Hello, and welcome to our new blog…
I received an e-mail a few weeks ago from someone who’d just read one of my books, and had a question to ask me. “How do you write?” At first, it seems simple. The way I write is… The thing is, it’s not simple, and I’m not sure anybody would understand it because in trying to analyze it, I’m not sure I understand it. So, before I answered her question, I decided to look into various writing styles of some of the greats. Like John Cheever, who wrote in his underwear. Why? He claimed he owned only one suit so why mess it up when he could produce his desired results in his skivvies. The man won a Pulitzer Prize, so maybe there’s something to dressing way down to write, but to me, it would be embarrassing, if not distracting. I like comfort, though. Cotton jersey slacks, t-shirt. And I always write bare-footed. Don’t know why, but I can’t remember writing anything in my career with shoes on my feet.
But I don’t lounge on a chaise like Dame Barbara Cartland did. It was rumored that she gowned-up, maybe even donned her tiara, and reclined in style, dictating those 200 or so novels of hers to her troop of secretaries and stenographers who wrote down her words and put them into novel form. Can’t say I’d like the formal wear, but dictating to a troop of secretaries-a writer can dream. Actually, for me, dictating my novel wouldn’t work because I’m not too good verbally. Out of my mouth, I have a functional vocabulary that comes close to hitting negative numbers, yet my fingers have a vocabulary that amazes me. I’ve never tried dictating whilst reclining on a chaise, so maybe I’m underestimating myself.
Truman Capote reclined, though. He said of his writing habits, “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping.” Reportedly, a lot of that sipping had something to do with sherry or martinis. A publicity photo I saw of Capote had him flat on his back on a rather lavish Victorian couch, wearing his trademark hat and a suit coat. No pants, no shoes. I get the no shoes part, maybe even the no pants, but flat on my back? Truman wrote with a pencil, I use a laptop and I’ll admit, I haven’t mastered the Capote flat-on-your-back technique. Personally, I usually fall asleep when I go supine, so when I write, I keep myself upright. Not on a chaise or Victorian couch, but in a recliner chair. Used to sit at a desk when I was a journalist. Still do when I’m writing an article or, recently, a non-fiction book. But turn the journalist Dianne DeSpain into the fiction novelist Dianne Drake, and it’s straight off to the recliner. Another of my writing quirks, like the shoe thing, is that I can’t write non-fiction from my recliner and I can’t writer fiction at my desk.
I do have an office, however – one without a chaise. Had it custom-built to suit me, with a huge desk that encompasses half the room. It has three sides, so when I slide my chair into the behemoth, I have desk to the front of me, and on both sides, with bookshelves built into my desk, aas well as a supply shelf for paper. And my desk has two 2-drawer file cabinets on each end. There are several floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and assorted other shelves in my office, all built to accommodate the space. Blue walls, blue desktop, everything else is white. Except my recliner, which sits next to my desk – it’s dark pink. I always write in my office. Anyplace else I get distracted. My office assistant, though – an accomplished, published playwright and aspiring novelist, writes at Starbucks, and he’s capable of knocking out a lot of manuscript pages in a public place.
Writing in a public place seems to have worked pretty well for an author by the name of J.K. Rowling. As soon as her daughter went to sleep, she’d dash off to the nearest café for a rendezvous with an odd little chap called Harry Potter. Hemingway did fine in a coffeehouse, so did Fitzgerald. But Dianne Drake gets distracted by the people, the noise, the pastries…especially the pastries. So when she writes, she takes her phone off the hook, doesn’t answer the door, and ignores the distractions trooping in and out (sometimes called family members).
Nothing in that part of my routine changes. In fact, nothing in my writing routine changes. I write in the morning, edit in early afternoon, and like Stephen King, write every day, except holidays. King’s a little more diligent, writing on holidays. But unlike King, who sets a goal of ten pages a day, or Hemingway, whose goal was 500 words a day, I don’t write to a goal. I write until I can’t, then I stop. Some days I may barely meet Hemingway’s understated goal of 500 words, whilst other days I might succeed at achieving a King-like goal of 10 pages. But then, there are days when I’m definitely on a Drake fast track and might see King his 10 pages and raise him another ten. So I don’t limit myself, nor do I force myself. More like, I go with the flow, and it usually works out. I do love Hemingway’s infamous quote on his own flow: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
So, how do I write? William Faulkner wrote with a bit of whiskey on board, I prefer tea. My dear friend, author Julie Rowe, likes to keep chocolate at arm’s length, and I go for the salty (as I’m writing this I have a can of dill pickle Pringles next to me). I write to music-classical, and without words or else I’m inclined to belt out that favorite aria when it spins to the top of my iPod queue (my first college degree was in music). I write in near-dark. Don’t turn on lights, don’t open curtains. I do allow my cats to climb all over my computers at will, but I don’t allow my dogs in the office when I’m writing. My office has three doors, two of them have to be shut, one has to stay open. I write in two-hour bursts then take a short walk. Oh, and I totally hit the wall at 3PM. No more writing, no more editing. That’s when I’m doing the social media thing I’m struggling to lean, answering e-mails, reading, researching.
There really isn’t a set way to describe how I write, except by saying – habit. I do it the same way every day. The way King does. The way Cheever, Cartland, Capote, Faulkner and Hemingway did. For me, same doors closed, same bare feet, same cats in, same dogs out. Habit is my writing comfort zone and I don’t have a desire to climb out of that rut. It works. And because it works, I get to write.
So, if you’re a writer, tell me about your habits? How do you write? In fact, whether or not you’re a writer, what kinds of habits are vital to your day?
By the way, I’ll have another book out in May – The No.1 Dad in Texas. No cover to post for it yet. The book deals with a topic near and dear to my heart – Asperger’s Syndrome. For more info, check http://www.DianneDrake.com. Also, under the name Dianne DeSpain, I have a book out titled A Writer’s Guide to Getting Published in Magazines. For more info, http://www.DianneDeSpain.com.
Until next time, wishing you health & happiness.