Category Archives: Behind The Books

Can We Have A Peek?

… at your workspace?

Personally, I find it fascinating to poke my nose into the various ways authors have of organizing themselves. So I’ve asked a couple of my writer pals to draw back the curtains on where they make their magic.

First up is Catriona McPherson, who writes the funny Last Ditch Mysteries, the historical Dandy Gilver series, and a whole bunch of other award winning standalone mysteries.

 

Here’s the view from my writing desk. I keep all the mystery fiction in my writing room as inspiration and/or pressure to stick at it when the going gets tough. I’ve also got Stephen King, Jane Austen and Dorothy Whipple in there – my favourite writers of all time, dead or alive.

 

My dad made the shelves. He’s been making bookshelves for his daughters since before I was born and this autumn when he comes “on holiday” there are more in the offing, because we’re out of space again.

The doll/clown collection is definitely towards the Stephen King end.

The view of my desk changes a lot in the course of writing a book. I’m quite tidy as a rule, but first draft production makes a big disgusting mess. When there’s an empty peanut butter jar with a spoon in it, Neil knows I’m getting there. An empty pickle jar with a fork in it usually means I’m on the last chapter.

I had to ask Catriona what was on the plate because it didn’t look like pickles or peanut butter, but rather kiwi peels. Lots and lots of kiwi peels. I was wrong. They were artichoke leaves.

Next is Philip Donlay, who writes some of the most heart-pounding thrillers around. When you crack the spine on one of his Donovan Nash books, make sure you have plenty of time to read because you won’t want to stop! Speed the Dawn is his newest one. One of the many fascinating things about Phil is that he is a vagabond with no fixed address. He’ll spend six months here, six months there, six months some other place.

 

I work on the road and typically commandeer the biggest table in the house. I print everything, and what doesn’t fit in its own folder I stick on the wall. Logistics are a huge part of my books, everything and everyone needs to intersect at the right time and place. Visualization is the key.  

This is from the house I rented in Pebble Beach for the writing of Speed the Dawn.

And here’s where yours truly works.

Yes, I stand on a mini-trampoline while I write and Nala waits somewhat patiently for me to be done. If she’s not up here with me, she comes charging up the stairs when she hears the quiet little click of my laptop. When I’m actively writing, I set my timer and go nonstop for one hour. Then I stop and turn on a song and either dance on the trampoline, or use my pink hula hoop to get the blood flowing. Then I do it again for another hour, and perhaps another, but never more than four.

If I’m editing on paper, I sit at that table on the big blue ball. You can see my current work-in-progress there in the binder. Just next to that table is a big elliptical machine, my arch enemy. When I feel like punishing myself, I get on that for five minutes.

And here’s the view standing on my trampoline …

I gaze at the gorgeous Colorado sky and occasionally watch the heron swoop in and steal fish from my neighbor’s pond. I didn’t get a lot of work done when they had two black lab puppies over there.

So there you have three completely different offices. I don’t think any of us would work well in the others’ space. How ’bout you? Where do you work the best?

First Drafts, Revisions, and Rainbow Flamingos

A couple weeks ago I finished the first draft of METAPHOR FOR MURDER, the third book in my Mystery Writer’s mysteries.

Here are the final, first draft stats:

Total words: 59,173

Total hours: 54

Total writing days: 24

Average words per hour: 1,096

Total pages: 210

I learn — or relearn — something with each manuscript I write. Two things got my attention this time.

One, I should have gone back to read pertinent parts of FICTION CAN BE MURDER to reacquaint myself with some characters I hadn’t seen in awhile. I took too much of my writing time trying to remember the nuance of some of my people. It bogged me down and zapped my momentum.

Two, my vision for the final showdown was weak. And this actually happens all too often. I think, because the story is so much in my head that I expect I know the blocking of the scene better than I really do. I need to take more time with the minutiae of important scenes like this. Again, it slowed me way down and annoyed me.

Now I’m well into the revision stage. This is where I fill in all the blanks I left. When I’m writing the first draft, instead of going backward to find and fix something I’ve already written, I leave notes to myself … He should have called her at some point during the day …… check the timeline, should it be dark yet?

I also write some fairly boring sentences, with a lot of bland or repetitive words, passive verbs, and incomplete description.

If I can’t immediately come up with the right words, I use placeholders like —

I was dug in like a [     ]

She made [frustration noises]

[Describe the room, mentioning the worn spot in the carpet]

Then during Phase Two, when I make that first revision pass-through, I know I have to plug those holes or look up some minor research question right away. I have to stop and determine what Peter O’Drool’s squeaky toy is going to look like (rainbow-colored plush flamingo, for those of you playing along at home). I have to look up potentillas to remind myself what color their flowers are (yellow). I have to decide on all the questions those toddlers are going to ask before I move on (so … many … questions!).

Even though it slows me down in Phase Two.

But by the time I get all that done through the entire manuscript, I get to go back to page one, this time grounding the reader in the story using all the senses, adding layers of theme and emotion, making the funny bits funnier, the mystery bits more mysterious, the clues more hidden or maybe more visible, the writing more vibrant.

It sounds like work, but what do they say about doing a job you love? You’ll never work a day in your life.

Remind me of this when I’m in full-fledged tantrum mode, hating both my book and myself.

Do you keep statistics on your progress for anything? Do you find it as comforting and as fascinating as I find my stats? Do you think it keeps you on track or otherwise benefits you? I also track my weight first thing every morning and I know that keeps me a bit more honest with my food choices during the day.

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

I’m in the middle (figuratively, not literally) of writing book #3 of my Mystery Writers Mystery series. This one is tentatively titled METAPHOR FOR MURDER.

I’m an outliner, so before I start the day’s writing, I read the pertinent section of my synopsis and timeline, then the last few lines of what I’ve completed of the manuscript and off I go. I keep track of my progress from day to day, setting my timer for one-hour increments, not just because it makes the math easier, but because it reminds me to stretch and move around a bit. For a sedentary job, writing is fairly physical! I rarely write more than three hours per day, and I take off weekends and Wednesdays.

Here are the current stats after 20 writing days:

total words: 50,030

total pages: 177

average words per hour: 1095

average words per hour one: 1105

average words per hour two: 1135

average words per hour three: 1093

best hour: 1426 words

worst hour: 853 words

My least productive writing day was July 6th. I spent too much time trying to reacquaint myself with some recurring secondary characters, the members of Charlee’s critique group. They made no appearance in book #2 (which is already written and with my editor), since FOUL PLAY ON WORDS is set at a writer’s conference in Portland instead of where they live in Colorado, so I haven’t hung around them for a couple of years. I’ve missed them!

But knowing a critique group scene was coming up, I should have revisited my character pages for each of them, then read the synopsis, and then taken a shower or walked on the treadmill or even just sat with my coffee and mulled over how I envisioned the scene and all of them in it. I shouldn’t have taken away from my production time by doing pre-production work. Lesson learned.

Writing is much more fun when it’s fast and easy.

Go figure!