The Movie is Here in Thunder Bay. Don't Miss it.

The Movie is Here  in Thunder Bay. Don't Miss it.
Indian Horse, the movie based on the book by Richard Wagamese

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How a Writer Writes

Louise Penny, who is working on ther seventh novel, allows us a peek into her work routine. Her new mystery is called Bury Your Dead.

I'm now about 50-thousand words into the next book

The writing went well, just zipped along, for the first three weeks. What an incredible blessing. The first few chapters can be the hardest, as I battle fear and insecurities, laziness and doubt. But this time the writing seemed to just pour out. I generally try to set the bar fairly low for the first week. Say, 500 words a day. A decent amount without being too stressful. I can often do 500 words in an hour, perhaps two if the going is really tough. But with this book I was doing two-thousand words a day almost from day one.

I was thrilled, and determined to keep at it. I just never know when all that inspiration will stop.

It eventually did, around 35-thousand words.

I always think of my books as diamond shaped. Starting small and intimate. Widening out as more people, more events, more suspects, more clues and ideas appear. And then the final third is racing toward the finish. Resolving issues, heading toward the knife point at the end. The final, sharp truth. But, as a result, writing the middle part can be a little complex. It's folly to go too fast. A waste of time since I would almost certainly have to retrace my steps. So it all slows down. And with that comes more uncertainty. That nagging voice that tells me this is the one that will stink. What was I thinking? You can't do it. Do something else. Anything else. It's OK. You've earned it. Just do nothing today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.

Quite a siren song.

But I can't afford to listen, nor can I afford, really to do fewer words a day. So my days just get longer, and longer. But often they also get, perversely, ever more satisfying as vague thoughts and ideas crystalize. My heart pounds with excitement at a turn of phrase, at a moment of clarity actually put into the right words. At the things that surprise me. At the great gift of inspiration that can make me a better writer than I actually am.

As I write my seventh book I realize each book is slightly different, with it's own rhythm and demands. But one thing seems a constant. My approach is to put everything into the first draft, then spend the rest of the time editing, shaping, re-writing.

And it needs to be finished by September, because that's when I start promoting Bury Your Dead. And if the next book isn't finished by then, I won't have the time, energy or focus to do it justice. And then it just become a large, soft, smelly pile of misery.

So, I work backward. If it needs to be finished by September first, and I need to have at least three drafts and some polishing, and each draft takes at least three weeks, and I need some time between the drafts to disengage....well, then, I really should be finished the first draft by mid-May. And in order to do that, I have to write about two thousand words a day.

Every writer has his or her own process. I wish I was one of those who chose my words more carefully to begin with and so needed less re-writing and editing. But I just am never going to be like that. I find it exciting to free up my mind and toss everything at the first draft. Then clean up the mess afterward.

And so, now I'm about half way through that tossing. It's actually very exciting. But I won't kid you. Everyday I look at the computer and wish I was a ditch digger. My friend Mary Jane Maffini, a wonderful mystery writer, describes writing first drafts as akin to having a daily colonoscopy. I think that's pretty accurate.

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