we live on the wild side? Do we battle zombies and assassins? Are our love lives as passionate as the characters we write about? I asked a few writers to confess their quirks, their routines, their oddball habits.
Some of us (Michael and me definitely included) are—there’s no other way to put it—b-for-boring. We stick to a regular routine, sit at our computers and beaver away. We’re soooo boring we’re not even competitive about it although Vanessa Kelly, bestselling author of Regency romance, claims she and her DH, Randy—they write romantic suspense as VKSykes—are THE most boring writers on the planet.
“We both write in our offices on our computers, and I sometimes write on my Alpha Smart. The only thing I’ll sometimes do is take notes or write when we’re driving in the car somewhere – Randy is doing the driving! We will brainstorm together when we go for a walk, but that’s about it. All the quirkiness seems to go on in our heads!”
Anne R Allen says: “I’m at the keyboard at 8:30 every morning, seven days a week, with a big cup of English Breakfast tea with almond milk and Stevia. If I'm writing something with an urgent deadline, I ignore the Internet entirely. Sometimes I ignore the entire world. For long periods. I remember one time going outside after a long intense writing session and wondering what weird weather pattern was going on now--all the trees were blossoming, and here it was November. Then I realized no: my book was set in November. In the real world, it was April.”
Mark Chisnell, thriller writer extraordinaire, is much more adventuresome. He races yachts and climbed halfway up Mount Everest in sneakers(!). “I work normal hours and I have a grown-up office with a desk, book shelves, filing cabinets but I wasn't always so organized. I wrote and rewrote my first novel,THE DEFECTOR, in a multitude of strange places, but the early draft was done in the South of France. It sounds idyllic and very Graham Greene, but I had gone down there to work for a magazine that went bust. So I was trapped in a rental agreement I couldn't escape, with no job and very little money in the bank.
"I wrote the novel to make the best use of a very bad situation, but circumstances had a lot in common with the freezing garret of legend. There was no desk in the room, so I improvised by using a chest of drawers—awkward as there was no gap for the knees. It was winter and the building was designed for summer residence, with thick brickwork to keep it cool, and no heating; every hour or so I would have to go outside to warm up enough to keep my fingers mobile and typing. I remember that the only time I was truly warm in that place was in the bath. I finished the novel just as I escaped the lease and fled back to England.”
DDScott, bestselling rom-com author and founder of WG2E, doesn’t fool around with English Breakfast tea: “I do luuuvvv to write in cocktail lounges while I'm enjoying Happy Hour. I actually fill my cocktail napkins with tons of ideas then take 'em home and slip 'em into a special box just for that very thing. Then, when I need an off-the-wall, over-the-top idea, I know just where to look. :-) Martinis and other such fabulous glasses full of liquid courage make for killer muse therapy!!!”
Some, like Claude Nougat, founder of a Goodreads group devoted to Baby Boomer fiction, even break the law. “I had a light bulb placed over the bath tub, thus going against every law in Italy (apparently it's unsafe to place a bulb there!!) because I used to love to read in the tub! I did try to take notes while I was in my bathtub but I had no pen and had to get out, dripping wet and cold, to get it. I slipped on the mat coming back into the tub. I slid into the (by now tepid) water but managed to splash some water drops on the paper, making half of it unusable. I tried to write but having forgotten to take along a slate or something hard, I couldn't do it. Just a couple of miserable squiggles. So I had to hold it up against the wall to try and write. More water seeped into the paper, leaving me no place to write anything beyond three or four words.
“By then, exasperated, I got out having thoroughly forgotten what I wanted to write. Yes, I hate bathtubs!”
In addition to Claude, the law-breaker, DD, the lounge lizard, and Mark, the broke and freezing writer who had better experiences in the bathtub than Claude, Roy Street, who writes Daphne du Maurier-award winning romance, mystery/suspense and paranormal genres with his wife Alicia, also lives—and writes—dangerously.
“Alicia and I like to keep physically active while we write, taking frequent breaks for things like push-ups or jogging in place. Having been a pro dancer, Alicia keeps a portable barre in the study where she works.
“I prefer shadow boxing. When we were working on a novel that featured a boxer I decided to up the ante to deepen the ‘show-don’t-tell’ aspects. I asked my friend Aubrey, who was an ex-pro boxer, to come over and spar with me. Not only did he graciously oblige, but he knocked me out. Fortunately, it took only a handful of minutes for me to revive and, yes, return to my keyboard. Loaded with inspiration . . . and a sore jaw.”
So, Scriveners it's YOU TELL US time: What are your writing quirks? Have you ever broken the law, gotten knocked out, or frozen in the South of France? Or are you just…sorry, but I don’t know how else to say this…the b word like Vanessa, Randy, Anne and Ruth?
We have 5 Opportunity Alerts this week:
#1 Tech-Savvy Author Workshop: If you live on the Central Coast of California and you’re interested in learning about blogging, building platform and everything a 21st Century author needs to know, Anne will be teaching at a seminar called THE TECH SAVVY AUTHOR with Catherine Ryan Hyde, screenwriter and radio personality Dave Congalton and a whole crew of smart techie folks on March 2nd.
#2 Interested in having your short fiction recorded for a weekly podcast?There’s no pay, but it’s fantastic publicity if your story is accepted by SMOKE AND MIRRORS. They broadcast about three stories a week. Spooky, dark tales preferred. No previous publication necessary. They judge on the story alone.
#3 Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERSare holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st.
#4 $3500 Grand Prize for literary short fiction. NO entry fee. The deadline for the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Contest for short fiction is February 1st.
#5 $2000 Grand Prize. NO entry fee. Call for Entries—The Flying Elephants Short Story Prize, sponsored by "Ashes & Snow" artist Gregory Colbert. ::: AndWeWereHungry, a new online literary magazine, seeks literary short stories for its debut issue fiction contest. THEME: "And We Were Hungry....," or "Hunger." For isn't it, to quote Ray Bradbury, hunger or "lack that gives us inspiration?" Prize: One grand prize ($2000) + three finalists (each $1,000) + eight runner-ups. Deadline: March 31, 2013.