“Where do you write?”
I’m sure most writers have been asked that question. I know I have more times than I can count. At least once at every public event and private gathering I’ve attended since my first suspense thriller, The Cutting, leapt its way onto bookstore shelves at the end of June. (Author’s Note: Okay, leapt is a bit hyperbolic. But, as a writer of stories involving sex, violence, murder and mayhem, I do like action verbs, and “leapt its way” seems more appealing than the more sedate, though possibly more accurate, “found its way” or the more passive, but definitely more accurate, “appeared.”)
Anyway, for me, the short answer to the question of where I write is: Not At Home. A lot of people who know where I live find that puzzling.
Thanks to a couple of decades spent churning out detergent, car and army recruiting commercials for the likes of Procter & Gamble, Lincoln/Mercury, and the US Army, home for me is now a beautiful light-filled house set on the rocky coast of Maine. From its many windows I can watch the waves crashing onto the shore and gaze at a series of islands receding into the distance across the water.
Sounds idyllic, right?
Sounds like the perfect writer’s retreat, right?
It ought to be.
So, that’s where you wrote The Cutting, right?
“Uhh, well, no. Not exactly.”
Turns out, that for me at least, the perfect writer’s retreat only works perfectly as long as my mind is in gear, the plot is unfolding as planned, and my characters are behaving exactly as I want them. In other words, when I’m writing the easy parts.
However, when I get to one of those places where I’m not quite sure what Mike McCabe, my hero, and Maggie, his partner, ought to be doing next. Or exactly how bitchy I ought to be making McCabe’s ex-wife Sandy. Or how graphically I should describe the next slaying or autopsy, well, then what seems to be the perfect writer’s retreat unfortunately morphs into the perfect place for procrastination.
It’s the place where I can stop writing for any of a million reasons. All valid, all rational, all stupid.
“Gee, shouldn’t I be checking my emails?”
“Gee, shouldn’t I be checking that stock I bought last week and see if it’s recovering yet from its precipitous fall?”
“Gee, I’m almost out of clean underwear. Shouldn’t I be washing a load?”
Annie Dillard, a writer whose work I admire, once described the perfect place to write fiction as a small cinderblock cell without windows, without telephone and without Internet access. A place where one’s imagination can stay in its imaginary world because there are no other choices.
My choice of the perfect writing place isn’t as extreme as Dillard’s. I chose a fifth floor carrel in the library of a nearby university. Once there I can’t log on to the Internet because I’m not registered as either a student or a teacher. I can’t stop for a snack because there are no snacks to be had. I can’t even go to the bathroom without lugging my laptop with me.
Yes, I miss the view of the waves and the islands, but my carrel is ideal. Without it I wouldn’t get the next book done.