The Quirks of a Writer

Quirks.  Every writer’s got them, some of us more than others (raises hand). 

As both a writer and a reader, I’m always interested to learn more about how writers write (LOVE the “How I Write” feature over at “Daily Beast”).  It’s fascinating to see how much the process can vary from writer to writer.  For example, some people like to write longhand or can only write on a typewriter. 

Like I said, everyone’s different.

So, in the spirit of sharing, here are a few of my writing quirks.

 I  Don’t Always Know the Ending
There are a lot of writers who say they can’t begin to write a book unless they know how the book will end.  Not so with me.  It makes no difference to me whatsoever if I know the ending or not.

The manuscript I’m working on now has gone through three endings, but I think I’ve finally found the right one (fingers crossed).
Of course, sometimes, I do know the ending.  It’s just that nine times out of ten, it changes—radically.  The endings for both “Live and Let Die” and “Sweet Little Lies,” are quite different from what I originally thought they’d be.  With the former, I had a vague notion of the end.  After I wrote it, I realized it just didn’t work.  It was only when I asked myself, “what’s the craziest thing that could happen to tie this all together?” that I came up with an alternate ending that I think works quite well and is one readers have really responded to.  Same with “Sweet Little Lies.”  It was nice, but didn’t pack the punch I was looking for, so I changed it. 

 I Don’t Label My Chapters Until the End
It’s too distracting for me during the writing process to try and figure out the chapters.  What’s on page 50 now, might wind up on page 100.  Then back to page 50.  I also don’t know if the chapters will be numbers or titles—I like the story to dictate which way to go.  I use a pound sign for scene breaks until I know how the pieces fit, then at the very end, I go back and label the chapters.

 I Always Insert My Page Numbers First
I think I must be afraid I’ll forget to do it, but it is always the first thing I do when I start a new manuscript.

I Use a Baby Name Book to Name My Characters
I have a little $1.99 baby name book that I picked up at the supermarket checkout a million years ago.  Sometimes, naming the characters is easy and other times, I need a little help, which is where the baby name book comes in.  For example, I might want a name to have a certain connotation and looking at the meanings can help me figure out what to call a character.  For example, Kelly, my protagonist in “Sweet Little Lies,” her name means, “female warrior,” and she’s definitely doing battle to try and figure out her husband’s secrets. 

So far, I haven’t named characters after family or friends and don’t plan to. It would be too weird for me, especially if the character is an asshole or I have to kill them (in which case, perhaps I can make an exception for ex-boyfriends).

My Characters Give Me The Ideas for My Books
A question all writers get is, “where do you come up with your ideas?”  The truth is, inspiration strikes differently for everyone. 

Sometimes, I have no clue where the idea came from.

However, more often than not, I hear the characters talking (yeah, I know, sounds crazy, but it’s true) and I have to write down the conversation right at that moment until I can figure out who they are and what they’re talking about.  Sometimes, it takes me a few years, but I get there eventually.

The second most common way ideas come to me is that the first line of the book will pop into my head (such was the case with “Sweet Little Lies.”).  From there, it just flows.

Reading newspaper and magazine articles or watching crime shows often help me add layers to the story that I hadn’t thought of (happened with “Live and Let Die”) or they attach themselves to an existing fuzzy idea, then I’m able to crystallize it.  I keep an accordion file folder of stories that I tear out of magazines and newspapers and go through it a couple of times a year to see if anything jumps out at me.  PEOPLE magazine articles are a GREAT resource for crime and suspense ideas. 

 I Can Write with the TV On
I can do most anything with the TV on; read, talk on the phone, clean the house—whatever—doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  When I’m writing on the weekends, I usually have Investigation Discovery or some marathon of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent/SVU,” on in the background.
The first draft of “Sweet Little Lies” was composed over four months, every night after work from 9 p.m. – 11 p.m. with reruns of “The Cosby Show,” in the background.  True story.

Occasionally, I’ll switch it up and put on music when I’m writing.  My go-to is anything 80’s.

I Can’t Write Anywhere but at a Desk or a Table
I can’t sit under a tree, lounge on a sofa or stand up to write.  I need to be upright, sitting in a chair, at a desk (or table, as the case may be), typing away.

I Make Notes to Myself in the Manuscript
During the first draft stage, I make notes to myself in the manuscript as I write; I put an “XX,” for something I need to research later.  I will also highlight a section in yellow and depending on the issue will either write, “MOVE” or “FLESH OUT” or “REVISE,” in big bold letters.  That way I don’t get bogged down by something I can’t figure out at that moment and can keep writing.

I Revise at the End
When writing the first draft, I just write.  I’ll put the first draft aside for a few weeks (sometimes longer) before I come back and take a hatchet to everything.  It’s during this stage that I read the entire manuscript from start to finish and make a typewritten log of everything I need to address; research, name a character, add a detail, delete a scene, move a chapter, etc. I print that log out and keep it next to my computer, crossing items off as I go.  And I just keep reviewing and revising in order to plug up all the holes.  By the time my First Reader sees my manuscript, I’ve gone through it at least 50 times (not exaggerating).

I Keep Notebooks Everywhere
You never know when an idea will strike or when you’ll finally figure out how to fix a troubling scene and you’re not in front of your computer.  Hence, you need notebooks.  I keep a notebook next to my laptop, on the nightstand and in my purse.  If for some reason I’m out and my pen is dry or I’ve used up all the pages in my purse notebook, I use the memo function on my phone to make notes for later. 

I still have the notebooks for when I came up with the original ideas for both of my books and it’s kind of fun to look back at how close (or far away) the final products are to my original scribbles.