Thursday, July 21, 2016

Process and place

Liz Flaherty

Helen suggested we talk about writing process this month. Or maybe our special places to write. Since…ahem…I don’t actually have a process, I opted for places to write. (Let me add here that if anyone knows of a good place for me to find a process, I'm all ears.)
My favorite is my desk in my office. When the college professor my son worked with retired, he gave Jock his desk. Since they were moving anyway and Jock didn’t have anywhere to put it, he asked if I’d store the big oak teacher’s desk. I said sure. For a while. And now I say he can have it when I die, because it’s not going anywhere until then. It sits by the windows in my office and I have an uninterrupted view of the fields and woods to the west. I’m a country girl—it doesn’t get better than that.
Unless I’m at another son and daughter-in-law’s house in North Carolina, when I sit in the breakfast nook with my laptop before anyone else is up. It’s just a cup of tea, me, and the Blue Ridge. If this doesn’t ignite the fire in your writer’s heart, then your wood’s wet.

One time, years ago, I had edits to do—a horrifying number of them, as a matter of fact; I think I had to rewrite the book—and I was pretty much stuck. The longer I worried about it—and looked at the calendar because I didn’t have very long and the time was flying by—the more stuck I got. We were going away for the weekend and I ended up in the dining room in a Hampton Inn at something like four in the morning doing edits. I don’t remember where we were. I only know I worked there all morning, ignoring the filling-up and emptying-out of the room and drinking cup after cup of coffee. And being gloriously unstuck. So it has become a semi-tradition that when I have edits—especially if they’re heavy—the Flahertys end up in a motel or a state park lodge for a weekend.

Where’s your favorite place to work? Or, even better—in case I need to borrow it—your favorite way to get unstuck?

Helen DePrima

I wish I had a favorite place to write – maybe I’d be more organized and productive. My best location is anywhere I won’t be disturbed by the phone or my husband or the dog wanting to go out or come in. A big leather recliner in the family room works well for me except that my Maine Coon cat likes to participate in the process; try typing with a large bundle of fur in your lap. I’ve worked in hotel rooms, on ferries and in parking garages – I rarely leave the house without my beloved laptop.


As far as method, I’ve heard there are two kinds of writers: organized and organic. Since no one’s ever accused me of being organized, I guess I fall into the organic camp. I once attended a writers’ workshop where the presenter taped a long sheet of butcher’s paper to the wall. She had outlined every chapter, every scene, probably every paragraph. If that were the required method of writing, I’d be dishing up fast food orders instead. The extent of my organization is envisioning my main characters at the beginning of their adventure and following them to jot down how they proceed. I generally have some idea how the story will end, but sometimes not even that is set in stone. In The Bull Rider, my female lead uttered three words entirely without my planning or permission and the whole plot took off cross-country with me in hot pursuit. The resulting excursion greatly enriched the story. Being receptive to unimagined possibilities is my one best writing tool.

I can usually get unstuck with a little exercise – swimming or hiking or even just a quick turn around the patch of trees and brush stretching behind our woodpile. I got hopelessly bogged down recently over the POV in the book I just completed – who should be the lead in a key scene – when it occurred to me to have a third character recount the action after the fact. Problem solved.

35 comments:

  1. Thank you for the fun post, Liz and Helen. I can write just about anywhere, although I do have some favorite places. I was reminded last week as I flew to and from California for the RWA conference, that I tend to be very productive on planes. For the outbound flight, I was in a pod, which I particularly like cocooning in, and I wrote over 5,000 words! If only I could fly more often . . . :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always WANT to be productive on planes, but never am. Anywhere they bring you coffee, though, I'm your girl.

      Delete
  2. Interesting post, Liz and Helen! I write best late at night at my own worktable in my own little garret upstairs in my house. I also do okay at the lake in the big wicker chair with my laptop. As for process--um...what's a process?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, you're a lotta help. :-) Thanks for coming by, Nan.

      Delete
  3. Love the post, ladies! I tend to write at my kitchen table, but sometimes when I'm stuck like Liz, I head over to Panera Bread and put on headphones and type away while all the action goes on around me! Somehow it works!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like that, too, Amy. I also like working in libraries. Librarians are good people!

      Delete
  4. I loved this post and the comments. That desk, Liz, is a treasure. Hmm. The creativity that desk has seen. I know now I can write anywhere and with activity going on around me. I once finished a book during a two hour phone conference my husband was having on speaker phone right in front of me. I was on deadline. I've written three books or done the editing in the hospital. Twice when I was there, one when my husband was there. I love the idea of being outside with my laptop and I've done that on beaches, on the patio and at hotel patios. I agree with Kate that planes are especially inspirational for writing. I get my BEST ideas on planes. But, I can't say I've accomplished 5,000 words on a plane yet. And I'm with both of you... when I'm stuck, I have to GO somewhere or DO something. I tend to bake cookies and eat them. Think it's the sugar?????

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Catherine -- Like you, I can write with mayhem all around as long as no one is talking to me. And yeah, I've done so good work while hospitalized, once on paper towels while still in the recovery room.

      Delete
    2. I'm like Helen on that. I can write in the midst of mayhem (although I prefer quiet), but music is an instant distraction. Anyone else that way?

      Delete
  5. It seems my most productive hours are early in the morning. My hubby leaves for work at 5 am and the house is quiet and I have a whole hour and half to myself before I have to go to work. But I'm a night owl by nature and forcing myself to be productive in the morning has taken some training. However, I'm thinking of running away somewhere to try a new approach. My little town doesn't have a Panera or anyplace like that. Maybe Ireland? HA! I wish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi LeAnne -- I wish I were a morning writer. I could tape out my day's quota and enjoy goofing off later. I warm up for writing with my one online game: Wordscraper (like Scrabble). That's not a complete time waster; the exercise gets my brain going, and I made a gal there who has become a dear friend and my indispensable First Reader.

      Delete
    2. I'm a morning person anyway, so if I'm going to be productive, it has to be before noon. I don't know how you do it if you're a natural night owl!

      Delete
  6. Liz, your desk and your North Carolina look gorgeous! :-) I want to come do deadlines with you!

    Helen, I love your writing buddy! I can see you'd be too tempted to love on that kitty to write! I needed to hear that someone else is so organic right now. I'm working on a synopsis, and I feel sort of lost and anxious because I want it to be irresistible, but I don't possess enough planning gene to ever feel certain a synopsis is sellable. Will be watching to see if you find a process to pass along! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anna -- Ugh, the dreaded synopsis. I write mine first like a news story and then go back to put it in my character's voice to give it appeal. Essentially I sketch in the shape and then color it in. Hope this helps -- it's worked for me.

      Delete
    2. My synopses are just awful, and I don't think they've improved ever. I'm happy for anyone who's found a workable way.

      Delete
  7. I write in a teeny-tiny office on the second floor of our home with a clear view of the Columbia River and all the boats and ships coming and going. Over thirty years ago when I first started writing, I put my desk facing the wall so that I wouldn't be distracted. Now I live on distractions. I try to get a plot organized to be able to sell the proposal, but after that, I let it take its own path. Sometimes that works, sometimes not. I also have a tabby who likes to participate. He often gets comfortable in my lap and says, "You write a line, and I'll write a line." I've considered letting him take over. Love that desk, Liz. And your cat, Helen. Both your processes seem to be working very well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried letting my cat into the office--he's an outdoor cat--but he thought that meant I wanted to socialize, present skin for him to sharpen his claws on, and offer him something to eat. It didn't work out, so I'm kind of jealous of Helen's buddy and yours, too, Muriel.

      Delete
  8. I prefer my office, actually a small closet with no windows, packed with bookcases to the ceiling, a filing cabinet, a standing fan for cooling in the summer, replaced by a heating unit in the summer, and of course my computer. Most people would get claustrophobic but I find it cozy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry - that heating unit is in the winter!

      Delete
    2. It sounds cozy--of course, I'd have it cluttered so badly (see desktop above) that soon there'd be nowhere for the writer.

      Delete
    3. Hi Marion -- that's the beauty of laptop writing, impossible to clutter if you're moving from place to place. Your mini-office does sound appealing.

      Delete
  9. Liz, I think my dad had the same desk as the one you use. Only when I cleaned it out, it had spiders in it....shivers. Best of luck with yours!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mine still has the phone numbers for Lyndon State College for Fall of 2007 on one of the slide-outs. I remember teachers having them when I was in school and never gave them much thought--but I do love this one.

      Delete
  10. My favorite place to think about what to write is on my morning walk. But writing itself I do in a spare bedroom. I need to have my dictionary, thesaurus and synonym finder all handy. It's not very exciting as it looks more like a bedroom than an office.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm with you, Roz. I camp on an antique bed in the guest room with my maps spread out -- I'm a bug for authentic locations.

      Delete
    2. I do this with my house plans books, too, although when it comes to locations I usually try to find someone who knows where I'm talking about and use their expertise.

      Delete
  11. I'm definitely a planner when I write. And as for a favorite location, I bounce between my desk by the window, the reclining chair in the living room, and my bedroom (where I lock myself in if my family is being too noisy. ;) ) It works for me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In two ways I'm very organized; I keep a time line and a list of characters names right from page one. If a little boy named Billy appears in Chapter Two, I make sure I don't use that name again. Sometimes I slip up as I did in The Bull Rider (I had my cowboys headed to the wrong city), but thank goodness for great copy editors.

      Delete
    2. I am a reformed planner. :-) Actually I plan a little, like the end of Act 1, the middle and the end of Act 2. And I write in Scrivener so I have all my research at my fingertips.. And I love to write on my deck early in the morning. When I'm on deadline, I set my clock for 5 and get up and write for 2 hours before I stop for breakfast and my quiet time...which I have to fight to stay awake in. lol. I love Liz's desk and view...and no way can I write on an airplane...

      Delete
  12. Hi Patricia -- a reformed planner: I like that. I've never had to reform because my characters keep me jumping too fast to come up with a pre-formed plot. Kind of creepy, a little like possession. Good thing I like my "people."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me, too, although sometimes I'd like to know where a particular nuance came from. But I was never a planner, so that's one reformation I don't need. :-)

      Delete
  13. This is a great post. I love reading about writers. I love that desk Liz Flaherty, and your cat Helen DePrima. Of course I'm not a writer, but I do book reviews and other stuff on my laptop in the family room when my husband's home, and in my reading room/office at other times since it's surrounded by all of my favorite things....mainly books and bookish stuff. ( :

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nothing homier than books and bookish stuff, Laurie!

      Delete

    2. Hi Laurie -- Nothing provides wonderful decor like a room full of books.

      Delete