So a group of writers gets together . . . I know: sounds like the set up to a joke, but actually, it happens all the time. We get together for critique group, we get together at conferences or signings, and inevitably we talk about – duh – writing. I’m always fascinated by these discussions because we all approach this weird business in our own way, and I love hearing how others handle different aspects of being a writer in today’s market.
Every writer has his or her own system, his or her own style, and his or her own set of preferences when it comes to the task of writing. The late and amazing Norma Fox Mazer preferred to sit at a keyboard (originally a typewriter), with a hat pulled low over her eyes so she couldn’t see what she was typing and couldn’t edit while she was creating.
Norma was a witty and wise writer; she was a giving writer who shared insights and humor interchangeably and generously. But she was very clear in her admonition that this was her system, and her system may not work for everyone.
Liza Ketchum writes all of her stories long-hand for the first draft. She keeps stacks of notebooks just for this purpose. She explained that, for her, the writing process was as much tactile as it was intellectual.
And she has beautiful handwriting! If I could write as beautifully as she does, I’d write everything long-hand too! In fact, I do that sometimes, but I start to worry more about my handwriting than I do about the story. However, when inspiration hits and all I have is a pen and some paper, I’ll start writing notes, and maybe even a scene or two, rather than waiting until I have access to technology.
Some writers have a favorite chair they sit in to write, and others have a favorite pen which they use.
These are glass fountain pens from Murano, Italy. I have given them as gifts to writer friends and mentors. I want one, but I refuse to indulge just yet. My favorite pen to write with is the Sharpie Fine-Point Pen, the one that doesn’t bleed through the paper but gives you that Sharpie permanence.
Some writers have a favorite place to write. If I had my choice, my favorite place to write would be beneath a multi-colored umbrella at a cafe on the beach in Hawaii or Puerto Aventuras or Nassau.
As long as there was someone to bring me food and drink, I could sit there for hours and work. It would be glorious. Currently, my favorite place to work is anywhere that I have my baby laptop.
I can plug it in anywhere and instantly be productive. The little coffee shop across from my office has Wi-Fi and makes a great raspberry mocha! They also have outside umbrellas for when the weather is nice (although April in Utah is pretty inconsistent weather-wise). It’s not the beach, but I can pretend.
My friend Mette Ivie Harrison likes to write an entire novel straight through before she starts revising – though actually, she admits she does do some revision as she goes along.
She also does triathalons and Iron Man competitions. She’s a stud. She’s amazing. How she manages to do all she does is astonishing to me and continuously makes me feel inferior. But I’m not Mette. I can’t be. It’s hard enough to be me.
In seeking to become a better writer, one of the hardest parts is figuring out what your individual system is. And for me, there is no one system. Sometimes a certain technique or approach will work, and the next time it won’t. But what I know for certain is that my system won’t work for anyone else the way it does for me. Each writer has to find those aspects and elements that are effective for him or her. No book, no “expert”, no other writer or would-be writer can tell you exactly how to be an effective writer: you just sort of have to try things and see how they work – or don’t work – for you.