WORD: The Writing life


While I am always fascinated by writers' accounts of their writing habits (Faulkner in his rundown shed, Proust in his cork-lined bedroom), talking about my own process bores me to tears. It’s right up there with watching paint dry. (Note to self: avoid clichés). Still, it behooves me (did I just use that odd word?) to give an account of an activity that engages so much of my time.

An essential part of my daily writing ritual is setting up my tools: a well-worn dictionary and thesaurus, extra-fine black ink pens, #2 pencils sharpened to within an inch of their lives, tablets of college-ruled white paper (no margins), folders containing the novel’s outline and notes, print copies of completed chapters, and a hand mirror. I check it periodically to be sure I haven’t disappeared, a hazard of an overactive imagination.

Longhand is the only way I can write. There’s something about the movement of my hand, the flow of ink, the scratch of pen on paper that satisfies. To me, writing is not linear. Random images occur spontaneously and are jotted down on any available space on the page to be possibly used later—like a messy palette filled with oils in unexpected colors.

Before I even begin writing I’ve lived with my characters for awhile. I know just about everything about them, down to their choice of cellphone ringtone. And I plot meticulously. Delightful (or not so delightful) surprises occur organically as characters develop so I need to be anchored to a solid story. Otherwise, I’d have to constantly backtrack (a woeful waste of time), be compelled to unravel the novel like Penelope in The Odyssey, unravelling her tapestry every night to dissuade unwanted suitors. And how else to plant all the delicious hints and tie up loose ends? That’s not to say I won’t change course or tweak the plot if the story absolutely demands it. But the course or tweak best be slight else I have another novel altogether.

I write daily from nine to four, with an hour’s break to swim laps or hike. Progress is marked by a scene a day, a chapter a week. Editing is constant and ruthless. The completed novel will undergo three to five major revisions. I then put it aside and work on another novel. I return to it with a fresh eye and, if satisfied it’s good enough to be seen by another, send it to a beta reader for a critique.

And thank my lucky stars yet again that I am able to do what I love most.

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