Wednesdays are for Writing

I’ve been sharing thoughts about writing on my Facebook page recently, and thought I should share them here, too. I hope they hit the spot!

My desk

Writing Wednesday. You said you liked my weekly comments on some aspect of writing that I’m dealing with at the moment, so I’ll try to share them more consistently.

Several years ago, I attended a Don Maass Break-Out Novel Intensive workshop — which I highly recommend, by the way. He suggested “emotional research,” a phrase I’d never heard but instantly knew was critical for me. I was writing Death al Dente, the first Food Lovers’ Village mystery, with a main character who was 32 but lost her father in a hit-and-run at 17. My father died when I was 30, so not at all the same. I sat down with a notebook and hand-wrote everything I remembered from observing friends who’d lost a parent when they were in their teens or early 20s. (Handwriting is best b/c of the direct emotional connection it evokes.) I consulted online guides for teachers and counselors on working with students or young clients who had lost a parent. I quizzed a classmate who had two teenagers. And at the end, I was able to see quite clearly not only how Erin would have responded, but how her friend Kim would have responded — creating a central conflict that carried through the first three books in the series and made both women deeper and, I think, more relatable.

Today, I’m doing something similar with my killer. Not that I’m consulting actual killers among my friends, mind you đź™‚ but I’m looking at news accounts, books, reports, and articles to help me better understand the motivation, the drive, that led this person to believe murder was the only choice, the right response, to a situation. And I’m following the lead of a once-famous criminal defendant and free-writing my killer’s “If I did it” confession, by hand, using his/her favorite pen.

My desk

The Saturday Creativity Quote

Morning Mist, photo by the author

“Before you can write anything, you have to notice something,” novelist John Irving said. And in these difficult times, when many of us are walking around — six feet apart — feeing as though a Band-Aid had been ripped off our entire body, leaving us raw and exposed, we wonder how we can create. Because the act of creativity requires some belief that what we do serves us and the world, that it answers questions about life and guides us forward. And right now, that belief isn’t easy.

So “since feeling is first,” in the words of the poet e.e. cummings, start there. Notice what you’re feeling. Just notice it. Don’t burden it with the obligation of action — not yet. When you’re ready, give that feeling to a character if you write. You don’t have to write about a pandemic; let the emotion tell you the story. Let it drive the character. Give the feeling a color or a shape if you paint, a sound if you sing or play, a movement if you dance. Let the feeling guide you.

The Saturday Creativity Quote

“Indonesian artists say you should begin and end your work with a prayer of gratitude—it’s a more reverent kind of collaboration [than the assumption that you need to beat your art into submission].”

— Elizabeth Gilbert, American novelist and non-fiction writer, in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed by Joe Fassler (2017)