March 14, 2011

The first rule of Write Club ...

is you do talk about Write Club.

I've known a lot of writers in my life (I used to be an editor, so it was pretty much my job), and the one thing writers like to do almost more than writing? Talk about writing.

And that's a good thing! Because writing a novel is really one of the most solitary things you can do. Knowing how other writers get it done can be everything from reassuring to surprising to inspirational (and sometimes terrifying, i.e. following the Jack Kerouac method is not usually recommended). The one truth? Nobody does it exactly the same way.

Last week Maggie Stiefvater had a couple of great posts about how she begins a novel. Some authors, like Jennifer Crusie, create elaborate visual collages to help them focus, and others work out a playlist to listen to. Some (very disciplined) writers write at the same time every day, and in the same place (those writers are Not Me). Some writers probably depend on a lucky tiara and a big strawberry milkshake before starting, or the giant poster of the guys from Supernatural as inspiration (this ... could be me, but I'll never tell).

The things Maggie said about knowing your characters and what story you're telling are important, at least for me. But I need a couple of other things before I start, and while I'm writing, too. They might not work for anyone else, and they might be kind of weird, but it's how I write. The most important thing for any writer is figuring out what works for them.

Here's a list of Amy's Strange Writing Habits, just for the record:

1) I need a title. It doesn't need to be the final one, but it can't be "Book About Wren and Gabriel." Until I come up with a working title, I can try to write, but that missing title is like a sore tooth or a really nasty mosquito bite.

2) I don't do collages (for me, that would be the gateway to months! of procrastination!), but I do collect what I guess you could call totems. Little tangible or visible things that remind me of the book or the characters. For Cold Kiss, I had a Fall Out Boy postcard with zombies on it, and a hand-sewn skeleton a friend sent (Christmas tree ornament size, although life size would have been AWESOME), and a notecard with a huge, bare tree in front of a full moon.

3) When I'm actually writing, lyrics tend to distract me (and the next thing you know I'm standing up, singing along into a hairbrush, or playing air drums), but I do make a note of songs or music that feels like the mood of the book. Then I make a playlist and listen to it in the car, or while I'm cooking (okay, baking cookies -- my husband usually cooks), which are good times to think about where the book's going.

4) I don't create really specific outlines. I have a friend who does, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, all ahead of time. I tried that exactly once, and by the time I was done I had zero interest in actually writing the book. I need a loose map, sort of a "Go west, author!" thing, with a few general landmarks to look out for along the way, but otherwise I make it up as I go along.

5) Some days I write best up on my bed, with the cats down at my feet, and music on. Some days I need to be given no choice but to write, which is when I actually head to the most crowded place I can. A Starbucks or something like it, where it's busy and noisy, and where there are so many distractions, it all fades into background noise and I can concentrate on the pages. I think the key there is that none of that busy and noisy is from people I know, namely children who are going to want more juice or to know why the cat makes that weird face.

Whatever works is the moral to the story. (I could add "slow and steady wins the race," but then I'd be cribbing from Aesop.) Also? Write Club is rarely as bloody as Fight Club. Which is good because I have a crappy left hook.


  1. In grad school, I always had to have a title before actually writing the nitty gritty of the paper. Even now, my blog posts often start off with the title. Psychologically, having the title just lets me know that I have a framework and plan for the whole thing.

  2. Exactly! It may be just a marker, but I need it there.

  3. I suppose I get around the solitary aspect of writing by doing collaborations. I found I just went too mad staring at my pages and wondering 'is this art or crap?' Whereas with a writing partner it is a constant discourse.

  4. The last time I collaborated, there was a lot of giggling and a whole lot of tangents. It was fun, and it was just for a goof, but I get a little "does not play well with others" when I'm writing something that really matters to me.

    I'd love to try it again, though.