Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting Started with the Hearse

"So... do you do stupid stuff just so you can write about it?"

I couldn't believe this reader's question. How absurd. How insensitive. How...

Wait a minute. Do I subconsciously attract trouble just so I can write my humor column?

The answer is... no. I don't attract trouble. Trouble attracts me.

That's how most of my stories get started... stupid moments. I catch chocolate-filled diapers on fire in microwave before baby showers. I live on remote mountainsides with goats, chicken, and children for 6 weeks at a time. I set off alarms in Alzheimer's units.

The rest is incidental. Where I write, when I write -- how I write.

One thing is constant: I write EVERY DAY. It might be from the coffee shop, the library, or the chair at home, but I write. I'm also BIG on deadlines, because I think there are only 2 qualifications for them EVER to be broken: 1) there's a hearse out front and 2) it's come for me.

So... how do you get started?


  1. hmm, I don't know. I might say that trouble finds you sometimes. Then again, I know for a fact some of it is of your own making. But it's true, it does make excellent writing material.

    No outlines for me! In fact, in school when I had to submit a paper and an outline, I usually wrote the paper first and then pulled an outline from it. Writing the outline first made my writing disjointed as I simply moved from point to point with the details in between. Ick!

    I like to scribble a few notes in the margins, assign Myers-Briggs personality types to my characters (so I make sure they always act and react on the basis of personality instead of just what I want them to do), settle on a first line, and then let it flow. I find that the better I know my characters, the easier it is to let them live while I just capture it. For fiction, anyway. For non-fiction or poetry, I sometimes have a basic idea before I start, but it's not a requirement.

  2. I still want to read your stuff, Hannah! I first heard the Myers-Briggs idea at the Mount Hermon conference and I tohught it was brilliant. I wish I was smart enough to write fiction =)

    And as far as trouble finding me... yes, some of it's my own making. Certain things, though, like using the wrong flour in chocolate cookies happen by accident ;)

  3. Haha, but the flour bag was so cute! I was thinking about that the other day because I was making cookies, but what I specifically thought of was the way we cracked the eggs. You did this whole "tap them gently with the knife" thing and I just smacked them on the counter. What can I say? It has always worked for me!

    I didn't really think about the way I should create my characters, but I'm obsessed with personalities, and since I know my Myers-Briggs type and those of most everyone around me, it was only natural to create characters with those types in mind. I think I might have even gone through the online tests pretending to be each character. Okay, so maybe that's a little obsessive. =)

    No worries. When I'm done, you'll be the third to read it (right after me and my husband). Don't you feel special? Hmm, maybe it would have sounded more special if I'd said "You'll be the first to read it, not counting me and my husband." Is that better?

    (By the way, the last time I posted a comment, the word verification I had was "dying." Cheery, wouldn't ya say?)

  4. Deadlines are definitely a good thing. I'm one of those writers who works best (sometimes ONLY works) under pressure. I laughed when I read the Calvin & Hobbes comic that Erynn posted the other day, but it was a little toungue-in-cheek because for me that is absolutely true.

    A while ago I was working on a project with a bunch of other writers, and we actually had a deadline of five days to write different sections of a book. I had taken five chapters, so I had to write one a day. I wrote more that week than I've written in YEARS. That deadline got me motivated. Suddenly, I HAD to write. People were counting on me.

    I had hoped that the momentum would continue after that project was finished, but some days, I'm lucky to just get down three pages in my journal. So my question is, what do you do when you don't have a deadline breathing down your back? How do you muster up the will power to force yourself to write every single day?

  5. Hannah - It was a VERY cute flour bag. Oh, and I cracked the eggs on the side of the bowl. You thought I was CRAZY! :D And of course you're obsessed with characters. That's part of being a writer. :)

    Christiana - That's a GREAT question. I work well under pressure too... and knowing this has helped me make self-imposed deadlines. Accountability has been a big deal for me too. Before I had others-imposed deadlines, I told a good friend of mine my goals and she called/e-mailed to see that they were met. The potential of embarrassment made me meet all the deadlines... but it's in my personality to be that way. That's how I wrote my entire first book... not wanting to be embarrassed.