Thoughts on the Writing Process

One Pennsylvania Dutch expression I’ve heard is: “Too soon old, too late smart.” A more common expression is: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I guess I could accept both those sentiments, but as the 85-year-old self-described Grandma Moses of Mystery, I tend to ignore them. Why else would I read writing magazines, listen to videos, and interact with other writers to learn more of my trade? Or, am I relearning things I thought I already knew?

I’ve been attempting to write a short story, a prequel to my first mystery. writer at workEvery day I started over, changing what I had written, deciding it was all wrong. Then I read a blog post from a well-published author I follow. She was having trouble writing her newest book. She decided the problem was that she didn’t know where it was going, what should come next. She had to take time out until she knew what her characters would do. A few days later I read a magazine Q and A with an author. His words—writing was a struggle all the way. But he also said that if he were told what a scene should be, he could write it easily. The idea was the hard part.

Okay, got it. Yeah, that idea. And I realize, when I’m writing a full-length mystery, I keep a separate file to talk about my story. I ask myself, would Jo do that? If she did, what would her sister say? What would Mel do? I’ll ramble on down one path, then back up. “Nope,” I tell myself, “that’s not right. But maybe, if she said…” And I’m off on a new string.

So, why not do the same thing with a short story?

Hey, did this old dog learn a new trick? Umm, maybe. Maybe just a relearned trick. But that won’t stop me from looking for something new for my tool kit. After all, I only started this blog a couple of years ago, at 83. And I’m still trying to improve it every chance I get. I try, as well, to improve my stories as I write new ones. I will go along with the, “Too soon old,” part of that saying. But, “too late smart?” Nope, that will never happen.

I think writers are a timeless bunch. We write about others of any age, no matter our own age. Women write about men, men write about women. We send our characters to far lands, or into their own minds. If we didn’t continue to learn and innovate, we’d have one story to tell, then be done. I’m willing to bet, each writer has learned something completely new within the last year, and written about it. Do you agree? Or, do you disagree?

A Writing Room

A room dedicated to writing—that’s an ideal for any author. Or not. Some authors prefer toting a laptop or pencil and paper to the local coffee shop, or outdoors where there’s a lovely view and pleasant weather.

Years ago, when I was a twenty-something and living in Seattle, I did not aspire to be a writer. I thought I’d be a singer. My brother had a beautiful voice, my sister played the piano. I had illusions of a family trio—for a few months. I took singing lessons. Since I lived at a boarding house with a landlady who said, “No practicing at MY piano,” I rented a practice room several days a week. All around me, others behind other doors practiced voice, clarinet, bassoon, or piano. But, for an hour, I had my own room.

When I started writing, with teenagers in the house, I heard about writers who rented office space, set it up with typewriter (before most people used anything resembling computers), and escaped into another world. I set up my typewriter in the basement. After a while, I, too, had a computer.

Fast forward a lot of years, and my husband and I are living in retirement. Our children have children, and even a grandchild. I have my writing space in the retirement home basement. I don’t need to escape from a hectic household. But a couple of days ago, I read about a local free-lance writer who has his own small office space in a local building, a restored tobacco warehouse divided into individual offices.

Gee, should I consider that?

Nah. I look out my window, and think—drive through weather like that, every day? Then I look at my desk, piled high with articles I must save, my desktop computer, my printer, my rolling chair, the full bookcases surrounding me. Move all that? You think? Of course, if I had Kait Carson’s very neat office, maybe… Nope. Why change perfection?

I’ve always wondered—does taking your work to a new place, one without a dishwasher to empty, a dirty clothes hamper full to overflowing, and dust on every shelf—make for more time spent writing?  Or, does taking oneself away from daily life also take away the inspiration? Somehow, I think that answer changes by individual, and perhaps, even by the moment. What do you think? Have you ever tried moving your work to a new space?