Writers often claim to be creatures of habit. These habits may vary from only being able to write using a computer to scribbling on legal pads with special pens or insisting on being in a dark silent room vs. light streaming in and music blaring. Some writers, the planners, can’t produce a word until every nuance of a piece is outlined while others, known as pansters, write strictly from the seat of their pants. I wish I could tell you that I am a creature of habit, but I’m not. I write like I cook – different every time even if I am recreating the same dish.
One would think as a former litigator and judge, my writing habits would be unimaginative. That I would outline every word and idea, much like Jeffrey Deaver does. I outlined the beginning and ending of my first book, 2012 IPPY award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan campus in the 1970s, but the middle flowed, like magic, through my fingers to the keys of a standalone computer in my office. I attributed my writing to the characters’ voices leading me through their story. The only thing necessary for the words to pour out of me was playing the soundtracks from 1776 and They’re Playing Our Song repetitively in the background.
The same songs and physical location didn’t work for my second book. In order to write Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (Five Star Publishing – April 20, 2016), I relied on my laptop and an oversized chair in my living room. Century old furniture, which once belonged to my parents and grandparents, interspersed with modern cherry wood floors and an orange, gold, and blue carpet brought me a sense of peace that allowed me to bring new life to the characters from a short story published in 2010. I occasionally played folk songs and soft rock hits from the 60s and 70s, but for the most part I wrote and rewrote in silence. It was the ambiance of the room that enabled me to find and contrast the voices of the Sunshine Village Retirement Home Mah Jongg players with the 29-year-old corporate attorney protagonist and her former lover, the detective assigned to her murdered mother’s case.
My work in progress represents a hybrid of the plotter and panster habits that produced my first two books. Because the book is set in the present and the main characters are twins, I drew on my experience as a mother of twins when I outlined the basic story premise. Unlike Poker, that I wrote and edited on a laptop, this book was drafted free flow style on a laptop in an easy chair in my bedroom, revised on my stand alone computer, and the score from Frozen played constantly. Why Frozen for a book set in a small town in the South? I don’t know, but it worked.
For some, being a creature of habit is the only means to writing successfully. For me, a willingness to try different techniques and practices is what stimulates the muse and helps me avoid stale ruts. What about you? What does it take to prompt you to write effectively?
Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery, which will be released in April 2016 by Five Star Publishing. “Her debut novel, Maze in Blue, received a 2012 Independent Book Publisher Award and was reissued in May 2014 by Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries. She serves on national and local boards including Sisters in Crime, Alabama Writers Conclave, YWCA of Central Alabama and the Alys Stephens Center and is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Forum and Zonta. Goldstein lives in Birmingham, AL, with her husband.