books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, January 27, 2013

DANGER: Writer at work...Where do Bestselling Authors Create their Masterpieces?

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.

Moody? Check.

Preoccupied? Check.

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.

36 comments:

  1. Routine life for me as well. I do like to get out and go have fun with friends and explore new places though.
    As for writing, when I am working on a manuscript I do it in the evening after practicing my guitar. I'll usually devote three to five hours to writing with music playing and often the TV on as well. (No sound though - that would be overload.)
    Yeah, I guess boring.

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  2. I'm like Alex. Pretty boring. I write when I can at home usually before or after work.

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  3. Love getting in that writing groove. Means it has been a good week of work. :-)

    If I don't have my routine it generally means I've spent too much time corresponding, etc. and that does make me cranky. lol

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  4. Alex—Welcome to the B list!

    Natalie—You, too. Welcome to the B list. Guess we'll never be invited to the A list parties!

    EJ—Cranky is really tough on the people around us. Doesn't make us feel so proud of ourselves, either, does it? Ruth hangs head in shame.

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  5. Writing routine? What writing routine?

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  6. I'm going to try DDScott's martini idea. I already love the happy hour at home and martinis and maybe turning off the TV and writing while I'm enjoying one or two, might do the trick. :)

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  7. CZero—Oh, you know, the one that....some days it's sort of like....uh....you know, longer some days but other times....

    Paul—DD's approach is excellent. Tastes good. Makes the writer feel good. Generates some hot ideas. What could be bad? Just make sure you don't forget where you put the secret box with all those nifty ideas.

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  8. I'm with Mark in the freezing department, although unfortunately NOT in the South of France. I'm just in the basement.

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  9. What a wonderful post. I loved reading about how others view their writing lives. I've done DD's hint for several years. My box overflows with ideas written down in other places...bits and pieces of conversations overheard. It's that magical "research" that adds realism to dialogues.

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  10. Love this. I'm still trying to figure out what my routine is, now that I'm writing full time. I do a lot of it after midnight. But this is the view from my writing room these days: http://maiasepp.blogspot.ca/2012/12/the-view-from-my-writing-room.html.

    Cheers,
    Maia

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  11. Fun post, Ruth. Thanks for including me. Any time things get too boring and you feel like coming over to spar with me, give me a call. I promise you'll win.

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  12. What a great post! I loved reading about the different quirks, etc. We writers certainly are a strange group of people...and thank goodness, because without us, what would the rest of the world read?! LOL
    And thanks for the contest info!

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  13. Anne–Oooh, that sounds awful. Bet you're looking forward to summer!

    Vickie—Thanks! I'm a tea & wine person but I have scraps of paper with notes etc all over the place. I got Evernote thinking I'd digitize everything but still those dang pieces of paper proliferate!

    Maia—Thank you! Love your red & white winter view. Inspiring but not distracting.

    Roy—lol Of course I'm going to win. Hope you have Angelo Dundee in your corner.

    Becky—So happy to hear you enjoyed the post. I was just in the mood for something fun & featherweight.

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  14. Ruth, hate ta tellya, but Angelo died a year ago. Let's just wrestle instead.

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  15. I'm a rare blood courier, so my days and nights are pretty hectic. Trying to find some time to peck out a few lines per day is a challenge. Thanks for the links. I submitted to SMOKE AND MIRRORS. Wish me luck, Roland

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  16. OK, I'm going to try D.D.'s method. Sounds like lots more fun than tea! And D. D. and I have a "Martini Madness" anthology that just came out. Gotta get the cover art on the blog. The anthology is a hoot!

    Roland--I'll bet Smoke and Mirrors will like your story. Let us know if it gets accepted and we'll pimp your podcast!

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  17. Fun post, Ruth. Like most, my writing world is very boring...from the outside!

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  18. Thanks, Anne. SMOKE AND MIRRORS may not. I thought I would make it short to tempt them on taking a chance on an unknown -- only 635 words. If it is too short, I will try a longer one.

    That you will promote if I am selected means a lot. Thanks, again, Roland

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  19. Just call me Mr. Tedioso. I write in the evenings when I can squeeze writing in between teaching, narrating other people's books, & keeping the house standing.

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  20. Oh my gosh! Those are fabulous stories!! (I think I like DDScott's the best . . . or at least, that's the one I want to emulate :)

    I'm about as boring as they come. Basement office, occasionally upstairs by the fire in my leather chair, or at the kitchen table, but nothing fantastic. Ok, every now and then I'll venture to the boring coffee shop. One of these days I'm definitely going to the martini bar!

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  21. Great post. Thanks Anne and Ruth. When writing stories I love to sit in a comfortable chair by a window, the room quiet or with easy listening music softly in the background...and a good cup of coffee within easy reach.
    I also like to sit at a sidewalk cafe (weather permitting) with pen and paper to jot down notes as I relax and enjoy the world around me...of course, I have my coffee nearby. And I love it when someone stops to have a chat.
    When inspiration strikes for a poem,it usually writes itself pretty quickly so I make sure to get it down on paper.

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  22. Haha, what a fantastic post! I'm a very boring writer, because I have to squeeze my writing in around school, so I do it at my desk, usually pointedly ignoring the piles of school work glaring at me from under whatever manner of hoojamflip I've shunted them under xD

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  23. Thanks Ruth, for including me and now that I see the whole post...it's a blast! Very funny, and to think that I hadn't realized my bathtub story would make it here when we first got in touch. But since then, now that I've learned my lesson and no longer write in the tub, you can add me to the "b" list!

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  24. Anne G - cold may not be inspirational, but it is motivational - write more words to stay warm!

    I've kept the temperature low in my office ever since that first experience. Although maybe that's just to give myself an excuse to head for the kitchen and make another nice hot cup of coffee...

    And thanks, Ruth and Anne, great post :-)

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  25. Roy—I tried to get AD's ghost in my comment but did a lousy job so I decided to do a Lazarus on him. Writers are dangerous, aren't we? Especially if we have super powers like raising the dead.

    Maybe Novak Djokovic's team has some time to whip you into fighting shape now that the Australian Open is over!

    Roland—Rare blood courier is so crucial! Thank you for your work and good luck with SMOKE AND MIRRORS!

    Anne—LOL! DD has inspired lots of people & now we'll watch the sales of gin shoot through the roof.

    Christine—Well said. Looks boring—from the outside. From the inside? A whole different story!

    CS aka Mr. T—Your schedule takes my breath away! But as long as you keep the house standing, it's all good, right?

    amarquette333—Thank you for the kind words! I love the images you describe—the music, the comfy chair, the sidewalk cafe, the coffee. Sounds like you definitely have your act together.

    Charley—Thanks for the flattering words but I doubt you're "very" boring. Maybe, like many of us, you're just plain b-for-boring? ;-)

    Claude—Thank you! Your bathtub story—and the illicit light bulb—have now been immortalized! Who'da thunk?

    Mark—I didn't have your—shall we say?—inspiration in the South of France but I keep my office cool, too. According to my DH, the correct word is "cold." He often puts on a sweater when he comes in but a warm room makes me sleepy and therefore even more boring.




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  26. A writing schedule? Hey, I need one of those. But while my life can be busy, I'm afraid it's also pretty boring. Little old house in the suburbs life.

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  27. English breakfast with almond milk--my writing drink of choice. A hot cup of tea makes me feel my writing lifestyle is civilized. Because I doubt I look civilized when I step out of my office--wild girl raised in the woods is the first image that comes to mind.:)

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  28. LD—It's occurring to me that what some/many of us call boring might also be called "professional." After all, how do we—or anyone else—get anything done without applying ourselves?

    Coleen—Love that image of "wild girl raised in the woods."! As they say, thanks for sharing! ;-)

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  29. Another great post :-) Anne, I admire your discipline and consistency! :-)

    I'm sorry to say my writing "quirks" are kind of boring lol For some reason, my brain doesn't write its best fiction during the day lol I write my best stuff late in the night and I have writing playlists that help get me in the right frame of mind, which helps a lot.

    I have knocked around a few people in Muay Thai classes but not got knocked out (yet...lol), and sadly haven't been to the South of France although I very much wish I could :-) Maybe one day :-)

    Anita

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  30. Anita—I wonder: is there any other place anywhere where so many people are signing up for the b-for-boring list? lol

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  31. I'm boring with a capital B. I usually write with the TV muted and my favorite music playing into earphones. The most exciting thing that I do is clean the bathrooms or make an emergency run to the grocery store. LOL!

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  32. Melissa—Even writers care about clean bathrooms & groceries! Welcome to the Boring list altho I've begun to thing we should call it the P-for- Professional list!

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  33. geash the hoops I"m having to go through to comment on blogs lately... Anyway Back on topic.

    Hm... where do I write. I've got two steadfast places, and one changeroo.
    1) My desk which now has a wall moutned monitor that sits at eye level right above my netbook screen. It shares the space with my sewing, and really only gets used once the kidlets are in bed.
    2) At work, where I sneak in as much as I dare while at the day job, using the files I save to my phone (go go smart phones).
    3) Whereever else I can outside the house - local Library while duaghter's at girl scouts. - pubs/restaurants with fellow writers, especially during NaNo - Coffee shops, in or out of Book stores. - I've started to learn the Wendsday night crowed at the local Starbucks, as that's the cooridnated 'my night out' (he uses his to play hockey and me to write... go figure)

    I'm sure my life isn't b-boring (and I know Charley, if your reading this, yours isn't either) but I know it's also not extreemly exciting, but a nice mix that helps keep the brain active and the ideas flowing. :}

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  34. Cathryn—From where I sit (at my desk—lol) having three places to write sounds quite thrilling. As you say, it is indeed a nice mix that helps keep the brain active & the ideas flowing.

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  35. Fantastic stories! The South of France idea intrigues, maybe for one of my characters. Right now, I'm propped in bed with my laptop, my morning 'office' for about an hour. Then I flop on the sofa in the afternoon for a couple of hours.

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  36. Kittie—Très glam! You'll fit in perfectly in the South of France & so will your characters!

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